Seed racks are out at the big box stores and catalogues are arriving, it must be time to think of spring planting.
Starting seed is like anything else, good materials make for a good experience. But it is hard to tell what seeds are good and what are not. After all, you can't see through most seed packets.
The importance of quality seeds has struck me with almost an urgency after failures for the last five years. My swiss chard was a mixture of varieties, tomatoes the same, two squash varieties failed, and my beloved kohlrabi turned out to be radishes. What is a gardener to do?
First: Keep good records. If you have a record of failures and successes, you will know whether it is the seed or how you are growing it. You will also be able to see patterns for the seed companies you use. One problem is not that important, every company will make mistakes once in a while. But once you have a pattern you know that you need to look for a new suppliers.
Second: Choose seeds from a source that has a good reputation. This means talking to other gardeners and evaluating the sales materials. If a company has not put thought into quality advertising, they will not likely put the thought into quality seed production.
Third: Don't buy cheap. You don't have to pay $20 for good seed, but you have to wonder what you are getting if you pay $1.
Fourth: If you save seed, learn your business and do it right. Saving seed is more complex than just scraping the seeds out of a squash.
Fifth: Understand that you will get better quality and uniformity from hybrids. I prefer open pollinated seeds, but I know I will have different results from some of my neighbors.
For a good start look at Johnny's and Territorial. You should also look at Burpee. I don't use Burpee much now-a-days, but I never had problems.
Have a great time buying seeds!