Though the calendar told us spring arrived last week, it didn’t feel like it, did it? And I don’t just mean temperature-wise. Some years, even though it will flurry late in the season, you can just tell it is already spring. There’s just a feeling in the air—a sort of tension, as if the trees and gardens are holding back the explosion of green that is the visible proof of winter’s death.
Finally, that feeling (feelings are feelings because we can’t control them) hit, on Thursday morning. Something gives, and everyone seems to pick up on it. Do you feel it yet?
Of course, I’ve been preparing for gardening since about January, when I began doing my winter sowing and getting it out on the deck in preparation for planting season. In brief, winter sowing is a method of not just starting your plants, but hardening them off in one fell swoop. It’s simple, really: clean out some old juice jugs or large yogurt containers, stab a few holes into the bottom, fill with wet soil, plant, cover, and throw the whole kit ‘n caboodle outside, where they’ll germinate right on time and be ready for planting when you are.
I began doing this several years ago, and it works like a charm. I don’t have the patience for a messy-looking rack of seedlings under lights in the house, and those peat-moss things sold at garden centers are a huge waste of money if you ask me. They always seem to be contaminated with something, and the germination rate I’ve gotten from them is abysmal. Winter sowing, on the other hand, has yielded about an 85% germination rate over the years, which gardeners will know is nothing to sneeze at; moreover, it doesn’t suck up expensive electricity and lets me re-use some of the otherwise-disposable containers we end up with (I even use old vinegar bottles).
After checking my little containers, massed on our sunny deck, I thought I’d direct you all to a few of my favourite places to buy seeds for our gardens. Now, I know I told you I begin doing this in January, but the first time I winter-sowed it was probably the middle of March, and I kept at it ’til mid-April (of course, we were in zone 7B at the time). Furthermore, I’ve used the same method to get new seeds going right in the
middle of the growing season; it’s easy, it’s effective, and I don’t have to worry about pulling the plant I want because I think it’s a weed!
Well, let’s take a look. I’m not being compensated for this post—it’s just my opinion as an enthusiastic gardener. It must also be confessed that I’ve been shopping big time; the previous owners of our home had a big swingset by the shed, and I’ve decided to turn that bare spot into a pretty pollinator’s garden. Not only will it be great for my veggie garden just yards away and the monarch butterflies I saw fluttering through during the migration last fall, it will be something lovely for me and the neighbors to look at as we do our dishes or eat dinner. It’s a winning situation for everybody! (So I wish I were being compensated, with seeds, but I’m not…alas!)
I prefer to plant mostly heirlooms; they seem to weather the summer better, they taste great, and as you know, I’m a history nerd. Moreover, as a gardener and a Christian, I can’t help but also consider our pollinators—bees, butterflies, wasps, hummingbirds. They help us out, and it only seems right for me to help them out by planting things that’ll throw out non-GMO blooms they’ll like, too! It’s simply a ‘good stewardship’ proposition to my mind. I’m not an environmentalist, at least of the modern stripe, by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think we ought to be good, thoughtful stewards of what we have. That’s not to say I don’t grow a few hybrids—some make it into my garden because they’re just plain good—but even these tend to be older varieties. Thus, most of the vendors I like best sell a lot of the heirloom and older varieties—I just wanted you to be aware!
I’ve been very pleased with my seeds from Diane’s Seeds; this was the first online place I ordered seeds from, and I don’t think I could have done any better! They’re perfectly packaged, delivered quickly, and I got a high germination rate. She has the Paul Robeson tomato, which is not only pretty, but delicious, as well as a German green I tend to be pretty stingy with.
She also sells plenty of perennials and annuals—I ordered my first Love-In-A-Mist, Blue Flax, and Candytuft seeds from Diane’s, and they’re now favourites of mine…especially since the former reseeds rather enthusiastically. All of Diane’s seeds are open-pollinated (non GMO and non-hybrid); these are the classics! You can also buy daylily sees and plants from Diane’s—I’ve not done this yet despite my love for lilies, but considering the quality of products I’ve received from her, I’ve no doubt that they’re good.
