Happy Seed Year

“Happy New Year!” When I hear that, seeds come to mind. The new year’s first month is when I plan my garden, fueled by favorite seed catalogs.

In this month’s “Edible Garden” column for Edible Seattle magazine, I offer glimpses into my annual plunge into the seed catalogs. I’ve written about this before in a series on this blog as well–here’s the first one. I took my writing inspiration from Katherine White, whose “Onward and Upward in the Garden” is a funny, perceptive, classic read.

The arrival of colorful seed listings literally whets my appetite, and I dig into my canned veggies and winter garden when browsing the offerings. Sautéed kale pairs quite nicely with down-home Territorial Seeds, while pickled beets (my mother’s recipe) brightens even further the glossy Seed Savers Exchange catalog.

Since Edible Seattle wouldn’t let me take over all their pages to wax poetic about seed companies, I’d like to offer links and comments on a number of favorite catalogs.

SSE's Prickly Caterpillar

Entry for Prickly Caterpillar in the Seed Savers Exchange catalog.

Here are some of our stellar bioregional Pacific Northwest growers:

Adaptive Seeds — They seem to have a little of everything, including a number of tomato varieties unknown to me. Till now, that is.

Bountiful Gardens (a project of Ecology Action) — This is the seed catalog of the non-profit garden educators. Check out their collection of plants that will create habitat and food for beneficial insects, one of founder John Jeavons’ important messages.

Irish Eyes Garden Seeds — What started as potatoes (those Irish eyes!) and garlic has blossomed into a full seed company. But still, check out the spuds!

Kitizawa Seed Co. — They offer the broadest selection of Asian vegetable seeds, which means I can try two or three new mustard or choi varieties. Happy 100th anniversary to the Kitizawa family business!

Resilient Seeds (& Backyard Beans & Grains Project) — Resilient offers a curated list of legumes and grains that grow well in our climate. I’m excited to try their Overwintering Fava, which they say has more tender skin that eliminates the need to peel.

Territorial Seed Co. — The giant in our midst, this full-line vegetable seed company always has a couple of pages of new offerings, as well as nearly all your old favorites.

Uprising Seeds — One of my fave newer companies, Uprising offers a wide variety of seeds, including the Felder cabbage mentioned in my Edible Seattle article that’s going into my garden this year.

Victory Seeds — They focus on rare, open-pollinated and heirloom seeds, a wonderful combination.

Wild Garden Seed — This treasure offers many “farm originals” that have been bred for our region. The catalog also includes an annual essay from Frank Morton, whose Wild Garden Kale mix has become a staple for me. It’s always interesting to see what he’ll come up with next.

 

And here are some valuable companies outside the Northwest:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds — With the most amazing print catalog (a real work of art) and a penchant for quirkiness, this company also sells unusual heirloom seeds not found anywhere else.

Botanical Interests — The providers of my recently unearthed gigantic parsnip, this company has a full array of vegetable seeds, sold in beautiful packaging.

Fedco Seed Co. — This Maine-based company focuses on cold-hardy vegetables, which is a good angle for our maritime growing season.

High Mowing Organic Seeds — Serious about organics, this company provides high-quality seeds and sells to commercial growers as well. They grow much of their seed on a 40-acre farm, and have more than 40 new varieties for 2017.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds — Another Maine company, this one 100% employee-owned, was a pioneer nationally in garden seeds.

Seed Savers Exchange — This revered non-profit leads the heirloom seed movement and, through their extensive seed bank, offers thousands of little-known varieties. I urge gardeners everywhere to support this organization as well as to try some of their unique varieties.

I know this is not an exhaustive list (although a bit exhausting, when you pile up all the catalogs on your desk!). If you sell seeds to home gardeners and want to suggest I add you to the list, please contact me.

ps: If you’re crazy about seeds too, come to our Great Seattle Seed Swap at the King County Seed Lending Library. It’s the last Saturday in January in north Seatt.e

Fall Planting Continues

In my last post, at the height of a summer hot spell, I thought it would be fun to say “Winter Begins Now” and show the garden with snow on it. Well, the heat has abated, and I’m not in any hurry to slip out of summer mode. However, I am still pushing forward on fall planting.

