Sunday, January 24, 2010

If It Is Seed Catalog Season, Can Planting Season Be Far Behind?

This morning, The Dispatch ran an article about winter being the season when gardeners review garden catalogs and place their seed orders in order to prepare for the Spring planting season. It also listed a few websites for gardeners to review and order seeds.

Until 2008, my garden was so small that I relied almost entirely on seedlings which I purchased (mostly at Dill’s and DeMonye’s and Lowe’s) for tomatoes, herbs, and even flowers. However, when I joined the Moravian Church Community Garden in Dublin, it would have cost a small fortune to fill my 225 sf garden plot with seedlings (which generally cost at least $1/each). It is much more economical to start plants from seeds. (There are also plant seeds and seedlings which you cannot purchase locally). So, other than tomatoes, I started most of my plants from seeds beginning in 2008. Then, Alysha showed me how easy it was to grow tomatoes from seed and I haven’t looked back. Last year, I grew all of my tomatoes (i.e., cherry, roma, beefstake, celebrity, Ohio Belgian, etc.) from seed. In fact, I had so many seedlings (tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, and herbs) that I was able to share them with all of my neighbors, the SACG gardeners (other than one gardener who refused to share any seedlings), and the community plots at the SACG and the BCG. I didn’t have any sweet potato vines last year, which was the only request I wasn’t able to satisfy. Hopefully, I’ll find some this year to share and learn how to grow my own. (Suggestions are encouraged). Mary and I are also desparately hoping to grow some shelley beans this year, but need to be pointed in the right direction since every website seems to have a different definition and recommendation . . . . .

For those of us who want to save money, it makes sense to each contribute to a collective seed fund and vote on what seeds we each want to purchase out of the fund so that we can divide them among ourselves. Or we can just swap seedlings among ourselves in May . . . . Maybe SACG gardener Melissa will drive back from Pennsylvania and share some of her seedlings with us like she did last year. (Just kidding, Melissa). I've also spent a great deal of the Fall saving seeds I harvested from the Garden this summer (like tomatoes, arugula, eggplant, basil, and flowers). I've been able to put most of them in small seed envelopes (which I also labelled), but I've still got a bunch more to go that are still out in my garage.

Everyone has a different system for starting their seeds. For the last two years, I have purchased peat pods and put them in covered flats which I line up on top of my kitchen cabinets (and sometimes put heating pads under them). When the seedlings begin pushing the plastic covers, I set up a table in front of my west-facing window, string up some grow lights between the interior shutters and leave them there until I can put them out on the patio during the day. This year, I’m thinking about purchasing a small, portable greenhouse so that I don’t have to keep bringing them in at night while the temperatures are in the 40’s and 50’s. It would be nice to have a tidy kitchen this Spring and not have to explain the damp soil odor to each of my guests.

Anyway, the Dispatch listed a number of websites where gardeners can order seeds. I’ve also added a few of the places where I obtained seeds last year. Livingston Seeds donated a gazillion seeds to both the SACG and the BCG last year. However, they are only a wholesale seed company and apparently will not sell online to individual gardeners. That is a real pity because they have very lovely lettuces (especially romaine) and tomatoes. Look for their seeds at your favorite neighborhood garden center.

• Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, 1-866-653-7333, www.rareseeds.com

• Burpee, 1-800-333-5808 or www.burpee.com

• John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds, 860-567-6086 or www.kitchengardenseeds.com

• Johnny's Selected Seeds, 1-877-564-6697 or www.johnnyseeds.com If you follow the great Martha, you will know that Johnny’s Seeds also sells a lot of gardening supplies. One item M promoted on one of her shows (and her website) has piqued my interest: soil block makers. With these, you can stop buying soil pellets (often costing $.25/each) and make soil pellets from your own dirt or compost. You put the blocks in the covered flats and put the seeds in the soil blocks, moisten them, and watch your seeds grow. They come in different sizes, so you can put one block inside a larger block as the seedlings get bigger. The roots apparently stop when the soil stops. I added it to my Christmas list last year, but none of my Santa Clauses surprised me with one. Maybe next year . . . . .

• Natural Gardening Co, 707-766-9303 or www.naturalgardening.com

• The Cook's Garden,1-800-457-9703 or www.cooksgarden.com

• Tomato Growers Supply Company in Florida. www.tomatogrowers.com. This is where I got my seeds for cherry and bell peppers, Asian and Italian eggplant, and roma and cherry tomatoes. They threw in the Ohio Beglian heirloom and early wonder tomatoes for free. They sent me a seed catalog over a month ago. There’s nothing like a seed catalog to put you in the mood to start planning your garden . . . . . I don’t know how I’m going to choose between all of their offerings . . . .

• Bunton Seeds in Louisville. www.buntonseeds.com. I try to drive down every Spring to visit my friend Mary, who introduced me to Bunton Seeds. I couldn’t make it last year, but they will happily ship to anyone who can’t make the drive. This is where I get my famous arugula, as well as contender green beans, bibb lettuce, and corn.

• Cooper Seeds in Atlanta. www.cooperseeds.com. I found their prices to be a bit more competitive than Bunton last year.

• Hirt's Gardens. http://www.hirts.com. They also sell through Amazon.com. This is where I purchased my Organic Black Kabouli Bush Garbanzo Beans.

• Heirloom Seeds in Pennsylvania. http://www.heirloomseeds.com/. It’s a small family company and is where I purchased my black beans, pinto beans and kidney bean seeds last year. However, I waited until early March to place my internet order and they were so seriously overwhelmed with orders that I did not receive my seeds until around Memorial Day weekend. Luckily, that was just in the nick of time and I have no complaints about my dried bean crop.