Along with rain, February brings hope and life in the form of seed and plant catalogues. Every week, I look forward to opening my mailbox because I know summer will be inside. The infusion of green and flower is just what I need in the middle of all the white that has been outside for what seems like an eternity, and it means I can really start planning and deciding what to put in my little tiny back garden in a few months. No matter what that darn groundhog says, spring is on the way!
Seed catalogs, especially the veggie sections, are so much fun. So many different varieties and colors of food are available, green beans, orange carrots, and white potatoes could become a thing of the past! Compact and upright varieties of some plants are excellent for small spaces, without skimping on production at all. With enough different varieties, planted at staggered times throughout the season, you may not have to buy another vegetable from the grocery store all summer long. Lettuce, radish, beans, and peas are crops that can be planted every couple of weeks, for a full season’s worth of fresh veggies. Seed catalogs are oftentimes easier to shop, because all the different varieties are neatly laid out on the page, so comparisons are easier to make, and the companies don’t have to worry about retail space, so they can offer a much, much wider selection. Don’t discount your local garden center, though, for new and unique varieties. Oftentimes seed companies that sell to shops offer plants that are not available to the general public, and the people working there can offer advice and insights to making your garden the best it can be.
If there are seeds leftover or saved from previous years’ crops, now is an excellent time to do a germination test, to see just what needs to be re-ordered. Take a sample of ten seeds, rinse them in a mild bleach and water solution (1:10) to kill off any bacteria or fungal spores, and then in clear water. This rinsing will keep the seeds from rotting during the test. Place the seeds inside a moist section of paper towel, roll it up, and put them in a baggie in a relatively warm place. The top of the refrigerator is generally a pretty good spot. Each day, count the number of seeds that have sprouted, up until the expected date of germination (usually two weeks, maximum). If all the seeds sprout, congratulations! All or most of what you plant will sprout! If fewer than 6 sprout, that batch of seeds should have a high priority of being planted this season, and should possibly be seeded a bit heavier than normal, to account for those that do not grow.
Though the temptation is usually very strong to order everything that looks so wonderful, make a plan and a list, and stick to it! A few seeds go a long, long way, especially when one considers the typical seasonal plight of the zucchini grower… Be sure also to save room for a few special plants that you may not have even heard of, but want to try once the beautiful photograph from the catalog dazzles your senses.