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Seeds, Glorious Seeds

Well, I didn’t win the lottery … in case you were wondering.  So it’s back to being on budget.  I am definitely trying to keep costs down this year.  The economy’s not good.  My position is being moved and I am not, so I expect to be out of work by the end of the year.  Last year I spent more than I wanted to on gardening goodies.  Finally, if the point (or one of them) in growing your own is to save money, it doesn’t make sense to dump a heap of dollars into the endeavor.

I kept all this in mind as I reviewed my stash of seeds to decide what is going in the ground (or pots) this year.  I have nearly all the seeds I want/need but did determine a gap: I am looking for heirloom beans.  I had a couple of seed catalogs on hand that friends have given me — a Park Seed catalog that I started to flip through till I realized it’s a year old, and a Territorial Seed Company winter 2011 catalog.  Neither will do me much good right now so for the first time, I ordered seed catalogs.  I could be more environmentally sound and browse them online but I do like having paper in my hand and limiting off-hours computer time (except for updates here and the usually too often FB check-ins).  So I have put in my requests from Seed Savers Exchange and Territorial Seed Company.

Seed Savers Exchange has been around since 1975 and is a non-profit dedicated to preserving and promoting heirloom vegetables, fruits, flowers and herbs.  Basic membership is $40.00/year (with the year based on quarterly publications, not calendar years — which is important because it ensures you get the Yearbook from which you can order seeds from other members).  It entitles members to a 10% discount on all catalog purchases, the catalogs themselves, and several publications about heirloom growing.  SSE is an important organization because it also serves as a major seed bank: Seed Savers Heritage Farm is an 890-acre farm in Northeast Iowa that is one of the largest non-governmental seed banks in the country.  This is the kind of endeavor that is worthy of support, even in tough economic times.  Regular contributor and fellow reveler, Ralph, is a member and speaks highly of his experience with them.  Search “savers” on this site for more on this significant organization.

I ordered the catalogs a little leery because all I have heard from people who order from catalogs is how hard it is to limit seed purchases and not get overly ambitious. My biggest lesson from last year is to KISR: Keep It Simple, Revel.  It’s got to be my mantra this year, or I run the risk of overwhelming myself, my budget, my time and my desire.  In practice, this will mean keeping more of my plants in one place so I’m not racing to four different locations to water them before running off to work, and to have variety but not so much that I’m constantly researching care tips.  This year, I aim to make my garden a little more self-sufficient and useful (think food) but beautiful too (think flowers).  A touch of spice (think herbs), and it should all be nice.

QUESTION: what lessons are you taking into your garden this year?  Do you have a guiding principle or mantra?  What are your gardening goals?  What are your favorite seed sources?  Do you have any tips to share for saving money while still growing your garden this year?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt!

5 responses to “Seeds, Glorious Seeds

  1. Ralph ⋅

    Last year I took the advice of a few podcasters who suggested spreading gardening orders between the various companies. The reason given was that catalogs were expensive to produce and ordering was a way to ‘give back’ and support their efforts. This year I got a number of catalogs from companies I never dealt with or even heard of before. When I started putting together this year’s wish list of seeds I decided to take a different approach. Many times shipping costs are a good part of the total order price and making multiple small orders just compounds the matter. What I did was go through the Seed Savers Exchange catalog and picked as many seeds from there as I could. I think their work is important, so aside from being a member I am going to support them further with my purchases.

    Don’t over order- something I am continually guilty of doing, but working on correcting. Seeds are often good for a few years, so left overs from a year or three back are probably still good- use them rather than re-buying, I do. As far as edible plants, if you get fresh organic food from a CSA, health food store, or wherever you trust, try taking some seeds from what you buy and plant a few. Beans should be pretty easy to collect. I’ve heard of people buying things like unroasted coffee and other beans from a health food store and having great luck planting them at minimal cost- cook the left overs. A year or 2 back I planted organic scallions from a store which over-wintered outside just fine in the ground- I’ve cut a few stalks for salads already.

