Monthly Archives: April 2015

Volunteering Is Sexy

Is That a Trowel in Your Pocket, or Are You Happy to See Me?

Several clean up days have already occurred here in York city, home of champion volunteer1_bloggardeners, and in surrounding communities. Isn’t this great? You are lucky to be living in and around York county where the opportunities are literally endless for being out there and getting in shape doing something as healthy, wonderful and frankly, important, as being a volunteer. York city and county is undergoing a renaissance of bold ideas and activity, a rebirth, literally block by block, and you are lucky enough to be a part of it at this crucial moment in time.

Mother Nature is currently schizophrenic and can’t commit to a specific Springtime mood yet, so instead of writing about putting in our fabulous bona fide garden plots, I’m going to write about what we can do as a community to access and prepare more places to plant and beautify. When warmer temperatures finally decide to settle in, York’s growing areas will be far better prepared then ever before. Our area will be one of those super shiny happy places to live in when we are done with it.

 volunteer4_blogVolunteers are sexy, and no one looks better in their life as when they are helping out. This is the truth. Covered in healthy sweat, wearing grungy clothing and glowing with exertion, engaging mind, body and spirit in the common cause of taking charge and helping out, creates an undeniably attractive combination. Mentally, volunteering is a great approach for self and community improvement. Style-wise, wearing big gloves and sturdy jeans to pick up trash and debris makes you a fearless force of fashion to be reckoned with. Also, using a trowel to firmly gouge weeds out of hard soil and concrete and asphalt is a really effective method of getting rid of violent aggression. Pissed off about getting a parking ticket? Come work off your anger by removing a pile of weeds and junk. It’s a win-win. Curiously, this is a part of garden therapy that never seems to get mentioned. I find it very helpful and it keeps me from repeatedly kicking things, hard.

liter3_blogGrab that rake and tear the old bits of junk out of the low areas where winter’s wrath blew it. Live by a road where trash blows by? Searching for crushed bits of things that heavy snow pushed down into our fair earth? You won’t have to look far to find it. Then, dig it out by trowel or shovel or rake, and get rid of it. You don’t want to see that junk in your line of vision, and neither do your good neighbors, so lets be proactive about it and chuck it right into a garbage bag. You can do this yourself, or with a bunch of friends and neighbors. Many hands make light work. Make sure to drink water as you work, and tell some jokes. Keep ‘em clean, there are probably little ears about that look up to you now since you are an important member of your community, volunteering in it and looking after it. This applies to what is seen in your behavior, as well as what is reflected in your neighborhood. Remember this. It will get you far in life.

What happens after areas are picked clean of garbage? Does it remove its old personality? Of course it does. Now it’s ready to have an all-new, bright perky welcoming personality introduced into the neighborhood, and you can become a part of this. There is literally no better time to get involved than now. Digging a bottle out of some dirt? Ripping old boards out of a filth-filled stretch of land? Now jam a nice flower into that new hole. Any kind of flower at all. You are going to feel better about your community, and everything will look better BECAUSE of you.


There are places and groups to volunteer with that you may not have heard about, groups newly sprung up from communities you live in, or are close to. There are generally local social clubs and Veterans associations and religious groups and 4H clubs and student associations and all sorts of groups. If you can’t find one you like, start one. Form a group dedicated to Scottish Lovers of Pattern Design and mow your favorite tartan pattern into a local grassy area that’s been left untended for far too long. Blues Music Lovers for Blueberry patches comes to mind as a great idea. Jaundice Sufferers of America can plant endless Yellow daffodils throughout the city. Weed lovers can gather together to pull weeds,….. er, well, actually, I’m hoping they get together to actually PULL the weeds… you get the idea. I’m wondering that they may be unmotivated and lethargic, now that I think on it.

volunteer5_blogIf you want to join groups that already exist, there are several new ones based right in York city that are ready and waiting for a special person like you. They gather together on the weekends when parking is free. How brilliant is that? Two particularly new garden groups to volunteer with throughout York City are the Royal Square Gardens, located in the newest Royal Square area, by King and Duke Streets, a short walking distance from the Historic Martin Library and the Yorktown Hotel. Look them up on Facebook. This is a gem of a garden, tucked away in an interior courtyard untouched for years, newly cleaned and proud, and it waits ready to be cultivated by loving hands into a vegetable garden. This particular space is dedicated to producing vegetables for the Healthy World Café, York’s newest restaurant that features locally grown delicious food at their latest location on 24 South George Street. They are open from 11 to 2 p.m. during the week, and if you have never eaten there you are cheating yourself of a great weekly dining experience. Get there, and treat yourself good.

volunteers7_blogThe other new garden is the Hope Street Garden and Learning Lab, located at 446 W. Hope Avenue and Green Streets, right off of Princess Street. Massively beneficial clean ups have already occurred, and at this point its pure fun, putting in gardens and making beauty blossom in what had previously been a trash and weed filled part of our city. It’s literally an entire city block, and this remarkable space has unlimited potential as an environment to bring expert and novice gardeners of all ages together to make our fair city blossom. This garden is also on Facebook! Don’t miss out on this place, it’s open and spacious and full of promise. It’s refreshing to discover an area as large and open to gardening innovation as this home grown York project. It’s a confluence of several local school groups, and many eager young, and young-in-spirit hands have played a part in its success.

