Seeds for a New Season

Along with most of my furniture and canning/preserving equipment lost in the house fire this summer, I also lost my seed collection. A young woman who lived in my neighborhood happened by while I was working in the “smokehouse,” and she helped me count the bags and envelopes before we scattered much of it to the winds–116 packs total of flower, herb, and vegetable seed.

Because I had gardens growing in two locations at the time of the fire, I was able to save a little from this year’s crop–a couple varieties of tomato were all I really had time and space to keep track of. I tried three times to save Coyote Cherry before I remembered to drain and dry them ahead of when they started sprouting in the jar.

I also saved Santorini–a tomato I hardly ever appreciate ’til the end of the season, when I look around and realize they’re still pumping out those lovely little bright red thin-skinned ruffled jewels. Old Pink Plum, bearer of prolific clusters of rosy pink thick-walled fruits, was first to be saved–and last to provide house-ripened tomatoes from all the green ones I snatched out of the jaws of the first hard frost.

Poking around in other people’s gardens has yielded a couple small packets of herb and flower seed. That’s something to start with. On a whim, I saved a few seeds of Lavender Touch eggplant–a hybrid from Pinetree Garden Seeds I’ve been growing for over five years now.

But with the seed catalogs coming in, I’m a little overwhelmed with how exactly to start building the collection back. One part of me thinks I should order as much as possible as quickly as possible–what if civilization as we know it breaks down, and I don’t have a big insurance policy of food and medicine ready to grow?

The other part of me knows that it will take some time to develop the gardens here, and why rush to buy more five times more varieties of seed than I will have time and space to plant?

The end result will probably be somewhere in between the conservative estimate of what I’ll be able to grow this year and the panicked squirrel-hoarding order I’d make if I watched too much news. Though it will probably be closer to the hoarding end, if only because I feel so naked without a serious collection of seed.

In the last couple of years, I’ve made a serious effort to find solid open-pollinated replacements for the hybrid varieties I like. I’ll continue that effort, so the rebuilt collection is something I can (or in some cases, could if I needed to) grow out and save for myself.

The backyard is big, and the production gardens are in the planning stages (read: walking around talking to myself stage). I’m hoping to get some long raised beds tilled and built up back there early enough in the season so I can grow a quick green manure cover before putting in warm weather crops. I’ve got my four raised beds in place (unfilled as yet) that can serve for what early season greens, roots, and legumes I choose.

But I haven’t made those decisions yet.

The seed catalogs didn’t used come out until Christmas–or even the beginning of the new year, but they are starting to come earlier and earlier now–some precede Thanksgiving, even.

It doesn’t feel right to me when spring seed catalogs come out while fall harvest is still in progress. It feels like we aren’t being allowed any rest–like we’re being pushed to make choices that need a little more time and processing of what we learned in the current season. It feels like we ought to have a little rest, a little settling into the darkness, a little of the fallow time before we start chasing the tail of spring too earnestly.

Because of my move late last winter (and failure to change addresses for seed catalogs until a few weeks ago–after my mom started calling to say gloat she’d gotten hers), I’m getting some of that rest while the catalogs slowly trickle into my PO box.

In years past, the post-Christmas seed considerations were preceded by an inventory process that took up most of an afternoon and evening. This year, my self-gifted Christmas present will be sitting down with my farm journal and a stack of seed catalogs and starting to think seriously about what this first seed order of the 2012 season will look like–on an almost completely blank slate.


Just came back in from a brief foray out into the still-above-freezing world.  Everywhere is the sound of dripping and trickling water–so unlike the frozen stillness of the last couple of weeks.  The snow is soft under my feet, and the sidewalk is clear of its frozen layers of ice and snow.

Today was mellow inside and out–I made a very simple turkey-garlic-barley soup out of the first round of stock and started on the second batch of stock with the remains of the carcass and the chunks of garlic left inside.  I had heard it’s good to add a splash of vinegar to a stock to leach some calcium out of the bones, so I did, along with peppercorns, a handful of dried garlic scapes, some parsley–whatever seemed good.

Made my Penzey’s Spices order from the gift certificate my mom sent right before Thanksgiving, and they “forgave” the $1.12 I went above the $30 value of the gift card.  So, I have some bay leaves and vegetable soup base and Balti curry powder and orange peel to look forward to.

I also ordered my Nikki McClure calendar for 2009–wanted to wait in case my friend who usually gets me one did again this year, but he instead gave me one of his amazing works of resin art–not something you can just hop online and purchase!  So there’s two things coming in the mail sometime in the next couple of weeks.

