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Seeds of Future Garden’s Past

Inspiration to get through the no longer chilling sub-zero temperatures, drudgery of wearing at least twice as many garments1 than in July, and brief, blinding glimpses of the sun as it slides below the horizon at 6:00 pm.: planning the garden, once the ground is no longer frozen and/or covered in snow/ice.

Is it cheering to think of all the things that will sprout and grow under a raging sun 6 months from now. Is this failing to live the in the present, which, let’s face it, is cold, dull and restrictive? 

In years past, I’ve revelled in seed shopping for the coming season and appreciated the retail kiosks offering seed packets. Having sampled a fair number of seed providers, but not enough to know what’s the best thing to buy, I’m at an impasse. I don’t know best practices for using seeds. 

Garden planning has taken a backseat to knowing which seeds are best.

Varying experiences:

  • Some veg grow from old seeds I have lying around for I don’t know how long (e.g. zucchini). 
  • I’ve identified tomato varieties that I prefer, and can grow them year after year, either from seeds purchased some time ago or harvested from the previous year’s tomatoes2.
  • The same variety of cucumbers and beans seeds that were exuberantly abundant one year, withered at the three leaf stage others despite repurchasing the same seeds. 
  • There are crops I struggle with, despite trying seeds from old, new and multiple sources, such as carrots and beets. 
  • Some things just grow regardless of the how many different seed brands I buy, like basil, Swiss chard and arugula. 
  • I’ve discovered some awesome seeds that grow vegetables I want to keep growing and hope to re-buy the seeds as necessary, like sweet pepper varieties and Buttercrunch lettuce. 
  • I’m mystified that some seeds lose their ability to grow awesome plants over time. The same seeds that made giant turnips in year one, make mediocre turnips in year two and tiny turnips in year three. The job of a seed is to germinate a plant. After than, the growth of the plant is up to the plant. How does the age of the seed determine the robustness of the plant? Maybe the seeds were exactly the same in all three years, but the growing conditions were best year one, ok year two and poor year three.

Treated seeds are a thing, sprayed with fungicides and insecticides. Aside from some impatiens, which grew to three times the expected size, I haven’t grown any of these. Seems like the sort of thing to stay away from, if possible. I’m all about using -icides only when necessary, but will run to them if needed.

There is considerable info available about the types of seeds (heirloom, hybrid, regular – probably selectively bred, treated, GMO, etc) and even a site that lists the length of time seeds are good for (1-4 years depending on the type of vegetable). This didn’t settle my questioning mind. 

What I want from seeds – (a) to germinate, (b) to grow into a robust plant, and (c) to make good vegetables to eat. I’m not a purist that cares where the seeds came from and won’t plant seeds based on a philosophy. If heirlooms make better veg, ok. But I’d plant GMOs if they made the best crop without using herbicides or risking colonization of the natural environment, which is unlikely in my urban backyard. 

My question really is – where to get the best seeds and how to know if the ones I have will be good next year. Yeah, two questions. Reluctantly, I’m coming to the conclusion that there is no ultimate answer to these question. The answer is different for each variety of vegetable I want to grow. 

What I need is an inventory of the seeds I have, the ones that grew well (and I was too disorganized to collect from the plants from for another year), and the seeds I still need improved versions of to make better veg. Like celery. Have not mastered celery, or Brussels sprouts, yet. 

While there’s more to this than the seeds, the seeds are the beginning. Many more gardening variables determine the crop output. The seed source and seed choice have an influence, and need to be carefully chosen.

The joy of gardening is I don’t have all the answers, and neither does YouTube. I’d ask an AI chatbot, which I’m sure would have an answer, but it might have sprouted from its imagination rather than be grown from fact.

1 The math: in July, I can get away with wearing 5 things. In February, not only do I exchange the short for long pants, the tank top for a turtleneck, and sandals for boots, but add sweatshirt/sweater/vest or both, socks, gloves, hat, scarf, and coat. 

2 With tomatoes, I’ve had much success with keeping seeds from good fruit. I’ve used different approaches, one freezing and one fermenting. And self seeding, provided the plants get going early. Also, seed from packettes purchased year ago still grow good plants.

Thanks for reading.

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