Henry Homeyer: Spring birds signal seed orders

By Henry Homeyer
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Ground Hog Day has come and gone. The big, fat rodent has made their proclamation about the arrival of spring, and of course, I paid no attention. I think the birds are better about announcing spring, but so far the cardinals are not singing their spring songs, and the red-winged blackbirds have not shown up. So I know I have time to purchase seeds.

Most seeds are good for 3 years, and most packets have a lot more seeds than I can use in a year. I store them in loosely closed zipper bags in a cool closet – with the date I bought them clearly marked on the packages. I have a hard time throwing out seeds that are old and should be tossed. But I know they lose vigor with time, so about now I will go through them all and toss out the older ones, and figure out what I need to buy. I once found a packet of seeds of my mother’s that were 50 years old. I had to try germinating them, but none grew.

It’s time to sort through your seeds to see what you need.

Not all seeds last three years: parsnips and onion seeds are good for just one year. Leeks, in the onion family, I have successfully used in year two or even three. Parsley is good for just one or two years, but is always hard to germinate. If using older seeds, I plant more seeds as some will germinate and others will not.

Corn seed is usually considered to have 2-year viability, as are peas. I, for one, will not grow corn again. I can go years without ever seeing a sign or footprint of a raccoon, but if I grow corn, raccoons will show up to pick my it before I do. I am not willing to invest in an electric fence to keep them out, and don’t believe that playing an all-night talk radio station will deter them, as some claim. Plant corn, the raccoons will come. Forget about it!

Of the paper catalogs I get each year, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Burpees and Fedco are my favorites. They each have such a range of seeds, and lots of good planting information. Farmers I have asked about their seed suppliers tend to mention Johnny’s first, which is a good recommendation. Others honorable mentions include Fruition Seeds, Hudson Valley Seed Company, Renee’s Garden Seeds, and High Mowing Seeds, which only sells organic seeds.

Onion plants from Johnny’s Seeds ready for planting.

Fedco is a seed cooperative that many food coops join up with – providing catalogs and then putting together bulk orders to get discounted prices. They are located in Maine, and have a clear policy of encouraging gardeners to save and share seeds. Fedco does not generally sell patented or trademarked seeds. Fedco also does not sell any GMO seeds (no one does, they are only available to farmers) or seeds treated with fungicides. About 30% of the seeds they sell are organic.

You may wonder if organic seeds are any better than conventional seeds. They cost a little more, as producing seeds organically is more labor intensive. For example, many conventional farmers use herbicides to kill weeds, but organic farmers must hoe or cultivate the rows with a tractor to kill weeds. This means fewer chemicals added to the soil. So I like to order organic seeds when I can get them, but not everything is available as organic seeds. And of course, buying organic seeds supports organic farmers.

If you are just buying a packet of carrot seeds and some flowers, think about getting your seeds from your local garden center or feed and grain store. That way you don’t have to pay shipping costs. I order 20 packs of seeds or more each year, so the shipping cost is minimal per packet, and I have more varieties to choose from when ordering from a seed company. I like to share seeds with gardening friends, and sometimes we combine our orders. Some garden clubs have seed swaps, too.

Seed catalogs are designed to entice gardeners.

If you’re new to gardening, you might like to know the things to start in the ground by seed, and those which need to be started indoors in early spring or purchased as plants at a garden center. By seed: all the root crops (carrots, beets, parsnips, etc.),  peas, beans, corn, spinach, lettuce and other greens.

Potatoes are started from chunks of “seed potatoes” bought at the garden center, or saved from last year’s crop. Onions are planted as little bulbs, or as plants, or started early by seed indoors. All the vine crops (cukes, squash, pumpkins) can be purchased as six-packs, or started by seeds outdoors. Tomatoes, eggplants, Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli and cauliflower are generally planted as seedlings.

So start checking out the seed catalogs, either on-line or in hand. I have to admit it is quicker to use the search engine at a website to find a specific type of seeds than it is to find it in a paper catalog. But there is something to be said for thumbing through a catalog sitting by the wood stove on a snowy day.

Consider joining Henry on a Viking River Cruise from Paris to Normandy in June, 2021. Contact him for more info at henry.homeyer@comcast.net

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeHenry Homeyer's Notes from the Garden

About the Author: Henry Homeyer is a lifetime organic gardener living in Cornish Flat, N.H. He is the author of four gardening books including The Vermont Gardener's Companion. You may reach him by e-mail at henry.homeyer@comcast.net or by snail mail at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, N.H. 03746. Please include a SASE if you wish an answer to a question by mail.

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