The Japanese turnips — first sowing July 15, second sowing July 27 — are coming along.

Succession planting of turnips

Succession planting of turnips — the ones in front were planted first — will give me a longer harvest.

Japanese turnips

Japanese turnips will be harvested young, when their white bulbous roots are only 1-2 inches around.

A sowing of beets was less successful, as I had some three-year-old seed. But some of them sprouted, as did a nice row of  Rainbow chard.

Rainbow chard starts

Rainbow chard, seeded three weeks ago, is small but healthy.

Rainbow chard

Rainbow chard planted in June, sizing up nicely.

The first sowing of Brussels sprouts got potted up to 4-inch pots about 10 days ago, so they were ready to be planted out. The second batch is still in pots.

Brussels sprouts in pots

Brussels sprouts are starting to size up and be ready for transplanting into their winter home.

So today I sowed in some more beets, transplanted those Brussels sprouts, sowed two rows of Black Spanish radish and two rows of overwintering red onion.

I covered all the crops except the onions with hoops and floating row cover. This helps shade them a bit if we get another heat wave, but I did it more to keep the pests off the young plants. The white cabbage moth can lay a lot of eggs and wreak havoc on brassicas, and the spinach leaf miner loves to attack the young beets and chard. (Soon I’ll plant fall and overwintering spinach, and will have to cover that too, to thwart the leaf miner.)

Here are some more images from today’s gardening:

Brussels sprouts transplanted

The first batch of Brussels sprouts, sown on 6/24 and potted up on 7/27, got planted in the garden today. I put fiberglass hoops over their bed, then covered that with floating row cover.

Beets planted on July 15 came up sporadically - some old seed. After thinning to proper spacing, I sowed more seed today to fill in the rows. These will be covered by hoops and floating row cover to deter flying pests.

Beets planted on July 15 came up sporadically – some old seed. After thinning to proper spacing, I sowed more seed today to fill in the rows. These will be covered by hoops and floating row cover to deter flying pests.

Beds with floating row cover

Turnips, Brussels sprouts, winter radishes, chard and beets are all under floating row cover to give them a better start.

Flies courting

Uh-oh, what’s going on here? Cue the Barry White music – there’s some colorful fly courting happening.

Mustard seed pods

Seed will be collected from this drying Ruby Streak mustard for next year’s crop.

Little Gem lettuce flowering

Little Gem lettuce has flowered and is going to seed. I’ll collect it for next year.

Kongo kohlrabi

Kongo kohlrabi, ready for harvest.

Cultivate Community: Share Seeds

Handling garden seeds always fertilizes my mind. The crops virtually spring up, even before they’ve been sown. And it’s almost as energizing to pass a handful of seeds to another gardener.

So this weekend I expect sprouts to come out of my ears and roots to grow from my fingertips as I help to host “Seed Swap!” It’s the second annual open trading day sponsored by the King County Seed Lending Library.KCSLLlogo

We’ll be sharing seeds and cultivating community on Saturday, Jan. 31, 1-4 p.m. at the Phinney Center in Northwest Seattle. The free event is in conjunction with National Seed Swap Day.

For me, it’s just an extension of a practice we’ve been doing for years with a group of gardening friends.

Gathered around the kitchen table, we thumb the seed catalogs, share our own seeds, and decide what to order and grow this year.

We return to our own gardens with the wisdom of our friends’ results, along with a few of their shared seeds. And when we collectively order a new variety, it comes with the feeling that we’re plowing a new furrow together, each in our own garden, but somehow with everyone’s hands on the hoe.

Go Hawks!Our event will inaugurate the newest branch of the seed library: the Phinney Neighborhood Association! The PNA has agreed to host the seed collection in its popular Tool Library. Starting in February, seeds can be “checked out” during the Tool Library’s regular hours.

Workshops will offer tips on saving and cleaning seeds. Speakers include KCSLL Co-director and Urban Food Warrior Caitlin Moore, author and educator Lisa Taylor (Your Farm in the City, Maritime Northwest Garden Guide), and me. There will be a tour of the tool and seed library, and tables with greening groups there to visit.