    Straight from their home page at:
    Welcome to the FREE Seed Exchange for Seed Savers Worldwide. This site is brought to you free of charge, so everybody can afford to share their seeds. We encourage you to trade your seeds, offer them for free, or you can offer them for sale. Help us get the word out. Let Everybody know they can swap their seeds here free.
    This Site is Brought to you by:
    Johnny MAX & the Queen
    Hosts of the Self-Sufficient Homestead Show

    Jason at mentioned a seed exchange on his site, but a quick look did not turn it up. He does have a link to

    If you do feel bad about all the catalogs you don’t order from there’s usually a way to stop receiving them on one of the covers, or just send them an email. The good information and planting tips from your old catalogs is still valid, so keep a paper copy of each for reference.

    That’s about all that comes to mind at the moment. I am sure there are other great ideas out there!

    • Revel

      I like the idea of giving back (and spreading the wealth) by ordering from different companies. It also gives you a chance to comparison shop (since you won’t really know how seeds will perform of course until you have them). Johnny Max & The Queen, and Jason too are quite entertaining. I really like the way Jason gets into the community to offer information on gardening and sustainable practices. I like the green coffee beans idea too, btw. I did save several types of seeds from my CSA experience last summer. I haven’t yet checked them out though Aimee at Red Garden Clogs has not yet had luck with the cuke or Ital. frying pepper seeds I gave her (both from the CSA). I have yet to give them a try. I’m looking forward to growing the strawberries from seeds you brought to the exchange in the fall. Thanks for the links and great advice!

  2. Ralph ⋅

    Another thing I tried then later found out may not be the best idea was to use fresh pumpkin seeds. I planted some from a Halloween pumpkin. They grew really long vines following the morning sun up the driveway. I never got fruit. What happened was vine borers (I think) got to them. Later I read that pumpkins grown from seed like I did often grew strange looking fruit- I think hybrid seeds are used commercially. It may have been a good thing nothing came from that experiment!

    It is nice to try and support various worthwhile causes, but it turns out there are so many of them you have to choose your battles as they say. I constantly hear about ‘things gone wrong’ on programs I listen to, and frequently post or email information on the topic of the day. Every once in a while I stop doing it, realizing I must sound like the grim reaper bringing constant news of doom and destruction. Like everything else, and maybe more so, too much bad news can be- bad.

    I have a few small pots with lettuce, carrots, bok choy, and a couple others from a store that someone gave me. They are still outside waiting for me to put them in the ground. I have to check what they need as far as sun and plant them accordingly. Buying plants is more expensive than buying seeds, but you get the advantage of ‘buying’ at least a couple extra weeks of growth. I am not about to stop growing seeds, but some selective plant buying has some advantages too.

    So far I have a number of strawberry flowers (it’s probably OK to plant those seeds now, they don’t seem to mind cold too much), and one scallion in the ground looks like it’s going to flower (more seeds 🙂 Let me know how the strawberry seeds do, I’ve never had to use them. Since my first planting they just keep coming back year after year with no fuss, and I leave them outside all winter. Apparently they will spread in the ground, but mine are all in containers.

    A note on the multiple catalog seed ordering, see if they tell you how many seeds are in a package, they can vary a lot. From Territorial the sample size is more than I can use, and the SSE is pretty generous too. Even if there’s more seeds than you need remember you just won’t have to order them next year, or use some for a seed swap.

    One other good site and podcast for gardening is It sounds like an unlikely place for garden info, but if you use the search box there is a wealth of gardening stuff spread around the site.

    • Revel

      That sounds like the pumpkin seeds I planted in my front yard last year. These are the ones that took over and I had to keep fighting them back and off everyone else, and they never even produced any fruit. They were set out alongside some nice organic carrot seeds at a chichi restaurant in CT. I went up there to see a friend in a show. It was a fun day, taking the train and feeling real old-timey about it. The seeds were only a year old, so I don’t think it was a matter of age. I think that perhaps they were more decoration for the restaurant than intended to be put in a Brooklyn rowhouse front plot. The carrots did okay though, and I’ll plant more of them again this year.

  3. Ralph ⋅

    My vines grew long. There were quite a few large yellow flowers and plenty of bee’s tending to them. Right near soil level the vines started to rot with a sandish looking powder. Later I realized the description matched vine borers. That’s also what I think keeps killing my squash vines.

    Carrots I’ve never tried. Someone gave me a couple plants, and I received a package of heirloom carrots when I joined the SSE. I have to read up on them.

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