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grow your own 2010: it starts with a seed order

table of seedsI AM A PROPONENT OF GROWING YOUR OWN; you just have to check my freezer and pantry the last couple of decades to see that. But a vegetable garden is not without its costs or its commitments—cash and elbow grease both required, and then some. Vegetable harvests, like money, don’t grow on trees. This year, with the economy and increased awareness about our food (think “Food, Inc.”) again spurring an interest in homegrown, I thought I’d periodically detail what my attempts at it cost me. The beginning of any such confessional starts with the seeds, of course:

But first, you know me: There are always disclaimers and notes. (Full disclosure is the policy here.) The notes:

  • I am a garden writer, meaning I try more things than “normal” types. (Good excuse for shopping, huh?)
  • About half my 2010 seed and seed-like items will come from part-used packets from my 2009 order (above); this order will provide seed for next year and beyond for some items—meaning this constitutes about half a true list of varieties, but money-wise what I’d order annually.
  • In addition to this list and last year’s leftovers, I will probably impulse-buy $15 worth of vegetable and herb plants in spring at some point. Or even get some more seeds. Oops.
  • I order peas in a large (cheaper-by-the-pound) size every other or third year, for instance; same with mesclun and braising mixes of greens (by the ounce). And it takes a couple or few years to use up a packet of tomato or zinnia seeds, even when sharing with a friend.
  • Onions would be much cheaper from seed, but need about 10 weeks indoors.
  • Unless I have a crop failure, I will not order any garlic this fall; I have enough stock. If I needed garlic, that would add considerably to costs.
  • See thoughts on shipping fees, below the order.

brussels sprouts

My 2010 Order by Catalog

Territorial Seed, $21.55 including shipping.

  • ‘Bloomsdale’ Savoy Spinach
  • ‘Golden Sunshine’ Bean
  • ‘Roodnerf’ Brussels Sprouts
  • ‘Space’ Spinach
  • ‘Winter’ Red Kale

Fedco Seeds (Moose Tubers), $48.30 including shipping.

Seed potatoes:

  • ‘Rio Grande Russet’ organic (5 pounds)
  • ‘Yellow Finn’ organic (2.5 pounds)
  • ‘Red Gold’ (5 pounds)
  • ‘Keuka Gold’ (5 pounds)
  • Green Mountain (2.5 pounds)

(Note on potatoes: Where I ordered 5 pounds, I will share tubers with my sister.)

Sand Hill Preservation Center, $12 (no shipping on seed orders over $10).

  • ‘Giant Winter Spinach’
  • ‘Guatemalan Blue’ winter squash
  • ‘Armstrong Early Cluster’ cucumber
  • ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ lettuce
  • ‘Dukat’ dill
  • Black greasy beans

Note: Proprietors Glenn and Linda Drowns have some of the best packet prices anywhere. The dill I ordered is $1.50, and the lettuce (the first one Glenn ever grew as a kid and my first lettuce ever, too, years ago) is $1. Sand Hill prices things accordingly; special things are more, but you get bargains on things they can afford to pass along savings on. And there is no shipping on seed orders over $10.

Renee’s Garden Seeds, $16.11 including shipping

Kitazawa Seed Company, $23 including shipping.

  • ‘Leisure’ Cilantro-Coriander (Chinese Parsley)
  • ‘Red Noodle’ Bean, Yard Long Bean
  • Upland Cress
  • Natsu Rakuten ‘Summer Fest’ Hybrid Komatsuna
  • ‘Okame’ Hybrid Spinach

Note: I have never grown upland cress nor the Asian spinach nor komatsuna, nor do I know what they taste like; wish me luck. A reader comment nudged me to try them. Last year I so enjoyed my first crop ever of pak choi that I resolved to try more Asian-style greens.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange: $12.38 including shipping.

