If you've ever looked at a seed packet you almost always see the number of days to maturity or harvest printed on the back. This number varies widely by crop and also by cultivar within each crop. For crops that are started indoors and then transplanted to the garden (like tomato, pepper, etc.), this number represent the number of days from transplant to first harvest (not from seed sow to first harvest). However, if you are direct seeding, the days to maturity includes seed sow through harvest. The days to maturity rating can help you plan your garden in two ways.
- You can select crop varieties that will successfully mature well within the length of your particular growing season. People in higher latitudes generally have a shorter growing season that people closer to the equator. For example, if you live in Michigan, you probably don't want to grow tomatoes that have any more than 90 days to maturity. While your plants may set fruit, they may not ripen before the first fall frost.
- You can select several varieties of the same crop that vary in maturity time in order to extend the harvest period. Rather than having a glut of tomatoes all at once, you can plant early, mid-season, and late-maturing varieties and have tomatoes all summer.
Take care that you don't rely too much on the days to maturity ratings. The number given on the seed packet is just a generalization. It does not take into account your particular climate, soil type, growing practice (organic, conventional, etc.), or the wild fluctuations in temperature, sunlight, or precipitation that can occur in your garden from year to year. In fact, if you compare the same cultivar of crop across 5 different seed companies, they'll often give 5 different numbers for days to maturity (because they usually give the days to maturity for their own particular area).