The Nikki McClure calendars have become a tradition in my house–I now have five, with #6 on its way.  Because they are so wonderful, I keep them all up all year, changing each one at the start of every month.

For a person with no readily-accessible clocks in her house (only on the computer and the phone), I love the monthly cycle of a calendar.  I don’t write on Ms. McClure’s though–I keep a hardware store calendar in the kitchen for dates and appointments.

Finally made it back to the gym late this morning for a 2 1/4 mile walk on the treadmill and was glad the scale didn’t seem to notice I’d been playing hooky.  Vega got some play time at the park, and though there weren’t any other dogs there, we hiked through the slushy snow on the wooded trail so she could nose out rabbits.

The Northern flickers must be out judging by the flecks of tree bark scattered on the snow–I haven’t seen them in my yard yet, but they’ll eventually show up to peck the bark off the redbud while searching for insects underneath.  There were fresh deer tracks too, and a couple places where they’d pawed down through the snow looking for something tender and green underneath.

There were a couple open spots on the river–but this time the dog didn’t venture out on the ice.  She did momentarily yesterday morning, but I called her back in a panic after hearing a crunk from the ice underneath her.

Spent some time this afternoon poring through the three seed catalogs I’m planning on ordering from so far–Johnny’s, Territorial, and Pine Tree.  I had made up a list of crops I plan on growing and then painstakingly looked up every one in each of the three to learn their varietal offerings, prices, and pack sizes before settling on what I’m going to order from whom.

On Christmas Eve I was talking to a fellow farmer friend, and she mentioned getting her seed orders together early this year.  She thinks that with the economy in the trenches, a lot more people will be planning to grow-their-own this year, and that could pose some availability problems for those of us who grow for market.  It seemed like a reasonable theory, so I figured I’d get it together early, too.

I’m still jazzed about the idea of a seed swap event and maybe catalog share as well, so I’ll be checking with the garden club and community garden people to see when is a good time.  I tend toward earlier rather than later–as there’s always a number of crops that do well when started in February–leeks and parsley and onions and some perennials.

Besides–gathering together to talk about gardens and seeds is a good way to shrug off the winter blahs and focus on early planting.  I’ve noticed a lot of folks don’t really get their gardens going until June, and I’d like to see more seeds getting in the ground in late March or early April so the local food season can start off abundantly.

Seed Inventory

I’ve already received my first 2009 seed catalog in the mail.  They keep coming earlier and earlier, and frankly, I wish they wouldn’t.  I’m not ready to be excited about next season yet–I’m still decompressing from this one!

I know they’re hoping we all remember those cool varieties our neighbors and fellow market vendors planted and are hoping to lock in some early orders.  But I’ve always liked getting the catalogs starting around the Winter Solstice–it makes the dark days seem much brighter when I can dream sweet warm loamy dreams about the spring garden while the snow piles up in drifts.

When I see the catalogs coming in mid-November, I’m just not ready to dream those dreams yet–my hands are still chilled from harvesting the last of the leeks and arugula and kale, and I haven’t made enough warm soups and casseroles from those final fall ingredients to think about planting more of them.

But the arrival of those first seed catalogs is a reminder that I need to get on my seed inventory.  It’s downright dangerous to even peek at those pages without knowing what I have stored in all those boxes down in the basement cupboard.  I might fix my eye on all the frilly lettuces and have made up my mind to order five or six kinds before realizing I have that many or more needing to be used up ASAP.

Flowers are especially dangerous–I have a habit of deciding that the garden really needs some more colorful blooms while conveniently forgetting that I’ve been deciding that for the past three years and ordering all kinds of things I’ve never gotten around to planting.

So after a little neatening up of my living room, I’ll pull out my garden journal and a good pen and start bringing up the boxes and taking stock of the broccoli and zinnias and tomatoes and arugula and who knows what else I’ve got down there.

Heck, I think I’ve still got yucca seed from Crazy Horse Canyon on the Rosebud and some prickly poppies from the Dismal River Overlook in the Nebraska Sandhills.  Maybe this year I’ll fill a tray with sandy soil for that experiment–a little shredded oak leaves mixed in.

Then there’s some American Bittersweet I saved from the dog park and more single hollyhocks I got from my mom in Vermont.  Heck–I ought to pot up any weird echinacea varieties I want to start and put them outside now to cold stratify.

Another nice thing about the inventory is putting together a pile of packets to give away to community gardeners and friends–things I’m not planning on growing again but maybe someone else wants to try.  I think it’d be fun to have a late-winter/early spring seed swap event to get folks thinking about their spring planting and community garden plot preparation.

Well, there I go–starting to get excited about next year when we’re a month and a half away from the end of this one.  I’d better get that inventory underway!