  • ‘Riesentraube’ tomato, cherry
  • ‘Bull’s Blood’ beet
  • ‘Lutz Green Leaf’ (‘Winter Keeper’) beet
  • ‘Crosby Egyptian’ (‘Early Crosby Egyptian’) beet

Note: You may have missed (or read) my ode to ‘Riesentraube’ tomato recently.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds, $68.50 including shipping.

  • ‘Ailsa Craig Exhibition’ onion plants – 1 Unit
  • ‘Copra’ onion plants – 3 Units
  • ‘Nelson’ (F1) (Pelleted) carrot
  • ‘Bolero’ (F1) (Pelleted) carrot
  • ‘Ruby Red’ or ‘Rhubarb’ Chard (OG)
  • ‘Speckled Hound’ winter squash
  • ‘Naples Long’ winter squash
  • ‘Metro PMR’ winter squash
  • ‘Ruby Moon’ purple hyacinth bean
  • Plus, ‘Beauregard’ sweet potatoes, from Johnny’s, 25 units $15.55 plus shipping.

Important disclaimer: I waste about $20 on shipping. But…I do not accepting free garden-writer samples from seed companies or makers of other garden products. I buy whatever I use. In order to be able to recommend a diversity of sources first-hand, with conviction, I must therefore order from more than a place or two, meaning substantial redundant shipping charges. If I were not a garden writer, I would be more prudent, but I like to try a half-dozen or more vendors each year to keep in touch with the market.  I indulge this wastefulness in the name of research.

Total without any supplies to start some of these seeds (and the ones left from 2009):  About $222.

Cellpack of young tomato seedlings ready for transplant.
Other required items:

  • Seedling flats or cellpacks, with waterproof trays
  • Labels (can recycle plastic strips cut from yogurt cups or use last year’s from store-bought annuals, etc.)
  • Seed-starting light set-up
  • Electricity for 14+ hours a day
  • Seed-starting mix (NOT potting soil), fresh each year
  • Seaweed emulsion or other fertilizer that can be diluted

I guess you could call the above my downpayment on this year’s vegetable garden (remember: minus $20 for wasted shipping; $15 for potatoes that will go to my sister, and probably $30 for my garden-writer experimentation factor). Let’s see how much more it takes, shall we? Onward into another season we go.

    1. Margaret says:

      @Susan: I have two vegetable growing areas (mostly raised beds), each about 600 square feet. The raised beds are really productive, and I use every inch (a couple of times over, actually, since most areas get one or two succession crops).

      I am also very careful not to grow much of anything (e.g., I grow only one or two cherry tomato plants and leave the room for my canning types, and i grow cut-and-come-again salad mixes in very short rows planted every few weeks and from which i get a few cuttings apiece). There is rarely need for a whole long row of something all at once (other than staples like potatoes, onions, tomatoes, sweet potatoes — and even with those, I can put the tomatoes where the spinach grew early on, e.g.). And remember: I am a one-person household, so that accounts for the diversity of vegetables in a relatively small space. Does that help?

      @Angela: I figure my total without the extra shipping, minus the potatoes for my sister, and the “experimentation factor” would still be more than $150 each year, plus some extras at the garden center as seedlings. I am going to be fascinated to see what it all adds up to. I suspect we all spend a lot more in the end than we think. :)

  1. angela weathers says:

    Thank you for this list, it makes me feel better about my $29 PineTree Garden seed bill for my small garden for two of us. That’s without the fingerling potatoes or onion sets that I will buy later.

  2. Amy says:

    Wow! What an interesting and diverse list. I was not aware of Kitazawa seed company. Thank you for the reference. I like Pinetree also because the seed packages are small and inexpensive. I can order several varieties of one vegetable and start one or two plans of each.
    I really, really hope to be able to visit your garden again this year. Can we persuade you to open it for the Garden Conservancy again this May??

