Well it is June 2020, and the world is pretty crazy. Not only are we in the COVID-19 pandemic, but we are also suffering riots in many US cities that were ignited by the tragic death of George Floyd. Our boys and their families live in cities where the National Guard has been called in to try to bring peace, but I worry that this is not over. One of our boys lives on Capitol Hill in Seattle and there is an ongoing tense situation there. I am a mom. I worry.
There is little I can do from where I sit other than worry. So I am writing, because it is soothing, and because I need to think about something else for a while just so I can stop frantically scrolling through headlines and worrying. My garden is my peaceful place, so I am writing about my obsession with seeds. It is already getting too hot during the day to be out in the garden, so I will write about the garden instead.
When you first start gardening, buying seedlings from a nursery or other retail outlet is the easiest way to get started. They are usually big and healthy and give you a head start on the season because someone else has done all the work to start them from seed. But if you stay with gardening and become truly involved in and enamored with it, you discover that most of the seedlings available at the local big box store or farm store are just a few of the most popular varieties. Then you look at a seed catalog and oh my gosh! There is so much more! There are four main reasons I start plants from seed rather than buying seedlings.
After you have scrolled through one or two seed catalogs or websites, you figure out pretty quickly that the variety of garden veggies and fruits available goes way beyond anything you will ever find at the local nursery. I rarely order paper versions of seed catalogs simply because most of these companies have such good websites that it just isn't necessary. Besides which, if the catalog is published in January and you start looking for a particular tomato seed in May or June, they may be all gone. This year in particular, with the pandemic, people have been ordering seeds like crazy. Many of my favorites were sold out by April and I have had to search far and wide to get what I want. But thats OK. I found lots more seed companies that I plan to order from in the future. They are listed below. They have things like tiller radishes that help break up the soil and a winter spinach developed in Switzerland. I am looking so forward to trying these new varieties.
This vast variety of seeds also allows you to buy for your particular garden. Maybe you want to try miniature varieties of peppers and tomatoes so you can grow them in pots small enough to fit on an apartment balcony. Or you live in a location that has a short growing season, like we do, and you want to try different varieties to see what will grow best. There may be other environmental considerations for your particular gardening circumstances, like too much or no shade, lots of rain or very low humidity or drought. A good seed company will give you enough info to figure out what might work best for your location. If you want to experiment with a new variety, you can get 50 to 100 seeds for about $3 to $5 dollars, sometimes less, so you don't have as much expense tied up in it.
There are also some plants that just don't transplant well, like carrots, radishes and beans. You have to direct seed them. That means you may have to water daily until they get established, but once they get a decent root system you can wean them back to once or twice a week on water. On the plus side, I have grabbed a handful of beans out of a bag I got at the grocery and planted them and they did just fine. However, you don't know exactly what variety of bean you are getting and it could be a variety that doesn't perform well in your particular environment. Not all pinto beans are created equal.
Pest and Disease Resistance
One thing you will learn quickly as a gardener is there are lots of critters out there that will want to feast on your garden. Some are multi-legged and some microscopic. Some are willing to share with you and not take everything, some are greedy and just want to kill your plants dead. This is one of the really important aspects of maintaining a wide variety of genetic diversity in crops. Where one plant succumbs to a critter in the soil, another might be more resistant and have a chance of producing a harvest.
You may live in an agricultural area where there are some serious pests, either insect or microscopic. In that case, you will want to find out which varieties are the most successful in your area. I usually get that kind of info from my local agricultural extension office or a local gardening group such as Master Gardeners. Often you will find lists of recommended varieties on their websites. Starting with these lists can save you money and time because someone else has figured out the hard part already. You can find your local extension service on this list or find your local Master Gardeners here.
Seeds are far less expensive than plants. However, you should also figure in the cost of making or buying a seed starting mix and keeping the seedlings healthy until they are ready to be moved outside. They require good light and may have to be watered daily or every other day. If you have to keep them for very long, like getting a nice big tomato seedling, you may have to pot up, moving the seedling from a starter tray to a bigger pot. It's important to really consider if you have the time and money for that extra work and supplies. If you don't, then you are better off buying seedlings when you are ready to plant your garden.
