The Great Skeptical Penny-Pincher's Seed Bargain Evaluation (with astonishing result!)

We've all seen name-brand seeds at bargain outlets, and I've always wondered if they were really a bargain. I sort of always assumed that the discount was mitigated by a lower seed count. So this year, I decided to find out, at least with a small sample.

We purchased packets of organic Black-Seeded Simpson lettuce and conventional Cherry Belle radishes from both Burpee on-line and the same varieties off-the-rack at Ocean State Job Lots in Medford. Burpee makes it difficult to compare prices directly, because the packs purchased on-line are sold by seed count, while the retail packs are sold by weight. Until today, I had no idea how many radish or lettuce seeds are in a gram.

If you want to skip the details that follow, the astonishing result is (drum roll)...the Ocean State seeds really are a bargain - by a lot!

The Burpee BSS bought on-line (left, above) sells in packs of nominally 1000 seeds. We weighed the seeds at about 1.15g. At a price of $4.95 (with free shipping), the price based on the nominal seed count is 50 cents/100 seeds.

The Burpee packet bought at Ocean State retails for $3.19, or $1.91 after the discount, with an advertised weight of 1.5g, which we measured at closer to 1.6g. Extrapolating from the relative weights, we're estimating 1400 seeds, which is consistent with the relative sizes of the little piles. The result is about 14 cents/100 seeds, less than 1/3 of the cost of seeds online. Even without the discount, the retail cost is less than 1/2 of online.

The Burpee Cherry Belle radishes (conventional) bought on-line is packaged as nominally 500 seeds, which we weighed to be 4.55g, priced at $4.95, or 99 cents/100 seeds.

The nominally 4g packet bought from Ocean State actually weighed 4.5g, so nominally the same 500 seeds, for a discounted price of 27 cents/100 seeds, almost 1/4 the price from Burpee on-line. Even without the 40% discount, the retail seed would be less than 1/2 the price of on-line.

So the conclusion from these two data points is that Burpee seeds purchased from local discount retailers are significantly less expensive than those purchased on-line directly from Burpee. Ocean State has a pretty good selection of popular varieties of Burpee vegetable and flower seeds, including many organics, but only a fraction of the selection available on-line. I don't think they carry any other brands.

This is pretty much a straightforward apples-to-apples comparison with very conclusive results, but of only two seeds from one supplier. We also don't know at this point how well each will germinate, how well they were handled, or other quality factors. They were both packaged for 2015, but it's possible that the cheaper seeds were actually 2014 seeds which passed germination tests and were repackaged for 2015 - or not - we have no way of knowing (that's me being skeptical again). Three of the seeds were grown in the USA, but the retail radishes were grown in Italy. The BSS seeds purchased on-line came in a foil packet, the other three in paper only.

Even at full retail price (like at Mahoney's or Russell's), the Burpee seeds packaged for retail would be significantly less expensive. In the future, I'll be looking for comparisons of other brands when I find them. For example, I think Verrill Farm sells some High Mowing Seeds that I should be able to compare. If you see anyone selling Johnny's, High Mowing or Baker Creek off the shelf, let me know.



2015 Crops

The Garden: 
Vegetable Variety Source Price Planted Harvested
Arugula ~ Johnny's 2014 $5.90 5/2, 6/13, 6/20, 6/27, 7/11, 7/25, 8/1, 8/8, 8/15, 8/29 5/30
Bean, Green Bush Jade High Mowing 2015 $2.75 5/9 7/8
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