  3. Johanna says:

    $150 is a very reasonable price for the amount of produce you end up with, right? I’m always a little startled at the beginning of the season when I feel like the money is really flowing out, but deep into the summer my grocery bill is almost exclusively for cat and dog food! Just wish we had a longer (like year-round) growing season!!!!!

  4. I like Komatsuna better than Spinach. But then again I’m Japanese! To me it is more “neutral” tasting and delicate. I am curious how the variety you bought turns out since it’s normally a cold weather green. Please let us know!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Hanna. I chose this Komatsuna because it was said to be more adaptable to the main season so we shall see. I may also try another variety such as you refer to in the colder months if I like the taste (which I expect I will). I don’t think there is any green I don’t enjoy with garlic and oil. :) See you soon again.

      @Johanna: I am really going to try to calculate this year; of course there are many other expenses to tally coming up. But I just remember this: I haven’t bought a can of tomatoes or tomato sauce in many years. Many households probably spend $100 on tomato sauces and plum tomatoes and so on alone. So we shall see…a fascinating thing to track, if I behave and keep after it. :)

  5. Tee Riddle says:

    Hi, Margaret. Thank you for sharing your list of seeds thus far. Although growing by seed is cheaper than purchasing seedlings, it is amazing how quickly items can add up. It is very difficult to show restraint when browsing through those wonderful seed catalogs!

    I set a seed budget this year of $50, but toppled that after the first order to Baker Creek. As far as seeds and plants go my biggest weakness is visiting the garden center come spring. I don’t care how many plants I have started from seed, I always end up buying tomato and pepper seedlings. It never fails.

    I look forward to reading about the vegetables you are growing this year, particularly the brussel sprouts. I have never grown brussel sprouts, but I’m very interested in adding them to my garden in the future.

  6. Lisabeth Davis says:

    I am always happy when the first frost comes and the ‘putting-by’ can calm down; but I am doubly happy all winter when I can get wonderful, home grown vegetables out of the freezer and have them on the table in a trice. I live and garden in a cold northern New Mexico mountain valley at 7000′ elevation so our growing season is short and cool – tomatoes just never seem to ripen. I plan to start fewer tomatoes and more cole crops this spring. Cabbages and broccoli do wonderfully here and I am hoping to grow more keeping vegetables this year and solve the overwinter storage problem. Love this inspiring site.

  7. HVFarmgirl says:

    I’m sure you’ve mentioned it somewhere here before, but what do you like for seed starting mix? I’m starting my leeks today — what else is there to do when the thermometer says 8 degrees?

  8. Andrea Verberkmoes says:

    Hi Margaret. Having enjoyed your site for awhile, I felt it was time to tell you so. I have ‘dabbled’ in semi-sustainable (no such word?) gardening in the Pacific Northwest for over 30 years. This winter we are experiencing the effects of El Nino, which means far warmer temperatures than normal. Couldn’t resist putting in peas and strawberries in January! Gulp! Thanks so much for posting your seed choices–I needed a nudge to try some new things. BTW, I also enjoy reading your comments on Pam’s Kueber’s wonderful site, Retro Renovation.

  9. Margaret says:

    @Amy: I will be open in May for Garden Conservancy, yes. All my open dates and lecture/workshop schedule and such to be posted this coming week, promise. Almost done with it.

    Welcome, JennyD. I don’t have a greenhouse, but rather a stand with lights, which is here in this old post. If only I had a greenhouse, I could really get into serious trouble. Hope to see you soon again.

  10. staceym says:

    I feel much better now…I too spend lots on seeds but enjoy using as much home grown produce in my bakery/cafe that I can in the summer months. Last year I bought a small greenhouse and plan on really going crazy this year (although I’m trying to keep it reasonable)…I stopped buying from burpee (glad to not see them on your list)…I bought seeds last year from them (10 packets) and they charged my $9.95 for shipping (ridiculous)..now I try to buy from the smaller independent companies (love Fedco).

