Happy March! Today is the day I will start many different kinds of tomatoes and peppers and perennial herbs. You still have time to get organized and start your own. Need some pointers? An older post on the SKG resources page has a printable info page.
Most of the people I’ve talked to over the years have run into trouble with lack of heat, not enough light, or some combo of the two that proved to be deadly for their seedlings.
It’s important to keep seedlings warm, even if you’re keeping the rest of your house at lower temperatures to save on heating costs. Plants can’t put on another sweater like you can, and if you want healthy plants they really need to stay warm.*
…Unless you want to grow kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and other members of the brassica family. They can survive a light frost outdoors, so they should be able to handle an eco-friendly refrigerator home.**
As for light: I’m finding that even with my super amazing south-facing windows here in our new house in Hamilton, I need to supplement with artificial light. It makes for stronger seedlings. They’ll be less likely to grow spindly and tall if they’re getting extra lighting indoors.
Another thing that will help make your seedlings stronger and more sturdy (and prevent damping off!) is to turn on a fan at the lowest setting and aim it right at them. It’s kind of like lifting weights for them. Their stems will grow more of the tough fibres that help keep them from falling over or breaking.***
Check out this printable sheet for more information. If you have any questions please contact me, I’m happy to help. And if you can think of anyone who could use this information please share the garden love.
*I create a little ‘germination chamber’ for starting my seeds. To see pics please join the Kitchen Garden Club – by SKG on Facebook. All are welcome! I just posted photos about this, PLUS you get to meet lots of other people who are growing their own food. In this group we ask questions, help each other out, and have show-n-tell regularly.
**I had a refrigerator house when we lived in Kitchener. I was never warm in winter, even with layers. Our new house is half-n-half. The basement requires long underwear and the upstairs requires stripping to shorts and t-shirt. Not sure if that’s an improvement or not.
***Please note: They should be twitching slightly, not bent over as if in a hurricane. Think gentle breeze, not gale-force wind. Move the fan farther away from your plant babies if the lowest setting is overkill.
If you grow your tomatoes from seed, it’s economical and very rewarding to save seeds from your favourites for future growing seasons. There are different schools of thought about the best way to go about doing this, and I thought I’d try one of the methods that I hadn’t yet attempted. In previous years, I popped out the seeds, allowed them to dry out, then saved them. Many people do this, and have no problems. Mine germinated alright, but they might have been a bit slower than usual. Hard to say, since my memory ain’t what it used to be.
Regardless, I figured I should at least try the fermentation method, since those who promote it say that the seed coats of tomatoes are covered with germination inhibitors and you’re doing the seeds a favour by removing them before drying. This should give a higher germination rate as well as a speedier germination.
So, I squeezed the seeds into a container.
Then allowed them to sit outside, covered with a hanky, for a few days. There’s a thin layer of mold on the surface here. That’s a good sign.
This mixture was dumped into a fine-mesh strainer.
Tomato seeds were washed, and the chunky fleshy bits were taken out or forced through the strainer.
Then the seeds were placed on a plate to dry.
And now they’re dry and fuzzy, ready for next year. These are seeds from the Silvery Fir Tree tomatoes. I’m happy with this variety. They are great container tomatoes with pretty feathery foliage, and are ready before any other slicing tomato. The cherry tomatoes beat them, of course, but that’s to be expected. I’m looking forward to growing them again next year.
The next step is to do a quick germination test – put them on wet paper towels until they germinate, see how many out of 10 actually sprout. I think I’ll wait until I have a few varieties saved up, and test them all at once.
- tomato seed purity (sarahskitchengardens.com)
My younger daughter and I are both seized by the compulsion to save seeds whenever we can. She’s a huge fan of collecting cherry, peach, and apricot pits and has amassed quite the collection so far this year. She might have to start saving up her pennies for some land, if she wants to plant them all! In the photo above she’s helping me gather garlic bulbils from the scapes that I allowed to grow on a few of my garlic plants. Bulbils take a few years, once you plant them in the ground, to form the garlic bulbs that we are accustomed to seeing. I’d like to try it, though, so I’m saving them.
Among my friends and neighbours I might be slightly eccentric and obsessive about seeds, but among seed savers I’m barely a beginner. Many people go to great lengths to squirrel away extra seeds, or unique varieties of seeds. I remember a long time ago, hearing about a woman who had saved so many seeds. Her family, when they were cleaning out her house, found them in every conceivable nook and cranny. She was saving them up, just in case.
Today there are organizations dedicated to the preservation of seeds, like Seeds of Diversity in Canada, and Seed Savers Exchange in the United States. If you become a member, you are then entitled to buy seeds from other members. All these different varieties are listed in the main catalogue that gets printed once per year. Thousands upon thousands of different seed varieties. Heaven!
It was good to see an article in the National Geographic this past month that brought the importance of seed saving and genetic diversity to light. I’d like to touch on and expand a few points they brought up.