Finally, Diane’s Seeds has a good selection of gardening articles, including some about plants hummingbirds will love and those that will draw beneficial bugs to your garden beds (I always mix flowers in with my veggies—not only is it pretty, it’s good for your plants!). So not only is her site a solid resource, you get terrific, high-quality seeds at a fair price—and the shipping is fair, too.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
I don’t think one can write about buying seeds without talking about the Gettles of Baker Creek and all they have to offer. Heirloom seeds galore, some very rare varieties—and it is the variety that keeps me coming back! In fact, they have almost 1500 different varieties from 70 different countries. If I had the room to plant every single thing they offer that I’m interested in, I suspect the bill would run into three figures very quickly. (So buy a lot of my photos, everyone!)
The Missourians offer a swoon-worthy print catalog—I wait for it with bated breath every winter, then savour every page, reading every product listing while being mightily tempted to blow the budget. That said, their website is just as well-done: clean and crisp with plenty of information.
I’ve had very good luck with my Baker Creek seeds—and my neighbors are unfailingly intrigued by the unusual goodies I share with them, from the Tsungshigo tomato that has actually replaced the Roma in my garden to the delightfully cute and tasty Mexican Sour Gherkins that have led everyone
from the neighbor’s kids to Grandpa (to whom I gave gherkin seeds for his last Christmas) to exclaim in wonder.
I know Jere and his beautiful wife Emilee (if I looked that gorgeous without makeup…I’d save a little time every morning) collect seeds from the world over while writing books, publishing a magazine, and raising their little daughter, but the following I didn’t know until I popped over to their website to write this post:
They also work extensively to supply free seeds to many of the world’s poorest countries, as well as here at home in school gardens and other educational projects.
I can definitely get behind that.
Baker Creek has a few festivals every year at their Missouri Ozarks location; one of these Route 66 trips we’ll have to make a detour to visit, festival or no. The Mansfield headquarters is also home to the Baker Creek Village, Bakersville; Beautiful Ozarks? Check. Comfy old buildings? Check. Plants to ogle? Yup, sign my camera and I up.
Their seeds are well-priced, especially considering their rarity; it’s that so many are so tempting you’ll find dangerous. 😉 The number of tomatoes and squashes alone is impressive, and they carry a great deal of zinnias, a butterfly favourite, too.
Finally, for the cottage gardener in your heart, there is (in addition to the two aforementioned seed vendors) Select Seeds. They have a lot of uncommon, beautiful heirloom flowers for you to choose from—and many of these are native plants. If you want to help out the pollinators, unfortunately, just any lovely plant from your local garden center won’t do; many of these simply don’t offer the food these critters need. Indeed, many suspect that frequent spraying is responsible for the loss of a once-sizable crop of asclepias. Better known as milkweed, this is the monarch butterfly’s host plant; now that it’s not as common, is it any wonder we see fewer of these beautiful butterflies?
Like Diane’s and Baker Creek, Select Seeds sells only open-pollinated flowers, in an effort to help out the insects and hummingbirds. What I find particularly helpful is that on their website and in their catalog they print little icons beside each flower, telling you what growing conditions it prefers, if it makes a good cut flower, and which pollinators you might see buzzing nearby. (For those of us in deer-infested areas, there’s a deer icon to indicate which plants these pests find less appealing.)
Like some of the seeds I’ve bought from Diane’s, many of Select’s seeds are self-sowers; usually they’ll let you know which plants are most likely to do this. Buying here gives you not only beautiful new ‘antique’ plants that your grandparents and great-grandparents would have grown, but it’s a beautiful way to help out the other creatures sharing creation with us!
There you have it—my favourite seed vendors. Yes, I’m often sucked in at the garden store and grab something from Burpee or whatever is on the rack, but the bulk of my garden is populated with goodies from these fine small businesses. So if you’re more than ready for balmier weather, get your hands dirty! Buy a few packets of seeds and get to work.
Have you any favourite places to buy seed from? There are so many places I can’t possibly keep track, but I’m always interested in new offerings.
By the way, the GardenWeb forums are a rich source of gardening information—from terrariums to winter sowing to formal gardens, someone there can help you out.
What are you still doing here?
Go get your hands dirty! It’s spring, my friend. 😉