grow your own: it starts with a (small) seed order

NOTHING LIKE ORGANIZING LEFTOVER SEED PACKETS to set a girl straight on what she may, and may not, order this year.  I have enough beans and winter squash (like ‘Pink Banana’ and ‘Triamble,’ above) and a number of other things thanks to the last two years’ seed orders, to meet my 2011 needs and then some. But I’m not well-stocked in everything, thank heaven, so I do get to shop…a little.

My inventory revealed I am also good on carrots, beets, Asian greens of various kinds, salad things (from mesclun mixes to lettuce, arugula and mustards), and all the herbs I like to grow. I’ve ordered tomato seedlings from a grower at my local farmers’ market; with my new book coming, I’m simplifying my seed-starting this year.

HERE’S WHAT I AM allowing myself:

CHARD, specifically ‘Argentata,’ with its giant leaves and thick white midribs; ‘Fordhook Giant,’ and ‘Ruby Red’ or ‘Rhubarb.’

SPINACH, including ‘Tyee’ for good bolt-resistance among the Savoy types as the weather warms,  ‘Corvair’ (a recent smooth-leaf type, 40 days), ‘Regiment’ (new, 37 days, large leaves) and maybe ‘Giant Winter’ (for the other end of the growing season).

KALE (‘Lacinato’ or ‘Dino,’ and ‘Red Russian’—I don’t like the frilly ‘Vates’ kinds as much).

PEAS, both for shelling and freezing (‘Early Frosty’ and old reliable ‘Green Arrow’) and edible-pod sugar types (‘Sugar Anne’ or ‘Cascadia,’ and ‘Sugar Snap’).

PARSNIP, and also TURNIP (‘Joan’).

POTATOES (“seed potatoes,” not actual seed). This year I’m going to try some assortments from Fedco: “Classic Keepers” and “Specialty Organics.” After reading all the descriptions, I just couldn’t decide; bring on the assortment.

ONIONS: ‘Copra’ is a great keeper, and I love the ample size of ‘Ailsa Craig,’ but not to store.

Don’t forget to order:

  • Inoculant for legumes (beans, peas)
  • Seed-starting mix (no, not regular potting soil; it’s too coarse)
  • Labels if none available for recycling

That’s it. I can hardly believe it myself. Good thing I read my seed catalog shopping rules before I went wild.

Well, maybe I will indulge and buy a packet of  ‘Root Grex’ beets, “an interbreeding mix of three heirlooms,” says Fedco’s catalog, that yields colors like pinkish-red, iridescent orange, and vivid gold in gradually tapered roots that can reach 3½ by 8 inches. OK with you?

Learn More About Seeds:

  1. Shannon says:

    This will be my third year growing various items (chard, broccoli, herbs, squash) from seed but my first for peas and beans so I took note of your inoculant comment. How does one use it and when?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Shannon. Here’s a page from the Bountiful Gardens catalog on using legume inoculants. You simply mix a bit of the powder and a little water with the seeds, such as in a cup, to get the powder to stick to the seeds before planting. You should find a product suitable for peas and beans on the same page as the pea seeds in most catalogs.

      @Melissa: Depends how it was stored whether it’s still alive. There should be an expiration date on the package, no? Info on this Colo State bulletin if you scroll down once you get there.

  2. Stacy M says:

    I was very lucky last year and some friends got me organic heirloom seeds for Christmas! They were from businesses in Toronto, which is close to where I live. Really looking forward to trying some of these out! There are two that I’m excited to try- Pineapple tomatoes and Turkish Orange Eggplant.

  3. Margaret Fusco says:

    Okay, confession time…..I went wild this year ordering. Granted, I grow on 5 acres to sell at 2 farmers markets so the seed order can be quite large but where’s the fun in growing the same varieties year after year when there’s so many to try? Otherwise those 14 hour days during the growing season would just seem too much like all work and no play. Besides, my customers know that there will always be something new to sample at our stand. For the home gardeners who buy my veggie starts I tell them; grow what you love to eat and choose varieties not available at the grocery.

  4. Linda says:

    Don’t pass up Kuri squash; it tastes like no other squash and Suzanne Goin has an amazing soup made with squash and fennel…….

  5. Gayla Meade Templeton says:

    I read the garden catalogs like I was studying for a test and in a way, I guess it is with the finals coming at harvest. However, I don’t plan to order any seeds. It’s a lot more fun to buy them at our local Garden Show. As I sort through the seed racks there are always others there to chat with about what did well for them last year. After three years of poor health, I am as well again as I’ll ever be and ready to dig. What I am ordering are plant starts. A giant hosta is at the top of that list. One of my mentors in garden club when I was young was a wonderful woman who was an expert on hostas and even had a grower name one for her. As my trees have grown, I now have an area large enough and shady enough for a hosta that will grow to 36- 40 inches tall and that across. And I’ll think of my friend who now gardens in heaven every time I see it.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Gayla. Funny you say that: I came across a seed rack in my food co-op the other day and found myself so happy to shop that way, with the packets right there to touch/read. Glad to hear you are back with the digging crew here. :)

  6. nora says:

    My new seed order addition this year is Italian Large Leaf Basil from Hudson Valley Seeds. I hope the leaves are big! (to replace lettuce in some sandwiches and to use as a wrap).
    One of our family’s seed order catalogue rules is “you buy it, you grow it”-I give many seed packets to my husband and daughter as presents!

