February 2, 2016

Seeds of Expectation

Before I get carried away, let me be clear about one thing.  We’re talking about packets of seeds.  Seeds that cost about a buck fifty for a paper packet containing somewhere between a dozen and 500 seeds.  Starbucks would not swap you a tall decaf mocha latte for four packets of seeds, no matter how you declaim their virtues.
Our 2016 seed order arrived last week.
Double-click for a full-screen view.
But virtues they are.  After you consume that latte, all you’ll have to show for it is an empty cup.  Plant those seeds and you can harvest a season’s worth of Parisian carrots or Tom Thumb butterhead lettuce.  And, talk about bargains, the value of that $1.50 seed package multiplies tenfold, or even a hundredfold.  Case in point: Butternut squash is going for $1.59 a pound at my local supermarket this week.  We’ve been eating our 2015 crop of squash since October and still have a dozen specimens in the basement with a current retail value of more than thirty dollars.
I offer that prologue because, last week, two boxes arrived in our mailbox.  They contained our vegetable and flower seeds for the spring of 2016. 
Betty began poring over seed catalogs in late November (their arrival coincided with the last turkey sandwich made from our Thanksgiving dinner).  We receive more than a dozen such catalogs each year; the ones from which she might order is a small subset of what arrives in the mailbox.  What the semifinalists have in common is that their seeds are grown for a northern climate.  “One size fits all” seed companies need not apply.
The mark-up of the seed
catalogs is a wonder to behold
Betty’s markup of these catalogs is a wonder to behold.  There are bold “X” marks through descriptions that, to my untutored eye, look like great choices.  What, exactly, is wrong with Crosby Egyptian beets?  Some varieties are circled once; others, like Maximillian sunflowers, have multiple bold rings.
Looking through the seed packets now on hand (there are more than 50), there are a few surprises.  For example, we will grow five kinds of beets this year.  Why five?  Flavor, days to maturity, and an interest in trying some new introductions without jeopardizing the main crop.
This year will also mark a momentous turn in our gardening practices.  For more than a decade we have been part of a community garden in our town.  We have had a 600 square foot plot, tilled by the town and overspread with composted manure.  All we had to do was fence and plant our little bit of horticultural heaven.
Our new raised beds give us the option
of gardening at home.
We’ll still have that community garden space but, this year, we’ll augment our real estate by ten percent.  This past autumn I built a pair of raised-bed gardens in the sunniest part of our property.  Each is four feet by eight feet for a total of 64 square feet.  The nifty part of the beds is that when I say ‘raised bed’ I mean beds where the soil line is 30 inches above the surrounding ground.  Most raised beds are up about a foot.  Ours can be worked while sitting on the wooden rail around the garden – or even standing.
And the beauty of a raised bed is that there is not a square inch of wasted space.  There are no ‘aisles’ with a raised bed.  We will plant from board to board and start as soon as the soil is warm enough to germinate early spring crops.  We can even artificially warm the soil with row covers.  Perhaps best of all, picking lettuce for a lunch or dinner salad now will mean a quick walk outside rather than a two-mile drive.
Those seeds are a harbinger of the coming season.  The days are lengthening.  Those seeds are tangible proof that winter’s end is within sight. 

Well, at least it’s a glow on the horizon.  

1 comment:

  1. The raised beds look really good - were they hard to make? We are going to sow a mix of hardier seeds including lettuce, spinach and some herbs directly in to ours in a month or so. We will be keeping our tomatoes, cucumber and peppers under glass though as it is a bit cold in the open for these!

    Bert Aguilar @ Rainfill Tanks and Curved Roofing Supplies