Sticks of forsythia bloom bright yellow in a blue glass vase
on the mantle above the wood-burning stove. Outside, crocuses
poke yellow petals through the cover of last fall’s dried
leaves. Worms gather in writhing reproductive masses in the
warm cores of compost heaps. Sunset approaches 6 o’clock.
Spring is inevitable, as the calendar sheds its days towards
the equinox, March 20. It is during the month of March that
I select seeds for my garden, planting fantasies and hopes
for future harvests.
Back in early December, seed and gardening catalogs began
landing in my mailbox. Over 20 of them eventually arrived.
Flipping through their colorful Gardens of Eden illustrations
gives me a bit of a lift in the low-light days of winter.
These bright volumes update me on new varieties of plants
as well as the latest in soil-building and pest-control products.
Some of the catalogs have interesting sidebars about cultivation
ideas and important agricultural issues. I always hold on
to the catalogs I order from because they often contain useful
information for nurturing their seeds into fruitful plants.
While I enjoy my winter seed-catalog fantasies, I have to
snap back to the fact that my space for cultivation measures
in square feet and not acres. I have to limit what I grow.
While I don’t have space to grow corn, Hubbard squash or mammoth
pumpkins, I can cultivate a wide range of salad greens, herbs,
edible flowers and tomatoes. I try to select plants that require
little space, can tolerate cool weather and can be harvested
a little at a time. All of the food I grow is eaten raw.
Before filling out any seed orders, I check the contents of
my simple seed box, a recycled wooden clementine box with
a couple dividers added. Plants did not evolve seeds that
expire in one year. While the rate of germination will go
down over time, seed packets often last me two to three years.
Even the smallest packets contain numbers of seeds far beyond
what I could ever use in one year. Using seeds over more than
one growing season has helped keep my seed costs down.
In deciding what seeds to buy, I check into the agricultural
philosophy of seed companies as well as the range of varieties
they offer. I am also interested in companies that sell heirloom
varieties and organic seeds. With agribusiness moving to market
genetically modified plants that produce sterile seeds, the
availability of a diverse seed inventory is important to me,
and I support seed sellers who contribute to it.
I am also interested in the price of the seeds I buy. Most
seed sellers will give you some idea of the number of seeds
in their packets. Differences in price for the same seed by
different companies may reflect differences in the number
of seeds packaged. If the seeds are organic, they will also
tend to cost more.
While most of the seeds I will plant this year will be from
past years, I have ordered a number of seeds from three seed
vendors: Fedco Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Seeds of
Change. All three offer a wide range of vegetable, flower
and herb seeds. They also have a shared concern that genetic
diversity is important, and refuse to knowingly carry genetically
modified seed stocks. They all offer organic seeds and varieties
that are open-field pollinated. They also offer products for
growing seeds, enhancing the soil, and pest management as
well as select books on agricultural practices geared toward
the backyard sodbuster.
Fedco Seeds (P.O. Box 520, Waterville, ME 04903-0520; (207)
873-7333; www.fed coseeds.com) is a cooperative, jointly owned
by its workers and consumers. According to the Maine company,
“profit is not our primary goal.” Fedco actively supports
sustainable agriculture, and has joined the Campaign for the
Living Seed, a project aimed at food security through support
for local farmers, seed saving and genetic diversity, educating
youth about the importance of seeds, and actively opposing
genetically engineered varieties. Fedco provides detailed
data on each variety it sells, including a set of codes that
size seed suppliers into groups ranging from small farmers
to multinational corporations. It also clearly codes varieties
that are patented. Variety descriptions are often laced with
historic information, interesting bits of trivia and the location
of the farm providing the seed. Fedco’s smallest seed packets
mainly range from 80 cents to $1.20.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds (184 Foss Hill Road, RR 1 Box 2580
Albion, ME 04910-9731; (207) 437-4395; www.johnnyseeds.com)
is celebrating its 30th year of seed selling. At the company’s
certified organic farm in Maine, seeds “depend on composting,
cover crops and other classic organic techniques that build
soil, enhance biodiversity and produce healthier food.” Ten
percent of the company’s profits are donated to charities
that promote gardening. Johnny’s offers a wide range of seeds,
accompanied by text boxes of information, including germination,
planting, disease-prevention and harvesting tips. Its offerings
in herbs and greens are particularly robust. Edible flowers
are identified. Johnny’s smallest seed packets are in the
Seeds of Change (P.O. Box 15700, Santa Fe, NM 87592-1500;
(888) 762-7333; www.seedsofchange.com) sells only certified
organic seeds that have been produced through pollination
in open fields (no hybrids). Seeds of Change operates a research
farm and garden outside of Santa Fe, growing thousands of
varieties as part of a larger effort to maintain a healthy,
biologically diverse seed stock. Being located in the Southwest,
this seed seller also provides information on the water demands
of the varieties sold. Seeds of Change has a more extensive
collection of rare seeds available through its Deep Diversity
catalog, which you can find at the company’s Web site. Greens,
chilies, herbs, beans, tomatoes and sunflowers are specialties,
with many heirloom varieties offered. Small seed packets run
mainly from $2.49-$2.79.
So, there are a few good seed sources to check out if a spring
garden is in your future. And now, I’ve got to go and get
some seeds germinating.