When I was a kid my favorite place to go with my quarter, given to me by my mom to buy something fun, was the 5 &10 Store. They don’t exist anymore – this was in the 50’s. For that quarter I could get dolls for my doll house and furniture too, or a bright colored bandana, or a number of other exciting things, all magical for a 6 year old. It was the variety that was so exciting, so fascinating. I’d contemplate how I could get the most things to play with for that little quarter. They were silver then you know. So, it could be quite a lot.
But now, with my large diverse garden, with about 40 beds for annual growing, and another 60 for perennials, which include large containers, I can grow vegetables, fruits, and over 150 kinds of herbs, mostly medicinal. Each one is a treasure which I study before planting, and watch grow and provide food and medicine for people, and flowers for the bees and butterflies. But like the 5 & 10 Store, choosing what to grow in those beds is fascinating and exciting to me.
I’ve been a gardener since I was three years old when my mom, who was a great gardener from a long line of accomplished women gardeners, gave me my first bed. It was only 3’ x 3’ and only big enough to plant a few flowers but watching those seeds sprout and turn into big plants was pure magic in my eyes. And they were MINE. Seeds were somehow magical things that were so tiny to begin with, but grew into such wonderful living things.
Since then I’ve always grown plants, even if I only had a little pot by the window in a rooming house except the few years I was away at college. But then I’d find a woods or garden to steal away to for my magical quiet time. And as I have grown thru live, I’ve had a number of epic large gardens. When I have room I plant trees. In California it was lemon, orange, peach, plum, and various other fruit bushes and trees, and herbs like bay laurel, large rosemary, plumaria and whatever else I could get to grow.
I just love plants. And I love variety, especially rare and endangered ones. So, I collect seeds, have friends give me cuttings or full plants, or just find them by the roadside.
The trouble now is that Monsanto and a few other bio-tech corporations have been buying up the smaller seed companies and culling the more rare and unusual varieties from their catalogues because with that corporate think about only doing what is profitable, no matter that these little companies may have kept rare plants from extinction for years, it’s getting harder and harder to find the rare ones.
If you go to the nursery to buy your plants for the season, you will find a very limited number of cultivars (cultivated varieties) available because the plant companies only sell what are big sellers, like any large corporation intent mostly on profit. So, if you want that tomato Uncle Ben planted in his garden, you pray someone saved the seeds for you. Because you won’t find them in the nurseries, and you’d be lucky to find one like it in the remaining free seed companies.
We have lost 90% of the food cultivars in the last 50 or so years. Even the national seed bank has been raided by the Monsantos and without doing anything at all to them, they have been patenting them so they can’t be sold by anyone else. Then they take them off the market if they don’t sell or can’t be altered in some way to secure the patents.
This is madness in the extreme because we live in an era of climate change. The cycling of weather eras is a natural phenomena further shifting climate conditions but now scientist are telling us that the poles have shifted out of their former location 5 degrees, which changes everything around the globe. Historically, whenever this planet has seen climate change, whole civilizations have had to move or be extinguished. Greenland had a thriving pre-history civilization before it got hit with an ice age, and now only the rock buildings remain, in ruins. This happened to the Anasazi people in the Southwest of this country. And history is loaded with many such catastrophes. So, when varieties of food plants are only available with a limited growing zone capability, which can’t handle the change, we are at real risk of loosing that kind of food.
We also have a growing population so when food becomes harder to grow, and we don’t have alternatives thru bio-diversity, people are going to starve as the conditions continue to shift. Genetic engineering crops (GMOs) are being touted as being the solution. What they don’t tell you is the high crop failures, and health problems the genetic alterations cause our own genetic make up, not to mention the cancer causing chemicals they take to grow. So, I feel it is very important, vital, to stay ahead of this inevitable trend, and make sure we keep our food varieties available to all, sustainable, and not altered, so they can have their seeds saved and rolled into the future.
In my own gardens, I have often grown as many as 30 varieties of tomatoes. Every year here in NE Georgia, we’ve seen changing conditions – too much or too little rain, cooler or hotter than normal summers, winds, heavy rains that knock off the buds from fruit trees and blossoming plants like tomatoes, bugs, and other changes. So, with those 30 varieties, I’ve been lucky to have 10 or so actually produce fruit, and of them, maybe only 3 are heavy producers. Comparing my garden and production with other growers in the area, sometimes I’m the only one getting produce. So, if I only planted two or three of the non-producing varieties, we’d have had no tomatoes that summer.
This year was too wet early, too dry and hot late, and now too much rain. So, having planted about 15 varieties, we have had production, but not great. The only people around here getting really great production have been growing in green houses with controlled watering and loads of commercial fertilizers, growing hybrid plants that can’t be seed-saved. They have grown enough to pay the bills, but they can’t save their own seeds for next year, and the flavor and nutritional value is way down compared with heirloom open pollinated (varieties that breed true year after year from a single gene source) varieties.
