I have great faith in a seed.

The sure sign that spring is getting nearer comes in the form of seed catalogs. They start arriving in late winter, right in the middle of your 95th continuous day of gloomy, gray, half sunlight. Some catalogs have beautiful, well-lit photographs that glow with natural, golden, summery light. Some catalogs only have endless columns of descriptions of plants – blight-resistant, beautiful, compact, productive, delicious, luscious foliage, tender, long storage — all things you want in your garden. All of the catalogs are beckoning to you from a time when the days are longer and the sun is stronger. Krista calls them my seed porn. It’s a little bit of a misnomer – they are more like a child’s security blanket.

I drag them along with me when I take a long bath, and I carry them around in my bag. Stuck in line somewhere? Read seed catalogs. Bedtime stories? Seed catalogs. Dinner party conversation? Seed catalogs. Waiting rooms? Seed catalogs. Every moment of free time? Seed catalogs. Did you know you can safely grow pumpkins and butternut squash and they won’t cross-pollinate because they are different species? Seed catalogs.

My priorities this year, like most every year, are heirloom (whatever that means), open-pollinated varieties. My preference leans toward organic seed and non-genetically modified seeds. The most important thing is finding varieties that will grow well in the finicky, short Olympia season. I also try to pick out veggies that will do well in our limited space, and food we actually buy from the grocery store so we will save real money. I’m not growing zucchini this year because we only buy it like once a year. It’s not worth it. And I am sure I can trade for it come late summer if I really need some local zucchini bread. I only buy from “Safe Seed” pledgers.

Then I pick a handful of plants “just because.” Just because they are pretty, sound curious, or seem too interesting to skip. We started with a spreadsheet, checking off the things we must plant (basil! artichokes! brussels sprouts! kale! tomatoes!), and the things we’d like to plant (green tea and lemon grass, for example). Honestly, we probably won’t get to much of the “wish” list this year – the “need” list is just so long.

I’ve already brought home a pile of packets, which you can see on the table up there. From the garden last year, I saved bok choy seeds, and ground cherry seeds. I traded some seeds for black-eyed pea seeds from my longest friend, Andrea. The list of things I still have to buy is quite long, and there are so many questions: Do we need two or three or four kinds of kale? How many kinds of potatoes can fit in my yard??

I spent many hours of Valentine’s day with my bed head, and my charts and graphs and seed catalogs. Thank goodness Krista slept most of the day. When she woke up, I pressed her for answers – This Kind of Pea or That Kind of Pea?? (pointing at a page in the Territorial Catalog) and Please Pick One More Kind of Kale! (stabbing my finger at a different page, covered in inky scribbles and notes). Very Romantic, yes? I think I’m closing in on my final 1 or 2 seed orders. After that, I have to prioritize getting berry bushes in the ground, and then it should be time for the indoor seed starting to commence.

I spent most of Monday in the yard, raking up material into a new compost pile (we have two now!), digging up the rose bushes that didn’t survive the winter, turning the compost, and digging up some broken concrete I found in the backyard. The trendy word for broken concrete is “Urbanite,” like it’s some kind of new mineral. Whatever you call it, though, it’s good enough to make a pathway out of. Krista warned me against digging up the whole yard, implying that I was going to start digging up a pet cemetery. We have no idea what’s buried back there!! So I stopped digging in random places looking for broken concrete, but I’ll probably go back and risk a kitty skeleton or two for the sake of some locally mined urbanite.


Filed under food, urban farming, winter

9 responses to “I have great faith in a seed.

  1. Hillary

    Kyle and I sat down to figure out seeds and spent about an hour deciding how many potatoes we want/can grow. Then we decided to table the potato discussion and start with the easy stuff.

    How many pounds of seed potatoes did you start with, and where did you get them from? The ones I’ve looked at seem pricier than I would have expected.

    Mmm… ground cherries. If we buy a house I want artichokes and asparagus.

    • jess s

      Well, buying potatoes from catalogs is a sort of expensive undertaking. They are heavy to ship, and one “seed potato” does not produce many plants, despite its great size and weight. My recommendation is to find a local source of potatoes – either a farmers market where the potatoes are not treated to retard growth (potatoes at the grocery store *are* treated) or from a local nursery, where you can get certified disease-free. I bought mine at the organic nursery I shop at. The selection was much smaller (maybe they had a dozen types?) but I think I spent less than a dollar on my seed potatoes. I bought about a pound, most of them had enough eyes to be chopped in 2, so i great something like 7 or 8 potato plants, with mixed results of productivity. It was a very good return for my 75 cents, all in all. One thing I didn’t know about potatoes before I grew them — if you cure them right (which is easy), they really last. I dug mine up in August, and they tasted totally fresh when I ate the last of them in November. My potatoes from the grocery store never last two weeks, never mind three months.

      • Hillary

        Cool, thanks for the advice. We were looking at Seed Savers Exchange, and they’re charging something like $10 for 2 1/2 pounds of seed potatoes. We want to grow a few kinds, but not spend $40 or $50 bucks on seed potatoes!

  2. jess s

    I feel your pain on this issue and I have gone around and around about it in my head. On one hand I really want to grow special and unique endangered varieties of potatoes from someplace like SSE, but at the end of the day, potatoes are (historically/culturally) about producing a lot of food for cheap. I doubt I spend $50 on potatoes in six or eight months. You can buy 10 lbs of Russet potatoes for $1.99 at the grocery store. It doesn’t make sense to spend that much on seed potatoes, at least for me. I was more than pleased with my medium-sized cal reds and large yukon golds grown from seed potatoes sourced locally. If I didn’t have a local nursery where I could get them, I might feel differently!

    • Hillary

      Okay, sorry, one more question. How many pounds of seed potatoes did you start with? We eat a fair amount of potatoes (and will definitely eat more when they’re exciting and home-grown) and I have no idea how much to plant.

      • jess s

        how are you growing them? in mounds or in stacks? i think if you grow in mounds, you usually get 4-6ish potatoes per plant. if you grow in stacks, well, you can get a lot more if you do it right. some people say 20lbs, some say 40lbs, some say 60lbs, you probably know every source has a different number. it’s pretty variable, though. some of the layers of my tater stacks didn’t make a single potato, but some of the layers made like 15 lbs. i planted 3 plants per stack.

        desired yield is kind of a backwards way to think about it though, for a backyard gardener. i would plant as much as you can fit and care for (they take a lot more work if you are stacking them!) if you have a crap potato year, you will still get *something* and if you have a super productive potato year, you can give it to the food bank or have a potato party and serve 20 kinds of potato food, or share with friends, or trade them on craigslist for local honey or something. for example, my hope is to plant 5-10 lbs of seed potatoes, although realistically i want to care for about 6 potato stacks, so i will just plant whatever will fit into that space.

      • jess s

        how can i talk about potatoes so much? it’s an obsession.

    • Hillary

      Oh, and we do have a great garden center, Paulino Gardens.

      • jess s

        awesome! i would call them & make sure they carry seed potatoes when the time is right. then you should be set! i love local garden centers.

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