Sowing Seeds of Happiness
As I write this during the first week of February, snow is falling for the 275th time this season. I exaggerate of course, but regular readers of this blog know it has been a brutal winter as Pacific Northwest winters go. Sigh....as this anxious gardener cannot get out and make mud pies and the like, the only logical thing to do is to garden virtually, perusing the many seed and plant catalogues filling my dull winter days with some semblance of happiness. I have a vegetable garden and (small) orchard to plan, after all. Well, Facilities Manager is actually in charge of those aspects of the garden, but he's busy catching Perry Mason twice a day. Someone's got to do it.
Let the planning and shopping begin! Ok, maybe not begin, but continue. Here is most of my haul from the past two months. I have a whole other category of both unopened and opened seeds from last year not pictured. It's been a long winter.
Here's my helper boy, Hobbes. The kitties can't wait for spring, either. At least some non-snowy weather. The chickens would appreciate the same.
Not only am I vegetable-seed shopping but flower-seed shopping, too. You didn't think I'd forget the flowers, did you? I have ordered from Select Seeds before. I like them because they have many heirloom varieties and are women-owned. They also collaborate with the Pollinator Partnership, meaning they created a special native plant collection specifically for pollinators and donate $6 for every collection sold to their programs. Giving back...what an idea.
Here is Zinnia 'Señorita' blooming for me last year, seed purchased from Select Seeds.
I've also been studying up on my veggie gardening. I am such a newbie at it, I really have little field experience, but am happy to share resources that have proven helpful in this adventure called the garden. This book by Seattle-based Lorene Edwards Forkner (editor for the fabulous periodical Pacific Horticulture) is part of a series of seven regionally-appropriate veg gardening books by Timber Press. You can find one appropriate for your region here. It's especially helpful because it breaks the year down into months listing tasks to do, what to direct-sow and what you could be harvesting that month. Easy, user-friendly and fun.
Steve Solomon is the founder of Territorial Seeds here in Oregon. This has long been considered THE book for gardening in my region. Amazing information about soil, when to sow, what to sow, nutrients and so much more.
That is until this came along, the latest vegetable gardening book by the same author. My friend and fellow gardener/garden blogger Amy Campion of The World's Best Garden Blog recommended not only this book but the company Logan Labs, a soil testing lab in Ohio. This book is all about soil and improving it so that the food you grow is nutrient-dense. Full of worksheets that are compatible with testing parameters Logan Lab uses, it is a most helpful if a little soil-geekish explanation (in-process explanation, as the author claims he's still constantly learning and therefore tweaking his writings) of what exactly to add to your soil for optimum nutrition. Very eye-opening read. And dense. Did I say dense already? By the way, Amy is about one of the best seed-starters I know; her's is a great blog to follow for that and so many other reasons. In fact, here's a link to her post about five seed-starting myths shattered.
As I mentioned, I know relatively little about veggie gardening by experience. There are, gratefully, hundreds of fantastic resources out there that have and will help us along the way. One of them is Margaret Roach of the amazing garden blog A Way to Garden. She has a multitude of resources and experience to share. One very handy tool is her seed-starting calendar. Simply plug in your last frost date and it does all the work for you, providing a printable list of veggie seeds, when to sow inside and when to plant out in the garden. Here's a link. She also has a wonderful recent post about starting seeds, you can find that here. For my seed starting adventures, I realize I will probably experience some failure, but that's how I learn, by experience. That's OK with me. We're just starting this vegetable adventure, so have to begin somewhere.
In addition to thinking about veggies and flowers, I've been considering the 20 or so odd fruit trees plus 15 or so berry bushes I've collected. We have apples, pears, cherries, figs, a persimmon, plums, olives, blueberries and raspberries so far. Fruit trees are not so straightforward as any fruit farmer can tell you -- there is specific pruning to be done especially in the first few years to give proper structure to the tree. Then there is the cross-pollination issue. Not everything is self-pollinating, it needs a buddy that flowers simultaneously that is compatible. Oy! Well, at least your local Master Gardener extension offices and the mail-order catalogues generally have that covered for you in handy charts and lists. Speaking of catalogues:
Here is a sample of what has magically shown up in my mailbox. I don't remember signing up for all of them, but I gladly read whatever comes my way. Some of my favorites for bare-root fruit trees are Raintree Nursery, Grow Organic or Peaceful Valley Farm (they also have great seeds) and One Green World (although I don't have a catalogue - just browsed their website). For seed, my goodness, there are so many out there. A few I am familiar with are Territorial of course, Select Seeds, Botanical Interests, Renee's, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (I especially love them as you can tell by the first photo in this post), Seed Saver's Exchange, Johnny's, The Hudson Valley Seed Company, Siskiyou Seeds and others. I prefer heirloom when possible, but sometimes there are improved varieties that are worthy of trying. The thing is, for a few dollars a packet, it's worth experimenting with foods that you and your family enjoy eating. If it doesn't work out, you're only out a few dollars and can move on to something new. Another wonderful source for seed is of course through friends and neighbors. This is how so many of these old-fashioned heirloom seeds have survived the GMO chopping block -- they are instead treasured gifts passed down from generation to generation. Many of the seed companies listed are dedicated to preserving these seeds and diversity, something sorely lacking in the mass-grown GMO crops of certain giganto corporations.
Something else to consider is the humble pollinator. Your crops need it or you won't have any melt-in-your-mouth raspberries to enjoy, or much of anything. If it has a flower that produces a fruit, it will need a pollinator. The European honey bee is the obvious pollinator most people think of, but there are hundreds of native bees that also do the job. Think about habitat for solitary bees like bumble bees and sort-of solitary bees like the orchard mason bee. They are called orchard mason bees for a reason - they pollinate orchards early in the season when the honey bees aren't active. They are easy to raise, gentle creatures with a beautiful blue green metallic sheen. Although they do not produce honey, they are so worthwhile and low-maintenance. I raise them, you can read about my experiences with them here and here. One day we may get honey bees, but that's a year or so away.
Female mason bee going in to lay more eggs.
One of my mason bees sunning itself.
Not in the bare-root fruit tree or seed category are the mail-order nurseries. Annie's Annuals out of the Bay Area in California is a fantastic retail and mail-order company I would very much love to visit one day. I have ordered from them before with great satisfaction. The catalogue alone is worthwhile, full of fun graphics and tantalizing plant photography. Another worth mentioning is Gossler Farms out of the Willamette Valley here in Oregon. They are known for an amazing variety of hardy shrubs and trees (magnolia, hamamelis, acer, and many others), as well as perennials. The authors of The Gossler's Guide to the Best Hardy Shrubs, this family-owned business has been in the hearts of gardeners across the states for decades. Speaking of mail-order plants, I cannot forget where I work, Joy Creek Nursery - we've been at it for over 25 years. Although we no longer produce a printed catalogue, we have an extensive website.
Well, there you have it, a rundown of how to keep a gardener relatively happy during multiple snow storms. Dream a little dream with me, everybody!
That's all from Chickadee Gardens this week. Until next time, thank you for reading and happy gardening (and shopping)!