March 2009

The days are noticeably longer, probably 4 more minutes of light each day now. So spring is coming and the soil is warming enough to begin planting some crops. Take time in selecting the seed varieties that are best suited for our NW maritime climate.

How important is it to consider the particular genetics of a seed? You want good production, but you also want good taste and nutrition. Many conventional seed producers grow for crops that need to maintain “freshness” while traveling hundreds (thousands?) of miles and sitting in a grocery store for a few more weeks. These are not qualities that a home gardener cares about. Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer seed companies to supply our small farmers and gardeners. Many of the long time, tried and true, home garden varieties are not being grown by seed companies anymore, which depend on sales to the large corporate farming operations. I am increasingly concerned as the small seed growers are bought up by Monsanto and other corporations, and then they stop producing the varieties that small farmers and gardeners have depended on for years. Sadly, I’ve said goodbye to many of my old favorites and am constantly searching for new varieties to replace them. I do save many seeds, but I don’t have enough knowledge or time to manage the natural hybridizing in my small garden setting. Perhaps this should be a larger focus of my gardening in the coming years.

Where do local growers look for the seeds grown or specialized for the cool summers we have in the Northwest? Some recommended seed companies are: Fedco and Johnny’s (from Maine) and Territorial and Abundant Life (from Oregon). The Territorial seed catalog is especially useful for its growing instructions. This catalog includes the planting instructions, harvesting tips, and a good description of the pest management issues that impact the different crops we grow in the Northwest. For example, we have carrot rust fly and spinach leaf miner, whereas eastern gardeners fight the Japanese beetles, tomato horn worms and corn ear worms.

These seed catalogs offer many organic seed choices, too. A new small local seed company is Uprising Seeds. Though Uprising Seeds doesn’t have many seed varieties, I enjoyed reading their catalog and feel confident about the sources they have chosen for supplying their seeds.

Suppose you are at a local store and they have a good sale on seeds from Midwest or Atlantic seed companies. For the price, it may be worth trying some of those seeds. But, you will need to adjust the instructions. “Days to maturity” for most crops will be much longer than it says on the seed packet, especially the flowers or fruiting crops like peppers, squashes and pumpkins. If the seed packet says 90 or 100 days, then you may not be successful, unless you plan to grow it in a greenhouse.

For organizing seeds, I use a small file box with monthly folders in it. When I buy or collect seeds, I organize by month so I remember to get my crops started on time. For the plants that can’t be directly sown and need to be started indoors, I have another section in my file box for those seeds I start indoors to transplant out later. These include some favorite tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.
This month you may want to start these crops indoors: lettuce, chard, broccoli, bok choy, kohlrabi, peppers, and tomatoes. At the end of March, you can direct seed outdoors beets, carrots, rapini, cilantro and mustards. The early broccoli starts can be planted outside by the end of March also.

As I write this article, I am still waiting for a soaking February rain to water in the peas we planted. But the days have been dry enough to start preparing the beds, turning in some good compost and incorporating lime to increase soil pH, especially for the Brassica beds. Enjoy the start of the 2009 growing season.

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