The availability of our food may be in danger, by our own doing. Today we have so little variety, compared to variety 100 years ago, among the different types of vegetables and fruits we grow. Obviously we didn’t intend to threaten our food supply. Originally, certain varieties and hybrids were created and bred in order to help increase food yields and thus support a growing population. Intentions were noble; however, lack of genetic variability is now the problem. Most of the wheat in the world is defenceless against a stem rust fungus called Ug99, due to lack of genetic variability among the wheat.
This is how diversity protects us: it allows most of the crop to survive while a smaller portion fails due to disease or pest. Many of us have heard about the great Irish potato famine in 1845. The reason most of the potatoes in the country were destroyed by blight is lack of variability, or diversity. Everyone was growing the ‘Lumper’ potato. Lumper couldn’t handle the fungus, and so everyone in the country suffered. Millions died or were displaced by famine. That’s why it’s a good idea to mix things up, and grow many different varieties of the same type of vegetable. The more diversity we have, the better. In my opinion, if Lumper was only one of, say, ten varieties grown, there’s a good chance that most of the crop would have been saved.
The article discusses a food bank in Norway, in the permafrost of a mountain 400 feet above sea level and 700 miles from the North Pole. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is one of 1,400 seed banks in the world, and it serves as a backup vault to preserve the varieties that could potentially contain any number of genes resistant to future diseases and pests. I think this is a great idea, but I also think it’s important to grow the seeds as well, to keep them viable. That’s what organizations like Seeds of Diversity and Seed Savers Exchange are promoting with their member catalogues. The more people grow the unique and heirloom varieties, the deeper the gene pool. Increased diversity means a greater chance that we won’t all starve.
So what can you do? Well, you already know that I think everyone should be growing something edible if they can. Trying some heirloom varieties is one way to help out. If you have the space to grow a few varieties, that’s good too. Then, if you’re really into it, save the seeds for next year.
If you can’t do these things, then support farmers who are growing heirloom varieties and buy their produce. The food ark is funny that way – if we want to save varieties, we need to eat them. Seeds can only be stored for so long until they are no longer viable. If people want to eat the heirlooms, they will be grown by farmers. Your vote is counted when you buy the food. Or the seeds/seedlings to grow it.
Last week, it was time to take the mesh covers off of my selected tomato plants. As you can see in the photo, many plants were becoming cramped under the light fabric. I felt it was important to cover them, though, in order to prevent any accidental cross-pollination of the tomatoes I wanted to save for seed.
In reading more about tomato plants and saving their seeds, I discovered that the idea of tomatoes cross-pollinating is controversial. Or has been, at least. People’s experiences vary, depending on the type of tomatoes they grow. Basically, the likelihood of crossing has to do with the length of the style. The style is the female part of the plant: it accepts the pollen. If it’s long and extends out past the male parts of the same flower, then it’s more likely to be cross-pollinated. If it’s shorter than the male anthers, it’s not very likely that any pollen other than its own will do the job.
In order to determine whether your tomatoes are more or less likely to cross-pollinate, you’ll need a magnifying glass to investigate the physical properties of the flowers. Or, you could do as I did and just cover the plants to be sure. Or, grow only one kind of heirloom or open pollinated tomato. <gasp!>
I noticed last week that tomatoes were forming under the covers, so I took off the mesh and marked the tomatoes that were formed so I would know later which ones to save the seeds from.
I am so looking forward to harvesting these seeds. Almost as much as I’m looking forward to trying all 22 varieties of tomato in my garden!!!
When the time comes, you can expect another post about the various methods of saving tomato seeds – there’s some wonderful controversy about that, too.
I love seeds.
The more I have, the better I feel.
I collected seeds from my Grandma’s Lilac tree, just to have a piece of history. In the photo above, the Lilac seeds are second from the left. Next in line, third in, are seeds from her Clematis. I’ve never tried to grow either one of these, but I’m sure going to try. My sister let me swipe the seeds from her Lovage plant, which were actually about six feet in the air on really tall stalks. These are on the far right in the photo. Last but not least, the seeds on the far left are taken out of a bundle of sweetgrass, given to me by a CSA farmer when she was showing me her medicinal garden.
Seeds are so important. They carry the genetic blueprint to the next generation, and provide us with the means to feed ourselves and our families. Not that all of us are growing all the food we need to survive nowadays. We’ve come a long way from the days of the early homesteading pioneers. I think seeds are just as important, though, and the preservation of unique and rare varieties will only happen so long as people are actually growing them. It’s a bit of a paradox: if we want to preserve heritage breeds, we need to eat them. And save a few seeds for next year.
Here are a few ways that you can be a seed scavenger:
- when you eat a pepper or tomato or any other fruit veggie, save some of the seeds to grow your own
- if you have herbs in your garden, let a few go to seed and save some seeds for next year
- you can also do the same with flowers!
- when you’re out, keep your eyes open around flowers or other plants that you like, and if you see a seed pod, bring it back with you if you can.
My girls had to start some seeds last week, when they saw that my kits were all ready!
They both started flowers. No flower seeds come with the kits, though – they raided my stash to choose their own seeds.
The morning glories have come up already! They were quick. They’re annuals, which is perhaps why they germinated so quickly. I’ve never tried them before, so I’m hoping they survive to see the real outside sunshine and grow tall along some twine or a trellis. Someone was telling me about growing morning glories mixed in with pole beans – beautiful and edible, growing together and looking pretty too.
If you want a Seed Starting Kit, let me know! $35 for 17 different kinds of seeds, plus a tray to start them in, and the potting soil, and compost to plant them out with, and little label tags, instructions, and dried chamomile flowers to make a disease-preventing potion for your wee seedlings. It’s a deal.
Here’s the seed list. Those that are not indicated organic, are at the very least untreated and non-GMO.
Indoor-Starting Seed Types:
Organic Beefsteak Tomatoes
Green to Red Sweet Peppers
Organic Brandywine Tomatoes
Green Bunching Onions
Organic Genovese Basil
Organic Pie/Carving Pumpkin
And for seeding outdoors:
Sugar Snap Peas
Today I went to buy seeds. The ones you see in the photo were not on my list, but I couldn’t resist. They were $1.99 each, and twice the size of the usual seed packet. Lots of seeds inside too. The little wee hot red peppers looked so cute I just had to buy them to try them out. And the ‘Sweet Horn’ (Corno De Toro Giallo)? OF COURSE!! Leeks, I didn’t have – but now I do! Same with the onions. I have lots of green bunching onion seeds, but none of the regular bulb style onion.
Since there’s a bit of a language barrier between me and the seed packets, I’m not sure if they’re untreated or not. I guess I’ll find out if there are any obvious treatments when I open them up, but because I’m not sure they won’t be for sale. At least not this year – if I save my own seeds then someday down the road it’s possible. For now I’ll enjoy them and keep you posted.
And speaking of keeping you posted, I should say that I finished setting up the other half of the greenhouse shelves today in the scorching heat of the sun! Hubby had set everything up so I just needed to wedge the shelves into place. They set up and tear down fairly easily, and are braced on the sides of the greenhouse. Quite a nice piece of engineering, I have to say. He told me that if he was charging me what customers of his company usually pay for his engineering services, I would owe him $1,000 for the day.
I can’t wait to get them fully operational. I’m not sure how well you can tell in the photo, but the shelves have sides all the way around. This is to hold gravel/soil and a heating cable, so I can warm my seedlings from the bottom. I really want to get some seeds out there soon, as experiments, to see how well they grow. But we still need to purchase the cables, and possibly a thermostat of some sort (more engineering….).
The Seed Starting Kit is new, too. It will hopefully be ready in the next few weeks.
Here’s the general idea: I want to provide a great start to a backyard garden. Maybe I should call them “Garden Starting Kits”. So the kit has a seedling tray, soil, seeds, tags, some dried chamomile flowers, and an instruction manual.
The seedling tray is a smaller size, and the seed amounts are also small – only enough to plant the tray for this year. With a few extras just in case. Usually seed packets have way too many seeds for the average home gardener, so I thought I’d help solve the problem of excess seeds by reducing the amount in the packages.
The dried chamomile flowers are included so that you can brew your own disease preventative. There’s a fungal disease called ‘damping off’ that kills tiny seedlings very easily. Spraying with chamomile tea helps prevent this.
Here’s a list of seeds included:
-green to red pepper (can harvest at green or red stage)
-green bunching onions
-pumpkin (2 seeds)
-zucchini (2 seeds)
Outdoor starting seeds:
The instruction manual will be fully loaded with clear instructions and information about the plants. I say ‘will be’ because I haven’t written it yet.
If anyone has any suggestions for this kit, please let me know! There’s still time to affect what the final product will offer.
- starting seeds indoors (sarahskitchengardens.com)
I’ve put together a 5-minute video for anyone who would like a little help getting started in the world of indoor seed starting:
It’s my first attempt at a how-to video, maybe a little rough around the edges, but hopefully it will convey the information you might be looking for.
And there’s more to come!
There’s a great event happening this Saturday, February 19, from 930 am to 230 pm. Seedy Saturday! There are many of these events all over the place, and this one happens right here in Kitchener at the Country Hills Library (at St. Mary’s High School).
I’m super excited to be giving a seminar too, titled “Organic Gardening Overview: Seed to Harvest”. It will be a very brief overview, since I only have 35 minutes to cover a very broad topic, but I am so looking forward to meeting new people.
The workshops, mine and others, are all free. There will be seed vendors and other local business related to gardening. Master gardeners will be on hand to answer questions, and there’s a seed swap! You can bring along seeds to exchange with others if you have extra.
Please come, and spread the word about this event!