Why should you, or could you, volunteer? Because, plainly speaking, no one looks more intelligent or better fitted to their community as when they volunteer. You become an invaluable member of your community. You become invaluable because you are also unpaid and because you are enjoying time put in with highly commendable groups who cannot afford to pay you. You pay with your time, which you will never get back, and which is more valuable than cash. Money comes and goes, but commitment to community is lasting. You become linked with a network of like-minded individuals whose goal of improving and maintaining areas also improves your own self, through exercise, through friendships and discoveries and teaching. You probably know something about an aspect of growing or trimming or harvesting or canning or digging or something as obscure as land gradation and stormwater runoff control. These are important parts of being gardening volunteer and it’s very good to share. And if you don’t know a single thing about those activities, that is ok too. Learning about these things through other volunteers will never hurt you.volunteer2_blog

By participating in these volunteer opportunities, you get a real chance to enjoy yourself, get a workout and shed those winter pounds, meet stupendous people like yourself, and very different than yourself, all with the common desire to make York a remarkable place to be. Consider entertaining the mindset that cleaning up polluted areas is like a Twilight zone episode, where every bit of trash you discover is a great prize in a garbage-starved world and you are an intrepid explorer for National Geographic exploring new exotic lands. That’s different, don’t you think?

Most of the readers of this blog reside in York County, and like any home improvement project, clearing away debris can be as varied as traditional garbage that escaped waste management trucks. There is also plenty of purposely dumped wreckage left by irresponsible individuals. Let me be perfectly clear… people who have not yet realized that tossing their trash around in an area is NOT going to get them off the hook with karma, are particularly dense. It’s also quite possible to get arrested for being this “dense”. liter2_blogObserving eyes as well as cameras are in many parts of York city, and rural areas as well. If you are dumping any type of trash, consisting of recyclable materials or not, the odds are very good that somewhere there is an image of you doing it. And you WILL be recorded doing it, because people who illegally dump trash aren’t very bright. So don’t dump. Don’t be that guy, or that gal. Be the better person. Call waste management, or some of the other city and county groups that can help you. Some churches or groups will come and HELP you move away that lovely old, very heavy, somewhat funky couch/folding bed from your generous aunt that you don’t want anymore. Chances are high that the 70’s era furniture you can’t stand anymore, is some eager young hipsters dream couch. Save them from staying up half the night on Craig’s List or eBay or wherever it is, that today’s energetic members of society electronically seek out that exact item to complete their dream pad.

building1_blogLook around our fair city. See those burned out buildings? Either specialize in a Ghost hunters episode, or fix them up, or knock them down, and put in a garden. See that big hole in the ground? Pop in a flowering bush. Better yet, pack a bunch of flowers in there and add color and scent to an area and crow about it to your neighbors about what an intrepid and fearless gardener you are. Next to the new garden you put in, build a better building, one that brings in revenue and provides jobs and adds to the tax base and brightens its neighborhood with green spaces and flowers and trees. All this happens when you volunteer. You combine the hand and the eye and the brain and discover not just ways to remove garbage and blight, you generate ideas and conversations and overall, better health for the land, the community, and yourself.

Next Blog- Go Green in the City! Why Strawbale gardens will save the world.

Flowerbed Cleanup, Springtime Safety and Mind-melding with Worms

worms2_blogHey! Spring is here!  Unless you’ve been under a rock, perhaps you’ve noticed the weather  is marvelous. The Sun is marvelous. Your gardens are going to be marvelous. And you yourself are marvelous.  Why wouldn’t you be? You’re currently reading a blog all about doing good things for planet earth, and thus, for yourself, and your community. Thus, everyone loves you. And everyone loves a lover, right? And you love gardening. So there.  Life can be great when you are a gardener.  The more we move around and improve our area and ourselves, the whole world has a better chance at being a pretty cool place. 

  Part of improving your area, whether your own property or your community,  (or someone else’s) is in cleaning away winter’s  debris, downed branches, last fall’s leaves, and don’t forget, enjoying all the spring flowers that are showing up to grace your life with their presence. 

At the time of this posting, tender daffodils have already made an appearance, and tulips will soon be here, if not here already. These beauties will stick around and decorate our lives with their beautiful scent and color as long as temps stay cool. They are delicate as well as tough. They survived winter,  didn’t they? Once regular blasts of heat occur, they will fade away, to be replaced with later erupting blossoms of flowers and riots of tree blossoms.