  7. Anne Schreck says:

    Last year was our first year to try a garden in northern CO rather instead of TX so it was a definite learning experience. Thanks for the tip on the inoculant as I read about it but did not use it. This year I think we will do as much local purchasing as possible because those things did much better than the catalog purchases.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Anne. “A learning experience” is definitely the operative phrase with many garden seasons, isn’t it? :) Nice to see you!

  8. OK, so I’ve never dared ask this, the ultimate dumb question. Can you explain why garden soil isn’t a good incubator for seeds, even though for me it’s a far more reliable seed-starting medium? I’ve found volunteers to be especially robust and vigorous. Maybe, like people, plants would rather just do what they want instead of follow orders? I’ve been starting seeds early in pots with a a non-soil planting mixture for years but sometimes wonder why, apart from maturation issues, I don’t just wait and plant the seeds in the ground?

    1. Margaret says:

      Good question, Bonnie, and it’s not that the soil isn’t good, it’s that it isn’t good once it’s dug up and put into tiny pots and wetted and tamped down and so on. It just doesn’t have the porosity for good drainage in that situation, I think, after all that handling, and can become like paste or even cement. Sort of like when we walk in a muddy, sodden bed — you’ve seen what happens. The soil under our footprints takes forever to recover if it even does.

  9. Ami says:

    Hi Margaret,
    As I am more or less in your area, can I ask what local farmers market you get your tomato seedlings from? Which food coop do you like? Thanks!

    1. Margaret says:

      Sure, Ami. I am near to Millerton farmer’s market and I asked Good Dogs Farm (who sells there and has a tomato I liked last year) about seedlings, but there will be various people at the other market who have them, too — I am also near Hillsdale and Copake, which have alternating market weekends. And the one in Great Barrington always has lots of stuff. Does that help?

  10. Handyandy says:

    Hi Margaret,
    I start seeds for all that I grow and have started germination (in the greenhouse) of the first phase of what I hope to be a 12 month garden. All my seeds were purchased from Territorial Seed Company, which sells it’s own seed specifically designed for our Maritime Northwest climate. I am planning early spring, spring, summer, fall, and overwintering vegetables, so naturally I had to buy lots and lots of seeds! It has taken me weeks to organize this on paper……we shall see!

    By the way, I have discovered a fantastic book to guide me called Gardening West of the Cascades, by Steve Solomon.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Handyandy. Yes, I get Territorial catalog…but I do not know that book, which I will look into. Thank you! Stop back soon.

  11. Val says:

    Ooh–is that candy roaster squash? I am thinking of trying it this year, but I have not grown any squash yet–summer or winter. Back when I was learning at a community garden, the enormous, downy mildew laden vines scared me off it. Cucumber is the closest I have come, and it was no success story, but heirlooms are tempting me to try squash this year.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Val. I think it was a ‘Pink Banana’ that year, but candy roasters are amazing, too. I know what you mean re: issues, but I skipped a year and have a new spot to try so am feeling brave and optimistic. :)

  12. Tricia says:

    On a previous post you asked people where they got inspiration. For us, for garden, it’s you! We were just finalizing our own seed order when yours popped up, leading us to Tuscan Black Palm kale, which will itself be popping up in our garden this spring! In another, you talked about attracting beneficial insects, and added yet another level to my brand-new ornamental edible (by humans and other critters)/beneficial attractant/hummer, bee, butterfly attractant/fragrance/beauty/screening garden. We’ve downloaded, printed and followed your posts from deer fence recommendations to seed starter requirements.

    I will be very sorry to miss your event in New Canaan—I will, actually, be in the area the following week, visiting my college roommate/master gardener/blogger.. Sigh. I’m sure it will be a success!

    Thank you!


  13. TomW says:

    Hi Margaret,

    Along with germination success, have you ever looked into germination rates? I wonder where that magic land is where the days to maturity is exactly as it says on a seed packet. So for instance, if I plant a row of Sugar Lace Pea in mid-March, the days to maturity is supposed to be 68 days. That would put harvest near late May. In the Pacific Northwest where I garden, the days to maturity will probably be closer to 90+ days. Do you find the same in your neck of the woods?

    I have read somewhere that the day to maturity tests are done under ideal conditions at a constant 70 degree temperature. Have you ever researched that? Or have you ever counted on maturity or bloom in your garden based on degree days?


  14. Handyandy says:

    May I address Tom’s question?

    Tom, Steve Solomon – Gardening West of the Cascades – addresses your question concerning germination rates in his book. Mr. Solomon was the founder of Territorial Seed Company (having since sold the company to Tom and Julie Johns) and is an expert on gardening here in the Pacific Northwest. I garden in the Umpqua Valley and consider the book indispensable.

  15. Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm says:

    I, also, have to be so careful or I will end up with enough seeds to last me for the next 10 years! I try to only buy what I know I will use but still end up with a lot of seeds. I’m a seed-a-holic!!

  16. TomW says:

    Hi handyandy,

    Thanks for the info. I have read Steve’s book a couple of times over the years. But I will review the seed chapter again on your advice. I am less concerned about germination rates than the date to maturity printed on seed packets. In fact, the Territorial Seed packet (and catalog) maturity dates (like most if not all other seed vendors) is inaccurate for our climate (even in the best of years). This sounds like a good forum topic so once I reread GWoC, I’ll post in the forum.


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