So this Saturday, come up to Phinney Ridge and bring your seeds and empty seed packets. If you don’t have seeds, just bring an open mind about trying something new. Someone’s sure to inspire you with a smattering of seeds.

Saving Seeds, Planting Now: Weekend Talks

How do you save seed from a favorite tomato? Will bean seeds dry fully in the yard? How do you keep birds from gobbling all your flower seeds?

Black Spanish Radish

Black Spanish radishes and their edible pods.

Those practical issues, along with a bit of science and philosophy behind saving seeds, will be the topic of my talk this Saturday at City People’s Garden Store in south-central Seattle.

“Saving Seeds of Your Favorite Edibles” is the sixth of seven classes in our Edible Year series. It’s 10-11 a.m. Please pre-register with the nursery.

On Sunday I’ll head the other direction, both literally and figuratively. Going north to Swansons Nursery, I’ll give a slide show and presentation on what to grow now.

In “Edibles for Fall and Winter” I’ll detail what crops you can get started now from seed, what to look for in the nursery, and when to plant them for fall and winter harvests. We’ll also discuss “overwintering” crops that you start now and plan to eat next spring. That talk, also free, begins at 11 a.m.

Contest alert: $1,000 Available

CPGS-contest-small

Do you work with a community garden that could use some new supplies, or has big plans for next spring but could use plants? Then you should apply for the City People’s Garden Store Urban Garden Contest! The chosen entry will get a $1,000 gift card that can be used at the nursery over the next year. Deadline is Aug. 31, so there’s still time to apply.

 

 

Sharing & Saving Seeds

I’ve been puzzling over a Doodle poll with friends to get our annual seed swap and seed-ordering party scheduled. I think we finally have it, but it’s tough to bring a bunch of gardeners together, even in January.

This gathering is important to me, though. Not only do I get to see a bunch of friends and share some food and drink (some people will bring fresh or preserved garden bounty), but it’s an opportunity to find out what worked in friends’ gardens last year, and to collectively discuss what we’re going to try this year, and order as a group.

Seed Swap

And, perhaps most importantly, we get to share any seeds that we’ve saved from last year’s plants.

Many benefits

Seed saving and sharing helps me “close the loop” on my gardening a little bit.

I like to buy seeds and starts from catalogs and nurseries, but I feel better when I’m also growing some plants from seeds that came out of my own soil, or that of my friends.

In some cases, preserving seeds from your best plants will create a truly local variety, one that will respond better to our climate. Over the years, you may get bigger yields, earlier ripening, or other benefits.

Germ testing

This week I’ve been “germination testing” saved seeds from a couple of my winter squash, and I’ll offer them up to my friends. The seeds are sprouting well — 8 out of 10 in my test, which is good enough. If you want to test your seeds, here’s what you do:

  • Count out a bunch and lay them on a paper plate, then cover them with a paper towel.
  • Wet the towel and slip the plate into a plastic bag. Don’t close the bag tightly; the sprouts need air.
  • Put the bag in a consistently warm place (top of the fridge works well).
  • Monitor it for 7-10 days, adding a sprinkling of water if necessary to keep the paper evenly moist
  • Count how many seeds have sprouted.
  • Keep the test going for about 3 weeks, because some seeds germinate slowly.

Seed Sprouting

Under 50 percent germination rate means it’s time to toss out the seeds. Commercial seed comes in at 70-80 percent. Fresh seed sprouts more robustly; old seed sprouts weakly or not at all.

But before you have seed to share, you must learn how to save seeds from your vegetables. You’re in luck!

National Seed Swap Day

This Saturday, January 25, is National Seed Swap Day, and

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we’re celebrating here with a seed saving workshop, followed by a swap. It’s being hosted by the new King County Seed Library, a year-old effort hosted by the Seattle Farm Co-op. The workshop will be taught by the KCSL director Caitlin Moore.

The event starts with the workshop at 1:30 p.m. It will be held at the Good Shepherd Center, Room 202, at 4649 Sunnyside Avenue North in Seattle. It is free and open to the public, and you don’t have to bring your own seeds to participate. Children are welcome to play at the onsite Garden Art Corner.

See also

Saving Rainbow Chard Seeds

A Library That Lends Seeds

Seed Catalog Series:

 

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