    1. Margaret says:

      @Lisabeth: Thanks for the kind words; I did so well w/cole crops last year and gave them more room than usual. They loved our wet season I think.

      @HVFarmgirl: Johnny’s sells one that’s just for germination of small seeds and also one that’s more general-purpose seed starting. I hate to buy it in, but lately what’s in the local places is only the brands I will not buy (meaning they are owned by Monsanto, including Scott’s and Miracle-Gro and so on). The label must state it’s for seed starting (not potting mix).

      Welcome Andrea. Semi-sustainable sounds about right to me, actually. Better than being unconscious, and easier and more realistic that seeking perfection (then failing and never trying again). As for Pam and Retro Renovation, I cannot say enough what a friend and support she has been to me. She is my partner in blogging mania — we both love our blogs with a fervor (and both have corporate backgrounds and live in the same ‘hood and on and on…peas in pod). So great to have found her. And you! See you soon.

      Welcome, StaceyM. I think of it as advance grocery-shopping — what I spend on the ornamentals is what’s total luxury (and I may never confess that total :) ). Like I said, I haven’t bought a can of tomatoes or sauce in years, or basil or parsley or … I am glad to hear you, too, are buying from smaller places. I do not buy from Burpee and have not in decades, so I hear you on that. Do visit again soon, yes?

  11. Catherine, In Seattle says:

    Has anyone grown Perennial Kale, also called Sea-Kale, botanical name Crambe maritima? I am looking for organic seed, if possible.

    After completing a permaculture design course certification program last year, and designing a “living classroom” for a community college’s nascent permaculture design program, I am looking for this wonder of the perennial vegetable garden for our display garden.

    If anyone has experience growing this, I’d appreciate any feedback, also.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Catherine. I remember seeing a wonderful naturalistic outcropping of it at the garden of the artist/filmmaker Derek Jarman in Kent, on the seacoast of England. His is one of the most amazing gardens I have ever had the privilege of visiting; you can see it in this photo set on Flickr.

      Jelitto sells seed I know. Easier is the domestic source J.L. Hudson, who sells it too. I think I have seen plants in the catalog of Forest Farm, no? Yes! I used to grow it in the cracks in my patio and the blue-green textured leaves were a beautiful contrast. Come to think of it, what happened to that plant?

      I should open a plant-finding service, don’t you think? :)

  12. MichelleB says:

    I order from about 3 or 4 companies. (Fedco, Pinetree, Johnnys, just discovered Baker Creek this year) I try to combine orders with friends to cut down on the shipping. I still haven’t found 1 place that has everything I want to grow.
    I’m curious, what’s your secret for growing sweet potatoes in your climate?
    I like metromix, are they owned by the big guys too?

    1. Margaret says:

      @MichelleB: I think MetroMix is part of the Canadian company SunGro. See if this looks familiar. But not part of the “M” word. :)

      As for the sweet potatoes, here’s all I have done so far to grow them. This time I am going to use black plastic alongside the row on both sides, or jut lay it down and then make slits in the middle for the plants. Row covers are essential here because cold night early on, which can happen, are really hard on the plants. Same in fall. And choosing the right variety (‘Beauregard’ being the standard northern choice; not sexy or anything, but supposedly a good do-er for the cooler zones).

  13. Jayne says:

    LOVE your list! I thought my seed ordering was complete, but of course with all the good ideas from your list and your readers’ thoughts, I find I want more. I havent ordered from Territorial yet, so let the ordering continue…. From Johnny’s I am trying Bush bean Jade, Mild mesclun mix, encore lettuce, mammoth choice mix, Toscano Kale. From Seed Savers, the Chesnok Red (didnt harvest enough of that one to save) five color silverbeet. Is anyone else worried about planting tomatoes this year? I usually devote one raised bed just to tomatoes – this year, I might only plant in giant pots!

