Well, it’s cold outside, and the seed catalogs are arriving, so what can you do? Like everyone else, I’m thinking spring, and starting to shop for seeds. Here are my best tips for how to do that without busting the seed budget. (Always a good goal.)
- Look for bargains online. Many seed retailers have a “sale” section on their websites with reduced prices. It’s worth a look, especially if you’re already placing an order and will be paying that processing and shipping fee regardless. My best bargain so far were the “White Cherry” tomatoes I got last year from Johnny’s for $1. They’re the pale yellow ones in the photo above.
- Visit retailers in the off season. If you happen to be close to a big seed retailer, it doesn’t hurt to check in during the fall to see if they’ve marked down last year’s seeds. Last year we picked up a lot of on-sale seeds during a fall visit to the Seed Savers Exchange headquarters and store in Decorah, Iowa. This past weekend we stopped in at Planters, a terrific seed store in Kansas City, Mo., and got seeds at clearance prices: 50 cents a packet.
- Make a list of what you already have. With a few exceptions, most seeds are good for more than one year, so take a close look at whatever you have leftover from last year, check the dates on the packet to be sure it’s still good, and then write it down so you have it in front of you when you’re buying more seeds. Because who can remember if they already have dill and basil seed? Not me, apparently.
- Save seeds from your garden. It can get complicated, so I would suggest starting with something simple, like heirloom beans. Last year I great my first crop of beans from seeds I had saved. It was pretty cool.
- Check out seed fairs and seed libraries. We have a great local seed fair that I’ve been going to for the last few years. Our library also offers free vegetable, herb, and flower seeds in the spring. It’s a good way to get new seeds you want to try (and the seed exchange is a good place to donate your extra seeds.)
- Shop for seeds with friends and relatives. I started doing this more last year, and it’s really nice. One benefit of combining an online order is that you save on shipping costs. Another is that you can also make plans to share seeds even before you place your order (and then actually divide them up as soon as they arrive.) To be honest, I’m not sure this resulted in me buying fewer seeds last year: I just ended up with a lot more variety because we split so many seed packets. It was great!
It’s been a busy month, but posting a few quick photos I took this week. These are from top to bottom, a harlequin marigold, hot peppers, and rice. That last one is kind of a long story.
This is the first year I’ve grown okra, and I started small. I have just one okra plant, and here it is! This is a ‘Clemson Spineless,’ which is your basic, garden variety okra. Since I only have one plant, so far I’ve been harvesting one okra pod at a time. At first I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but then someone reminded me I like pickling vegetables. It’s also nice sliced up and added to rice and beans.
I have so much to say about amaranth that I hardly know where to start. So take a look at these pictures.
Isn’t it pretty? Amaranth is sometimes grown as an ornamental, sometimes for greens, and sometimes for grain, but probably most often by accident, because it’s also a common weed. This is a variety called ‘Elena’s Rojo,’ and it’s a variety that is supposed to be good for growing as a grain, but is also an amazing looking plant. It’s been competing with the sunflowers all summer for the title of tallest plant in my garden, and of course, it’s that deep red.
Just one more.
We’re at that point in the year where it’s time to start thinking about fall frosts. Not because it’s likely we’ll get one anytime soon (typical for this area would be the end of October), but because there aren’t that many days left in the growing season. For anything that was just planted, or that has been up for awhile, but still isn’t close to full size, it’s starting to feel like a countdown. Will I be able to harvest much of anything from this plant before the frost comes? That’s where I’ve been with my Malabar spinach plants this year, which got off to a very slow start.
Malabar spinach is a heat-loving vine that is a different species than spinach, but with leaves that look and taste similar when eaten raw. I grew it last year, and it was amazingly prolific, taking over a whole corner of my garden. I was hoping for similar results this year, but so far have not had great success.
The first planting I did failed to come up at all. I did a second, later planting, which took almost two months to be big enough to need the trellis. (It’s supposed to be 70 days to harvest, so maybe that’s not unusually slow, but I’m not very patient.) Now, as we’re getting to the end of the summer, the plants are finally starting to take off, and I’m hoping I might actually get a decent harvest between now and our first frost. So come on Malabar spinach, you can do it!
I made an unpleasant discovery yesterday while checking on my ‘White Cushaw’ winter squash plants.
Oh no! I haven’t encountered this before, but based on appearance, I think it must be powdery mildew. From what I’ve read so far, it will most likely cause leaves to die, and may also reduce yields and affect flavor, but there’s not much I can do at this point- apparently it’s easier to prevent than to treat.We’ll see what happens.
Meanwhile the one fruit on this plant is still growing rapidly. In just a few days it has gone from this:
To this! It’s now larger than the average watermelon. Stay tuned squash fans.
Here are a few recent photos of plants that all happen to be eye-poppingly red.
Above are lunchbox peppers, a small sweet pepper, very nice for snacking.
I also have a few red zinnias. This is a ‘Will Rogers’ zinnia.
And of course, red cherry tomatoes. These are ‘Jasper.’