It isn’t global warming. We’re actually heading slowly into another ice age, which comes on the planet every 60,000 years, and we’re at the end of the temperate era.
So, having bio-diversity of plants that can withstand changing conditions is critical to the feeding of planet earth, and in this case, me, my husband, and our friends. You and me.
This is where seed catalogues come in. Wahoo!
Nurseries usually only carry a few examples of each kind of plant for the season to come. Usually that means hot weather (summer), and cool weather (fall and spring). But this means you will be stuck with just a couple of varieties, mass produced, and about half of them are hybrid which will only be good for one planting. The seeds then revert to one of two of the parent plants but will not reproduce true the next year, and you don’t know what kind of frankenplant you will get. So I only bother with heirloom or heritage or open pollinated varieties.
This forces you to miss out on the hundreds of delicious, beautiful, rich varieties that are available out there by seeds you start yourself. You’ve never tasted a bean like the classic heirloom Rattlesnake pole bean until you’ve planted it in the garden. It doesn’t taste like the grocery store. Diversity gives you flavors, textures, colors that aren’t available by buying nursery plants. And once you grow it one year, you never have to buy the seeds again because they can be saved each year infinitely. Save money, eat better.
Seed catalogues also give you things to try that don’t find their way to the nursery plants like carrots, beets, parsnips, rainbow Swiss Chard (a super food), radishes of every color and shape, and nutritional value. And aren’t available in the grocery store either. Plus some vegetables you’ve never heard of which are so delicious and interesting, they just beg you to run to a new cookbook and find a way to prepare them.
So, now it’s time to fall down the rabbit hole into the catalogues and companies offering this unbelievable world of foods you can grow yourself – you know, the kind the terribly expensive gourmet chef’s use to make five star meals, only they come from the back garden within a short walk with a basket.
There a few things you will need to look into to get the most out of growing by seed and purchasing from seed companies.
First, make sure the seed company you are purchasing seeds (or plants or other products) is NOT a Monsanto company. Like Territorial Seeds, Monsanto. See the reference links below for safe non-Monsanto, non-GMO seed companies, and safe heirloom reputable companies. These Monsanto companies are working only on profit and are working thru the big corporations to control all food on the planet. Food safety, freedom, and variety are not part of their agenda. It’s up to you to ensure that for your own people and future.
Then go to the below links and order catalogues. This isn’t a complete list, but if you pull the strings in the sites below you will find a considerable treasury of companies you can get your seeds and plants from.
Every fall and spring I wait for the catalogues coming in from the companies and sit with a cup of tea and dream big dreams.
For me, when a catalog comes in the mail, I open and drool. Not all of them have colored photographs but if you have done your homework, and know what you want to plant generally – i.e. 3 kinds of carrots, 6 kinds of lettuce, etc., you can start your list. Often I will open the catalog with a note pad at my elbow, and make note of the ones that jump out at me.
When choosing seeds there are a couple of things you will want to know before ordering.
- Know what your growing zone is already. If you don’t know, go to the USDA hardiness growing zone map https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/
- Check the variety for its hardiness zone to know if it will work where you live.
- Find out if it is an annual, bi-annual, or perennial so you know what kind of conditions you need to provide for your plant. Usually you won’t want to plant perennial and annual varieties in the same bed because annual planting usually require some cultivation before planting and that can disturb perennial roots. At least give the perennial plant enough root space so it will not be stressed or harmed by a little digging near it.
- Find out if the plant requires full, partial sun or shade or partial shade, and compare it to where you have garden space for it. Find out what the watering requirements are, and soil types. Find out the pH (acid/alkali needs) are for that plant. If that information is not available in the catalog, get the phone number or email address and ask the good seed company. They all have experts who you can get expert information and advice from. General information about the basic plant is available on the internet so you can find that, for example, tomatoes like slightly acidic soil. Blueberries like it really acidic 4.5 to 5.5 pH. Your soil can be amended to provide these conditions, or just pick plants that will thrive in your existing soil.
- If in doubt about your soil, Extension Offices in every county will test your soil for a minimal fee. It’s about $10/test which will give you a lot of information about how to amend your soil to handle any problems, and give you what you can grow without amending it.
- Decide what percentage of your garden space you want to grow vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers (to bring in the pollinating bees and butterflies), and do a little map of the space. Do a little design of what will go where, then you will know how many packets of seeds you will need of which kinds.
- If you have kept good records of your earlier plantings, you will have some idea of what does well in your gardening conditions. If you have saved seeds from prior years, or come up with some great ones at seed swaps, you might want to experiment with something new this year, buying one or two new ones and dropping out some that might not have done well in a prior year.
- Often a packet of seeds will have way too many seeds for a single season. But you can save the seeds in the frig for up to 5 years if handled properly. Or you can call your gardening friends to a party and do some of your own serious seed swapping. Plus have some fun and maybe have a pot luck too.
