Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Seeds, Transplants and Seed Companies

A long post, with text and no photos-sorry, I had a lot to say and no time to add photos. I'll try better tomorrow! Also, all the links are clickable, not sure why they are not underlining.

Seed starting is very serious business to me. It is like being a settin' hen or an expectant Mother. (*Note: I am no expert, just a student, but I'll share the little bit I know in the simplest terms I can here.)
You plant a seed, setting each one in its little prepared bed of earth, hoping it will soon come forth in its little green sproutiness. You wake each morning anticipating the new arrivals. You nuture and care for them, making sure they have enough water and warmth. Then lo, one day, one splenderifous see the faintiest peek of a little sprouty sweetness poking out of the soil. Then another and then another. And are mother to a gazillion little sprouts all crying for water, sun and warmth!

You do everything you can to make sure they don't go spindly on you or dry up gasping for a drop of water or get burned with too much sun. And you pray that their little markers you made don't fall out of their place or get switched because a gazillion matching children will not be distinguishable until they get their true leaves and even then, all those varieties...oh my!!!!!!!!!!!!! Then comes the day when you can place them in the ground, and they are like older children going out on their own. You hope they don't succumb to the cucumber beetle or the blight. You pray they make it to full growth and are able to bear fruit and make all those days and weeks of toil worth it! But my-oh-my, the taste of the first red tomato, or the first warm green bean, tender and fresh...there is nothing like it in all the world! (Well, I'm sure there is but bear with my exultation here!)

Still, it is, to me, something quite like the book of Genesis, like being in the Garden of Eden, like Adam and Eve in a 'the way it's supposed to be' sense...when you anticipate planting seeds and growing and working in the warm soil. Children are thrilled to plant and wait and watch for the wonder of it. Elderly people bask in the therapy of it. It is an act that God created us for, to be stewards of the earth, His earth, and to grow things and enjoy them.

Ordering Seed and Buying Seedlings

I used to be one to go into a home center and pick out the plants or pretty photo seed packets I desired in the varieties I knew or heard would grow great for my area. After much wasted time, money and effort, I can say that unless I knew the person grew it locally and they are sought after and raved about, I would not buy any flats they sold.

Think about it, who knows who grew that flat of seedlings in that home center or super center? Where did the soil come from? What type of seed did they actually use? What conditions did it come from? Remember, this will grow into something you may eat at some point in the future, wouldn't you want some details?

Here is some good advice from "gardening when it counts" by Steve Solomon. When I sold real estate, we had a saying ever agent knew. It was 'buyer beware'. He mentions some questions to ask when purchasing a transplant:
Should it be transplanted in the first place?
Is the seedling mislabeled?
Is the seedling a home garden variety in the first place?
Is the seedling pot bound?
Are they soft seedlings?

I would say, that Mr. Solomon answers many, many questions and gives advice and how-to's that many beginner and novice gardeners alike can use in their own gardening ventures.

He advises planting your own seeds. Many seeds can be direct seeded into your garden rows as is without starting in a pot. How easy is that? That saves a lot of steps. Many MUST be started this way if you want good results.

However, if you know a good, local grower of seedlings who have high standards and know what quality is, by all means, purchase their transplants-only make sure they are the ones that do well as transplants.

The other way is to order your own seed and start your own transplants. Certain plants must be started at certain times. Did you know that? You only have a certain time frame to get your plants started and transplanted into the ground or it will not have enough time before first frost to give you a crop. This is a total waste of effort! Learn when the first and last frosts are predicted for your area and figure from the back of the seed packet when to start them.

Do you know your Zone? This is important to the type of seeds you buy. It is better to buy seeds from companies that are in the same growth zone as you. Know if they do variety tests on their seeds. This is good because then they can tell you how well the seeds grew within their growth trials. Buying picture packets in the home centers cannot tell you that, their beautiful packet photos may mock you come harvest time! I know this to be quite true!

Not all seed companies are created equal either! Mr. Solomon says, "...retail garden-seed suppliers are mainly distributors. They buy bulk seeds and repackage it.There is no commodity more open to misrepresentation than vegetable seeds." many seed packets am I saving from my local home center???

Mr. Solomon goes on to name seed companies who responded to a survey he did for a magazine article in Harrowsmith years back. Many would not respond to his questionnaire, but out of those that did, he chose several that he felt were valid, good quality seed sellers.

I am going to mention here the few that I know my sister-in-law buys from. She has had many years of experience and planted many seeds in her lifetime. Most of her choices match Mr. Solomon's list.
They are:

Some of these companies my not be right for your Zone. We are in Zone 4-5b. Zones seems to be changing too. Our zone is warmer and can grow some things now that were not possible before. You can order their catalogs online and also sign up for their email newsletters. Lots of good information is a click away.

Saving Seed

Today, I'd like to go over one way (and I'm sure there are many methods and ways to do this) to choose seeds. Some gardeners have mastered the skill of saving seed. I tell you, I still have not figured out how to be diligent enough to save lettuce, for instance. I did find this resource though. It's from a seed company called Fedco. They have a chart here called "Seed Saving For Beginners." And they have a whole PDF guide called "From Generation to Generation: An Activity Guidebook in the Living Tradition of Seed Saving" by Eli Kaufman. It is a 49 page guide to a school gardening program. Nothing says you can't incorporate it into your homeschool curriculum, they've got ideas from K-12th grade. It's printable and sharable. Good stuff! Lydia will be reading through this and I will too.

So to encapsulate today's lesson: know your Zone; buy your seeds from companies that you know test and trial their seeds and report it on their site or in their catalog; don't trust pretty photo-packet seed envelopes in home or garden centers; buy transplants from reputable, local, reliable growers that you know care about your dollar.

I hope I answered some of your questions. I'd like to talk about a few good tools and some other things to have on hand. I'd like to share a little tutorial on how to make your own paper pots, so easy and recycling at the same time.

If you get a chance, click the book link by Steve Solomon, it's a good book endorsed by many gardeners better than I, and plus I make a little 'something' if you purchase one!

Thank you Lord, for giving us the opportunity to see Your miracle of creation each year we garden. It is such a blessing to watch the process of Your provision to us and reap a good harvest from Your bountiful Hand. In Jesus Name, Amen

Enjoy planning the garden at your Home-Sweet. May the Lord bless the work of your hands!

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