You can make a seed starting mix out of coconut coir, perlite and vermiculite. I use this recipe from Garden Betty and it has worked great. I always use coconut coir because peat moss is not a renewable source. I use egg cartons for seed starting, then have dozens of small, reusable plastic pots that I transplant them into until they are big enough to transplant to the garden. However, I have the luxury of having an unused bedroom that turns into a plant nursery and a really smart hubby who built me some plant lights for starting seeds. I place all the little pots of seedlings in a large, almost clear plastic tote (my portable greenhouse) and we carry them in and out to the deck every day until I am ready to transplant to the garden. This is way more labor intensive than I would like, but a greenhouse is just not in the budget yet. So for now we can't travel much because of plant care, but due to the pandemic, we aren't getting out much anyway.
The other nice thing about buying a package of seeds is that if you store them properly, they should last for at least one more season. I am working on season three with some of my packages of seeds. The germination isn't quite as good as year one but I still got enough tomatoes and peppers to fill up my raised beds. I store the seeds in an air tight container in a second refrigerator in our garage. Not everyone has that space but if you only bought a couple of packets of seed, you can find room for them in the door of the fridge and save them for next year. Be sure to put them in a plastic baggie that will seal tightly to help preserve them and to keep from spreading seed all over the fridge if you get a seed leak.
Seed saving can become something of an obsession. But you have to know what you are saving. If you are growing three different varieties of tomatoes, and you want to save that one big beautiful purple one, there is no guarantee that the seed is going to produce the exact same tomato. You have to do your homework.
If you have three varieties of a veggie growing in close proximity, then chances are there has been some cross pollination. Some plants, like tomatoes, self-pollinate, but if you have a zillion bees and other pollinators around, there is a good chance they carried pollen from one plant to another. That means the seeds the plant produces may not be identical to the plant itself and the tomato produced may be different. So planting them becomes a crap shoot as to what kind of tomato or melon or bean you get. If you want to save seed of a particular veggie, you need to do a little research and find out the isolation requirements (like 3 miles in some cases) for that particular veggie.
Hybrid seeds have a great deal of variability in their genetics and won't breed true if you save the seeds from a hybrid veggie. Hybrids usually have a patent of some kind that means you really shouldn't save seed but should buy it. So if your favorite tomato or pepper is a hybrid, you should plan on buying seed each year.
If you want to save seed, plant heirloom or open pollinated varieties. As long as they are self-pollinating or pollen is coming from a plant of the same variety, you will get seed that is true to type. Seed Savers Exchange has a good article on heirloom, open pollinated and hybrid seeds at this link.
Of course, on the flip side, if you want to try breeding your own varieties, then you can dabble with cross pollinating different varieties and see what you come up with. Just be aware it will take several generations of breeding to get seed that always produces the same kind of plant. Here is a starting place for breeding your own varieties at How to save seeds. I have been considering trying my hand at producing okra, using seed from a landrace variety at the Experimental Farm Network, because we love our okra but okra doesn't always produce well at 7,000 feet altitude. However, I planted an heirloom variety of Tobasco from seeds saved from Tobasco peppers my mom gave me that she had grown and I still have a baggie full in the freezer that I dried and use for cooking. I saved seeds from that last planting and am planning to grow more this summer. I am going to make a stab at fermenting my own Tobasco sauce.
My Favorite Seed Sites
Below is the list of the sites I am currently using in my quest for seeds. Some of them I have purchased from like Baker Creek Heirloom, Johnny Seeds and Experimental Farm Network. The others are on my list for scrolling and planning this coming winter for next summer. I always end up with more seeds than I have ground cleared to plant, so be prepared to exercise a little self discipline as you shop. Just buy seeds for those fruits and veggies that you know you will eat. At least that is what I tell myself every time I sit down for a little seed shopping.
Hi there! I am Jeannine.
I believe that a holistic and balanced approach to life is a must when living with an autoimmune disease. I share gluten and dairy free recipes and all the other things I do here. I just like doing stuff and making stuff.
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