Thursday, January 18, 2007

By the Seed You Will Know the Gardener

I took a photo the other night of my younger daughter having fallen asleep covered (over her blankets) with seed catalogs she'd been browsing. I don't put my kids on public display like I do this part of myself, but if this post had a photograph, that would be it. So imagine.

May Dreams Gardens posted these questions a while back, and El over at Fast Grow the Weeds answered them a bit later, and I thought I'd pick up on them. Others who are game, please, I'd love to read your answers . . . leave a comment so I'll be sure to see what you have to say!

I have to admit first, that I am not the primary seed buyer, or doer, of any of these things. I help, I advise, I learn, I generally am aware of what is going on, but I am not the head gardener here. So maybe I say yes, I've scarified seed, when I don't really know if I've actually done it or not . . . I certainly know how though.

Do you carefully read all of the seed catalogs sent to you and then browse the Internet to compare and contrast all the options, then decide which seeds to buy? Ummm, yes? We gladly browse all catalogs, and lots of things online. We do this before we decide what to buy, generally. But we don't all that carefully compare. We notice who has a real deal on something we definitely want, and then maybe buy a few other oddments from there too. Stuff like that.

Do you buy seeds from 'bricks and mortar' stores and get whatever appeals to you as you are browsing? Oh yesyesyes. (buy local ya know! It tickles me how many hoity toity "buy local" people wouldn't consider traipsing to the local feed-n-seed for . . . seeds.)

Do you buy vegetable seeds in bulk where they scoop them out of seed bins, weigh them and put them in hand-marked envelopes? Oh yesyesyes! Except 'round here they are not weighed, just scooped. Large scoop or small scoop. We know where all the places are and we go to all of them.

Do you buy seeds for just vegetables, or just annual flowers? Do you buy seeds for perennial flowers? yesyesyes, yesyesyes, yesyesyes. Do we sense a pattern here? We don't buy many perennials in any given year but usually some. We have wonderful echinachea from seed. Others we start from plants or roots or cuttings whatever.

Do you know what stratification and scarification are? Have you done either or both with seeds? Yes. Both. You mean, people really DON'T know this?

Do you order seeds from more than one seed company to save on shipping or buy from whoever has the seeds you want, even if it means paying nearly the same for shipping as you do for the actual seeds? We would rarely ever pay the same for the seed as shipping -- shipping does figure in to our decisions (whole cost figures in to it, we are not independently wealthy and free to spend whatever -- although I do consider it to be entertainment expense).

Do you buy more seeds than you could ever sow in one season? Maybe. Probably.

Do you only buy seeds to direct sow into the garden or do you end up with flats of seedlings in any window of the house with decent light? There are flats in a warm spot in the house NOW. We find they need consistent warmth to germinate but after that grow well in the plastic covered greenhouse where the temps vary considerably more.

Do you save your own seeds from year to year and exchange them with other seed savers? Yes.

Do you even buy seeds? Of course. I think only the idiotically hardcore holier-than-thou purist would not even buy seeds. I was thinking of that the other day -- I'm really not a purist in much of anything. Except maybe that white flour is a crock of shit. If you can view white bread the as candy, that's realistic.

Do you have a fear of seeds? Some gardeners don't try seeds, why not? No fear. As to why others don't try . . . I do think there is a balance of tried-and-true and new. If your garden is full of tried-and-true and you are happy, well, hey, fine. But we're generally more adventurous than that.

Do you understand seeds? I once bought seeds at a Walmart in January (Burpee Seeds) and the cashier asked me, "Do these really work? Yes, they do. "Isn't it too cold to plant them now?" Well, yes, if you are planning to plant them outside. I don't think this cashier grew up around anyone who gardened. I think so, mostly. You have to think like the plant mostly. Except we find that even people who garden don't understand how little they do with the earth compared to what you can do. Around here people "put out" the garden, then they "harvest" the garden, and that is it so even the hardcore gardeners are surprised when we have stuff most of the year, or are starting seeds now.

Do you list all your seeds on a spreadsheet, so you can sort the list by when you should sow them so you have a master seed plan of sorts? Heavens no. Although husbands head is sort of organized like a spreadsheet. I really find that gardening is like bread baking that way -- way more forgiving than people expect.

Do you keep all the old seeds and seed packets from year to year, scattered about in various drawers, boxes, and baskets? Often. Although they come to a consolidation from year to year. Right now we have no idea where the fava beans are. We dried the seed, we put them up . . . the only question is where. They will turn up, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Do you determine germination percentage for old seed? Well, sort of, yes. If we plant a flat of seeds and few come up, we might estimate percentage to be able to talk about it, but if we have old seed of questionable potency, we just sew thicker usually. If we have "bad" seed of a variety we want, we plant VERY thickly, and save better next time.

Ok, I think that is it. January is a great time to garden. January is the time when you can clean up the garden and it won't grow back over you before you are done. January is when everything is still possible. July, and especially August, is a different story.


El said...

Hah! Very enlightening! And wasn't that fun?

I had to chuckle when you said your seeds were scooped and not weighed...I had forgotten that MY guy at the feed-and-seed said "how MUCH you like them carrots?" when he scooped some for me last time.

I also completely agree that gardening is a lot like breadbaking (and like cooking in general): it's really forgiving once you understand what something needs, whether it's a seed or a starter or a stew. Why people feel they need to follow DIRECTIONS to the letter is just kind of mindblowing to me. What about experimentation? And learning from your mistakes?

And January IS the best time to garden: it's still in our heads!!!

the Contrary Goddess said...

And that there is a really wide range of "good" and no one thing that is "right" or "perfect" at all.

I also have to admit that I kept later thinking of sarcastic comments to make, like the anal-retentiveness of a garden spreadsheet.

I have to tell you, I'm also thinking of borrowing your "chapped my ass" title! Like a list of pet peeves we did in school. That's what's been on my mind today!

Anonymous said...

January. All hope and no weeds.

El said...

Hah again! (If you borrow it, say it in your head with a Chicago accent: chaayap my ayaaasss.) It helps to blog things off your chest, instead of ranting just to your family about it (preaching to the converted, as it were). Or at least I felt it helped!

I'm doing tons of mental gardening right now. It is amazing how clean the house is when there's snow on the ground, and how neglected it is during the green season.

Dramaw said...

LOL. Garden Spreadsheet. Years ago my we decided to have a garden so I whipped out a pad of paper and created a "paper spreadsheet" of what my garden would look like including numbers of plants needs and so forth. (first garden) A trip to the local feed and seed brought home 100 tomato plants. The old guy behind the counter just kind of chuckled under his breath when we told him we wanted 100 plants. We chuckled later. Goodness that was a funny garden year.

Carol said...

Wonderful post about seeds. I'll add you to the list of those that responded, EVEN THOUGH you are making fun of keeping a list of all your seeds on a spreadsheet!

You can check out all those who posted answers that I could find here:

the Contrary Goddess said...

Hey Carol, thanks! For the questions and not shunning me just because I'm, well, not always nice.