- Once you have an idea of what you are looking for, now comes the fun. With your wish list all made up, start looking thru the various areas of each catalog and find the cultivars that speak to you. Do your research as above to make sure they will do well in your garden, then find them in a catalog.
Often a seed company, once they have you on their rolls will send you sale notifications which if you stick to one or two companies, might save you some serious money if getting most of the ones you want together. You can often get free shipping or serious discounts that way.
Make up your list, consult your budget, maybe go in on some of them with friends who want to grow the same things and share in a big seed packet, and order. Then you wait for Christmas to come in the mail.
Once you have your seeds, ensure they stay viable: http://blog.seedsavers.org/blog/how-to-store-seeds
There are other ways to get seeds if you are a pro, consultant, scientist, run a community garden, or have a school garden. You can get free seeds from some companies by writing a little grant on letter head paper from your group. Can’t hurt to try. I’d start with the seed companies you already love.
There are some NGOs or private non profits which likewise will get you free seeds. One that I used to provide for about 25 community gardens and private gardens is America the Beautiful Fund https://philanthropynewsdigest.org/npo-spotlight/america-the-beautiful-fund You write a grant and for the price of shipping you can get free seeds.
Get free vegetable seeds from the US Government: Have a little experiment or study you want to conduct and report the results on your blog? Check out the National Plant Germplasm System from the US Department of Agriculture. Within a database of over 10,000 species of plants you are sure to find some vegetables for your experiments. Even shipping is included though can be time consuming to find what you are looking for.
Other free seeds can be found at these sites:
http://www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/stats/ Let’s say that you want some lettuce seeds. click lettuce, Lactuca sativa L is normal romaine lettuce if i remember correctly, a google search will straighten out the confuse with scientific names. now if you went to lactuca sativa l click where it says 1162 accessions, these are just like different origins for the seeds, http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npg…html.pl?1431630 I just happen to pick this one for example…and I want it so I wrote down the PI number PI 536694 now once I select everything I want send I’ll send an email here email@example.com using this format.
There are a few books which might help you get started if you have never grown a garden or started seeds before. My favorite recommendations for beginning gardeners are:
Square Foot Gardening – starting beds, planning what to grow, good information
Lasagna Gardening – how to make your own soil and much more
Gaia’s Garden – a great book on small scale Permaculture which tells you how to plan, make, and use a garden using the most up to date information for best yield, and most success.
Carrots Love Tomatoes – a wonderful book on companion planting where plants form families that help each other grow healthy and produce lots.
I believe in having the paper form of a book. You can put little stickems on pages you want to return to, and if we loose electricity, you still will know how to feed yourself and your family. Plus I just love books, so I have lots of them. Usually I get them used from Amazon or EBay or find them at garage sales, etc. I even ask for books for my birthday or Christmas. As you can imagine, I have shelves of books, but I use them all the time.
Getting seeds to germinate can be done by directly putting seeds in prepared soil (see above books for information on how to best do that), or start them in special non-soil made up of vermiculite, perlite, filtered compost or commercial preparations for that purpose (Home Depot carries this in bags) in seed cells or permiable flats, or even empty paper cups with holes in the bottom, kept on a window sill in the sun. Start with a few seeds and loose soil and keep the soil moist but not wet, and watch the magic. As you gain confidence, you can start more and more seeds for your seasonal garden.
Some people purchase little clear plastic cabinets with metal or plastic skeletons to act as seed starting green houses, or cold frames (low lying greenhouse – google it), or even green houses for the back yard. But just keep the temperature in mind so you don’t get too cold or too hot for the seed you are starting. Usually we start our fall and winter crops in August, but keep them from getting too hot. Summer and spring crops start in February keeping them warm enough. And by the time they are big enough to transplant, it’s time to move them to the garden beds into prepared amended soil.
I know you have lots of questions. My blog site has many articles which may help you, and the internet is a treasure of articles on how to do all this. Start small, with seeds that excite you and are chosen for success in your location, and enjoy the process.
Wishing you a wonderful gardening experience, blissful hours reading thru seed catalogs, and delicious foods, helpful medicines, delightful happy bee filled flowers, and a better green natural world.
Diann Dirks, Certified Permaculture Designer, organic gardener, artist, author, consultant, educator and internship program director, and seed collector
Check out the sale page on this blog site. Perhaps you’ll find something that will help you be a better gardener, and happier person. And avail yourself of the posted articles in this blog. I wish you success and a lot of enjoyment.
Here are the sites for trustworthy seed companies and nurseries:
http://www.southernexposure.com/our-nongmo-policy-ezp-15.html Southern Exposure Seeds
firstname.lastname@example.org For free seeds for community gardens or for their beautiful seed catalog.
www.strictlymedicinalseeds.com Medicinal seeds
email@example.com Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
www.starkbros.com Stark Brothers nurseries and orchards
http://shop.nativeseeds.org/ Native seeds
How to find non-Monsanto seeds: