Friday, February 29, 2008

Too Many Seeds

Some people thrill over a stack of seed catalogues. Not me. It's much too much, more than my poor brain can handle.

That may be because I'm never satisfied with just one of anything. If one variety of tomato sounds goods, three or four sounds much better. Last year I had at least 16 varieties of lettuce, a dozen different carrots and almost as many radishes.

Some people fantasize over a full-color page of radish photos--Cherry Belle, Chinese Rose Winter, Crimson Giant, French Breakfast, Plum Purple, etc. I actually buy them all. I thought it would be a good idea to attract butterflies to the garden. I scoured the literature for constructing the perfect butterfly garden and bought a truckload of every conceivable flower seed. Naturally, I have nowhere to plant all these seeds. But they sure to look at.

With so many seeds, storage is an issue. I keep them all in a trash bag stashed away in a crisper drawer in the refrigerator. My wife says, if anything really bad happens, first thing we do is grab the bag of seeds. At least we'll have a jump start into the next life.

This year, as usual, I was inundated by catalogues from all the seed companies. But I averted my eyes from most. Although it's fun to think about cloning myself two or three times and owning a farm where I could plant every conceivable variety of every conceivable edible, I force myself to face up to reality and the limited size of my garden here in the District of Columbia.

I've decided that two seed companies really constitute more than enough. One is Fedco, simply because the quirky, old-timey catalogue is so much fun. (I find their system of actually ordering seeds a bit Byzantine.) Fedco also carries some of the cold-hardy greens bred by our farmer friend Brett. The second seed company I like dealing with is Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Southern Exposure looks to me like a very agreeable congregation of hippies who like nothing better than getting their hands dirty and running seeds through their fingers at their home base outside Charlottesville, Virginia. They have a wide range of seeds and, more importantly, are oriented toward our particular area here in the Mid-Atlantic and our specific growing conditions. In the front of their catalogue is a calendar for planting a long list of vegetables. The calendar gives dates for the mountain region, the plains and the coast. That's some very good information to have.

I am just starting my effort to scale back. I still have that huge trash bag full of seeds. What I really need is an accountant and a spreadsheet. My problem in the past has been that whenever I wanted to plant something, I had to search through the whole bag. Seed packets flew in every direction. Putting it all back together again was like a game of 52-pickup. So this year I decided to divide things into planting seasons--cold season seeds and hot season seeds. It took me several hours to sort through the cold season seeds and work up a list with planting dates. Now I'm working on the hot season plants.

As you can see from these grainy photos, the seeds have been grouped in Ziploc bags with handwritten labels indicating what's inside. The list with planting dates I've worked up is a true marvel. Suddenly, just scanning the list, I can see where I am, planting-wise, on the calendar. And something quite startling emerges: It's time to plant!

Gotta go....


Joanna said...

I'm not being funny or rude, but I wonder if you could say how big your plot is? I just love the scale of your ambition, it's very inspiring ... and I do that too, I have SO many seeds as yet unsown. Mine aren't yet organised


Ali said...

I love Fedco, but if you think the seed ordering is Byzantine, you should see the Tree Sale. Controlled chaos, really. But it is a great organization and I'm really pleased to hear of so many of the bloggers I read ordering seeds from Fedco. Much of my edible landscaping has come from Fedco, and I use a vacation day every year to attend the tree sale.

I hear you with variety overload, (I'm surfing this morning to avoid making seed decisions) and I love your wife's idea about keeping the seeds ready for quick transport. Good luck,

Ali in Maine

Melinda said...

You're not alone in this problem... I have just ordered 8 types of tomatoes... or maybe it was ten, once I finally got to the sites. I'll be 150 years old before I try all the tomato, pepper, and exotic fruits I want to try!

Fortunately I decided to plan it all out for a blog entry. Now it's in black and white, for all to see. Maybe that will keep me from going too crazy...! And it was helpful for me to see just how many different seeds were left over from last year. WAY too many.

Melanie Lytle said...

I feel terribly out of the loop when it comes to these seed catalogs. I don't even have a balcony or stoop to place a pot! Maybe one of these years I'll actually make it to the top of the list for a plot in one of the many local community gardens I've contacted.

Ed Bruske said...

Joanna, we have a pretty big yard by city standards. We now have eight beds, each about 16 feet long and 3 feet wide.

Ali, Fedco sounds like a great organization. I think it's great that they reach out to the local community. They certainly have a tremendous variety, and any outfit that's good enough for our farmer friend Brett is good enough for me.

Melinda, I've found that tomatoes really do best when given plenty of breathing room, but still I'm planning on four different varieties this year. We could plant the whole garden with tomatoes and hardly do them justice.

Melanie, don't get discouraged. Just keep applying for that community garden plot. You'll get one eventually, then you can garden till you drop.