Seed catalogues, seed starting, organic seeds
Starting seeds indoors in your own small pots on your own window sill is one of the best ways I know of chasing away the cold winter blues. It’s also a great way to grow the disease-resistant tomato varieties that will help you overcome all those blights and wilts that tortured us last summer. Growing exotic varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers, hard to find at most garden centers, are other possibilities.
Seed starting is relatively simple if you have new or sterilized pots, soil-less potting soil, warmth, light and timing. You can use almost any container to grow seeds in. I’ve had great luck using a seed starting system comprised of a seed starting tray, a greenhouse cover and a stand allowing good drainage. These are available at your favorite local garden center or online from Gardener’s Supply in Burlington, Vt. Go to www.gardeners.com. This year, Gardener’s Supply features Cowpots, 2 to 5 inch planting pots made from composted cow manure.
Fill your containers with a soil-less professional germinating mix of sphagnum peat and vermiculite. Sprinkle seeds on top, cover with a very fine layer of potting mix, water until moist with a misting spray bottle, and cover with the plastic greenhouse top or a sheet of clear plastic wrap.
Place the pots or tray in a 65 to 70 degree warm place. Wait for them to germinate. Warmth is more important than light at this time. I find the top of my refrigerator at home is a warm spot. Once the first leaves appear, remove the plastic sheet or cover, and prune out any redundant seeds. Keep the seedlings lightly misted. Then, place in a bright sunny spot that is still warm.
A week or two before you plant the seedlings outdoors, take them outside for a few hours a day.
This way, the seedlings will get accustomed to the outdoor climate. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and other warm weather seedlings will not grow well until the soil is warm, usually around Mother’s Day or Memorial Day. Backdate your seed starting eight weeks before that, late March to early April.
I buy the majority of my seeds online and a few from racks at my favorite garden center. I am particularly fond of Renee’s Garden or www.reneesgarden.com, an Alice Waters buddy who features gourmet vegetables, herbs and old-fashioned flowers. This year, Renee is featuring a pretty Double Cosmos ‘Rose Bon Bon.’ I have also ordered Nasturtium ‘Cherries Jubilee,’ Nasturtium ‘Vanilla Berry,’ and Nasturtium ‘Empress of India,’ along with arugula, basil, chervil ‘Rolande’ haricot vert, and a few other things.
I was introduced to High Mowing Organic Seeds or www.highmowingseeds.com from Vermont at a National Organic Farming conference where I spoke this year. They are designed to support bigger growers than myself. A one ounce packets of seeds costs $2.75 each. I plan to buy peas, ancho chili peppers, radishes and a few others.
I also recommend, Pinetree Garden Seeds from Maine or www.superseeds.com; Johnny’s Selected Seeds from Maine or www.johnnyseeds.com; and Southern Exposure Seeds Exchange from Virginia or www.southernexposure.com. Southern Exposure pioneered seed saving, and were the first ones to carry heirloom seeds in the USA including Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter tomato. Totally Tomatoes or www.totallytomato.com has the most complete list of disease-resistant tomato varieties and heirlooms you can imagine.
I’m not sure if growing plants from organically raised seeds will yield a better crop of flowers or vegetables for you, but I am going to grow some this year from High Mowing Organic Seeds. According to Horticulture Magazine, “Organic seed is seed harvested from plants that are grown organically. In terms of germination and seedling health, there probably isn’t much difference between organic and non-organic seeds.
However, organic seeds represent another way to live an eco-friendly life. Seed producers grow thousands of acres of plants from which they harvest their seeds for sale. Buying organic seeds helps support producers who do not use toxic, persistent pesticides and fertilizers. This becomes more significant when you consider how seed crops generally require more chemical applications than food crops, because the plants must go through their entire life cycle for the seeds to mature, and they are usually left standing even longer so the seeds can dry.”
Larry Sombke is a landscape consultant, garden designer and host of the garden blog www.beautifuleasygardens.blogspot.com. He lives and gardens in Delmar.