  14. thanks for sharing this! I am currently working on my seed orders, too. Oh – and just have to share that, this weekend, my husband made me a seed starting stand using your design. I cannot even wait to use it :)

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, MIchelle. I am so happy to hear you now have a “big rig” of your own. :) Nice husband. So glad to hear about it, and hope you will keep us posted on your progress. See you soon.

  15. Carole C says:

    I am trying not to be too envious of all those who are able to have a vegetable garden. My property in the Berkshires is small and shady and I have only been able to grow herbs and a very few tomatoes in pots that I move to catch the sun. However, this year I have joined a CSA (yes, Food, Inc has been a big influence) and I am already quite excited and looking forward to my weekly pick-up!

  16. elizabeth says:

    Margaret, (i hope this doesn’t sound too naive a question…but:) when you said that your veg garden space is 600 sf, are you subtracting anything for the paths between the raised beds? i am trying to figure out what i really need, and i can’t figure out how paths count;)

    this will be my second year growing komatsuna, its fantastic! this year i am trying portughese kale. does anyone know what it might be like?

  17. elizabeth says:

    oh, and i only like to confess what i spend on vegetable seeds. money for tools, equipment, even perennials, that doesn’t count:)

  18. Angela says:

    I am so glad I returned today to visit your blog: new ideas of plants to try! Komatsuna, I’ll try it too. I just realized today as I was planting my winter garden that I had forgotten to buy spinach seed. I don’t like it that much, which may be why I forgot it, but Hanna’s description of komatsuna sounds perfect. Thanks for the idea, I’ll try it.

  19. LarryM says:

    Seed potatoes are pretty expensive. I spent quite a bit on them last year. Do you ever consider using some of the smaller ones for next year’s harvest?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, LarryM. I have wanted to do this for a long time; I am finally there with my garlic (self-sufficient and don’t need to buy any more cloves) but it took a long time, and garlic is easier than potatoes because the cloves for next year’s crop are actually overwintering in the ground as part of next year’s harvest. With potatoes, making them happy all winter is a little more challenging. I wouldn’t use only the tiny ones as my “seed” but reserve decent-sized potatoes. The Cornell website has a very thorough potato page with some thoughts on all aspects of potato growing. Also, saving potato as seed can lead to carrying over some viruses and diseases inadvertently, so that’s another issue. Hmmm…I am reading more about it and will follow up.

  20. MiSchelle says:

    Oh. My. I read that Newsday article in 1989, and built that very seedling stand as a result. I’ve been a fan of yours for longer than I realized! As a Master Gardener, I give many talks on seed-starting and I always include that diagram as it is the perfect DIY seed stand and I use it to this day.

    Thanks for sharing your seed orders. I like to experiment with new veggies and varieties so it’s nice to see what others are growing. Nice to get a heads-up on new (to me) vendors, too.

  21. LarryM says:

    Thanks for the quick reply Margaret. I am in the process of building garlic self-sustainability, but am not there yet.

    Your site has been a great inspiration. We bought a 100+ year old farmhouse (in a similar temperature zone as you) three years ago. The vegetable gardens and orchard were first, but now I want to start the landscaping. We have a few huge old trees, but the land is pretty flat.

    One thing I learned from your site is to get some evergreens started, pronto. I also like the way that you use grass as sort of pathway between the plantings against your house and the ones further away.

    I look forward to visiting your site often, Margaret.

  22. Willi says:

    Thanks so much for reminding me about Glenn Drowns. Long ago, when I was lusting for chickens but living in an apartment, Martha Stewart Living did an article on Glenn and his efforts to save rare breeds. I tore it out and still have it in a file. I didn’t realize he sold seed, too. I need to get my order in, but I keep checking my list and adding things. ‘Golden India Pea’ snow pea anyone?

    1. Margaret says:

      @Willi: I wrote that article! Do support Glenn and Linda; they are missionaries, I swear. I have always held such admiration for those who work long and hard to preserve our botanical genetic heritage, the Drowns family among them.

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