Seeds, Glorious Seeds!

Today, our order of seeds from Fedco arrived. A box load of optimism, an engine for self-reliance and sustainability, and the hope and prayer that we will, yet again, have the health and strength and spirit to do right by these tiny capsules of life, flavor, nutrition, beauty and artistry. This year I’ve ordered 38 packets of vegetable seeds and 30 packets of flower seeds. On the order sheet, which the ‘packer’, who is also a co-owner, (as Fedco is a cooperatively owned entity) checks off and signs, there was this handwritten note: ” Just saw your address and it made me smile! I am from Chester, CT! (the next town over from us). I’ve lived in Maine now since 1984. I hope your gardens do well! :). It was signed and she provided her maiden name as well as the name she now uses. So sweet.

Nothing could sum up the reason that I buy from this company better than that. Such a lovely, kind and thoughtful touch.

It’s still a bit too early to start propagating seeds in the unheated greenhouse, with the wildly fluctuating daytime/nighttime temperatures, but we’ve started the onions and leeks, and they’re going great guns in the Oak Room, thriving, along with the 46 baby chicks with whom they share the space. I will get around to taking photos; eventually. In the meanwhile, with so much more to do before Spring arrives, I direct my attention to my Stonewell Cottage business, garden design projects for clients, and the renovation of our own gardens in preparation for a major fundraising event that we’ll be hosting in June.

Happy garden planning to you!

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Don’t throw away last year’s seeds!

The seed catalogs are rolling in and piling up fast and as I surveyed my index card files crammed with seed packets I began to wonder about seed viability from year to year. I went to the library and got a few books and while I was checking them out, I mentioned to the volunteer what I was after; namely seed viability information. She said, “oh, I think they’re like over the counter medication…they say that they’ll expire but really, I think they last forever.” Hmmm, rather dubious, if you ask me but she’s got a point. Seed packets usually state the year in which they were packed or, misleadingly phrased as “Packed for 2009”, which leads one to think that they might have a shelf-life of a year or so. I wanted to get to the bottom of this.

I realize that this may not be important to non-organic gardeners who purchase their seeds at their local garden center. If the seed doesn’t germinate, they can always go and get a new packet. For gardeners who are concerned about GMO’s (genetically modified seed) and want to use organic seed, or those who want to grow unusual or heirloom varieties, this isn’t a reliable option. If the seed doesn’t germinate, you’ll need to place another mail order and that will involve valuable time (as well as the possibility that your choice has been Sold Out).

I may not store my seeds under optimal conditions (dark and cold) but I come pretty close and I wanted to get to the bottom of this.  I prepared an inventory of the seeds I have, including variety name and date packed (this is 8 pages long). I then did my research and prepared a list of the plants I grow and the length of time, in years, in which the seed will be viable if stored under perfect conditions. Wow! I was shocked to learn how much money I had potentially wasted over the years ordering fresh seed when I had plenty of year old seed in stock. I share the fruits of my labors below: Continue reading

Planning the Kitchen Garden

In my experience, it’s relatively easy to establish parameters for oneself by committing to a 20’ x 20’ plot and limiting the plantings to fit within those confines. It works in writing and on graph paper. If, however, you’re a dreamer like me, seduced by fantasies of abundance and variety, it doesn’t work all that well, especially after the hibernation of a dark season of long winter evenings spent reading seed catalogs, with a glass or two of wine, a highlight marker and a block of post-it notes. It’s very easy to slide into the 20’ x 35’ plot, or the 30’ x 50’ plot or the 50” x 85’plot, so easy that it’s almost inevitable.

I offer the following example. The first year that we started our vegetable garden, our seed bill was $27 dollars. The next year it was $74 dollars. The size of the garden didn’t alter.  So, what changed? A desire for greater variety; we wanted three kinds of beets, not one, seven different tomatoes, not three, four kinds of squash, not two, etc…

Shakespeare knew something  when he wrote: “Know thyself and to thine own self be true”. But here’s the rub: as a home-gardener, I don’t need 45 zucchini seeds. I need 4, or, if I’m going to sow successively, I need 8, or maybe, at the limit, twelve. The cost of seeds isn’t that expensive but it does add up, especially if you’re like me and want to try all sorts of things.

The fun and economical solution/idea is to share. Get together with other gardening friends during the winter months. Call or e-mail your gardening compatriots in October/November to make sure that they are receiving the same seed catalogues that you are (and e-mail them the links to your favorite seed suppliers if they’re not). Set up a potluck buffet-dinner evening in mid-to-late January to come together and prepare a group order. This will work for either a large Community Garden group or a Rag-Tag band of home gardeners. You could be admirably well organized and list the categories of produce for which you seek seeds for your garden, i.e., tomatoes, corn, squash, lettuce, cucumbers, beets, spinach, etc… You might even use the various catalogues’ categories and headings as a guide. No matter how you do it, remain focused and have a designated someone to keep track of everyone’s shared orders.  If you’re going to be professional about it you could purchase very small ‘Ziplock’-type bags or ‘glassine’ envelopes (in future, you will be directed to a resource link for such products) to divvy up the seeds once they arrive. This is yet another excellent opportunity to share shoptalk with other gardeners and will likely lead to long lasting horticultural friendships.

In future, more to come about Kitchen Gardening.