And yes, as you walk around and inspect your kingdom and inspect for changes good and bad, in flower box or yard or mailbox plantings, you prowl with the eye of a tiger, and the muscles of a highly trained athlete. What, you say? Well, it’s true.  We weed our prized pots of soil on patios, spading or plowing gardens and fields, mow our yards or oil our tractors or lug out tools and heavy bags of things and all manner of equipment and checking everything out.  We all wear the universally recognized team colors of dirt and sweat.  Isn’t it awesome? Don’t your muscles ache with happiness? Aren’t you going to sleep like a log tonight? Yes, yes you are! Pat yourself on the back, you are doing a great job of making the earth a more beautiful and healthier place. And while you do it, make sure you look after your health. You are important, too. Drink a lot of water.  Eat something healthy. Do not make yourself regret gardening. You will want to return to it, again and again. It’s the very best, highly addictive behavior known to humankind.

worms3_blogThe race to grow and improve is on, and the other contestants in this frenzy of nature are your neighbors and indeed, the entire world, where winters’ hibernatory grip on our emotional and physical life is over and the pent-up desire to get out and improve takes over like some insanely high speed manic garden episode of the Martha Stewart  show, on crack. I’m serious about not overdoing it. Not everything needs to be done in one day! Indeed, patience is a far more valuable tool in the gardener’s experience, than any physical attribute, or expensive tool. Tall trees didn’t get that way overnight, you know, and you yourself will tower over all other gardeners with your knowledge like a mighty oak of wisdom. I love writing this blog, when else do you get to use a sentence like that?

All this increased physical activity is great as a workout, and it is very possible, even probable that you will invite muscle strain or overexertion will become an unwelcome part of your life. Except for shoveling snow, we have been pretty physically sedentary throughout the long winter months, unless you work out in a gym. One of the other dangers you must be mindful of are to all the mindlessly twittering birds at large, presently dive bombing your head in their springtime pursuits of each other. I’m serious. They don’t often smack into us clumsy, blissful gardening humans, but its been known to happen. Wear a hat. You might need to use your brains one day.

Worms1_blogOnce outside in warm air perfumed with the scents of spring, I predict you will cast an experienced eye upon your trusty rake and loudly and happily announce, arms thrown wide, that today, yes today of all days, YOU WILL RAKE. Yes, you are indeed going to rake. You stand with unshakable conviction with your steady feet and firmly plant your rake on the ground like a brave explorer in a new land, with  hips and feet and shoulders flung wide and declare loudly, with spirit,  TODAY I RAKE! You will feel wonderful saying this. Your good neighbors will hear you and scratch their heads, and wisely not judge you or ask anything other than “You doing ok over there?” because they are after all, for the most part, good neighbors.  It is reassuring that they show concern for your mental state, because after all, you are running around in a frenzy with numerous sharp objects. Remember this. Take the spring season in stride. Don’t go insane, or be insane. You can’t possibly do everything at once. Many hands make light work so don’t suffer from an invincibility disorder and think you can do everything by yourself. You can’t, nor should you, nor is it safe for certain projects.  And by all means, even though your plate is full of chores, offer to help your good neighbors with their own work . Perhaps you can do some things, that physically, they can’t. Maybe you can reach under a low bush to drag out some blown plastic bags for them. I hate those things, they get stuck in branches and you must be patient in removing them so they don’t break off branches. Try to make efforts to recycle as much trash you discover. And keep in mind to be patient and listen to others if they make suggestions about a different way of doing things, they generally know what they are talking about. If you’re not careful, you might actually learn more then one way of doing things. It’s as important to offer help, as it is to receive it. Giving and getting both feel good.

As you work, mounds of organic debris will cower before you and fall in line throughout your muscular, tool-happy mastery of all you survey.  You feel like a conqueror of a new land, and indeed, you actually are. It’s been months since you were outside and many discoveries will be made. Plants are bursting up everywhere. Garbage has blown in, tree limbs have died. worms4_blogRabbits have taken up residence in flower patches and you may choose to be gentle with your new hop-happy neighbors, or evict them. Those leaves from last fall that you so lovingly mounded on your patches of flowers that now stand as colorful sentinels before your door need to be cleared away.  You are going to rake them out of there and notice their faint scent of decay.  It’s a very good aroma, and means that things are doing what they are supposed to do. 

But first, let’s use the gentle approach. There will be lots of bending and scooping and reaching and that’s all good for you, as long as you don’t overdo it.  Reach down, or squat on your knees if you can, or employ the good services of some energetic youngster who could use some direction and guidance in their lives. Reach right in there into the garden beds, and using fingers or the gentle probing of a hand or pole rake, get the leaves out from around the plants that you know to be in there. Others will be making an appearance soon with the warmer temps sticking around on a dependable basis. Clear all those wonderfully crunchy, sweet smelling leaves out of there. Move them onto a tarp, or scoop them into a bag, or lift and scoop them into a wheelbarrow, and move all that lovely stuff into a compost pile, if you have one. If you don’t have a compost build one. If that isn’t an option, just moving around these former leaves/present  mush/ future fertilizer  is helpful. There will be worms in this leafy layer. When you find them, you should consider yourself lucky.  Worms are your friend. Leave them where you find them. Tell them they are beautiful, they need to hear that once in a while. Don’t make screamy little girl noises, they hate that.  Worms make the world beautiful, but aren’t generally considered beautiful themselves, unless a fisherman digs them out of a bucket of other worms and impales their tiny wriggly bodies onto the cold metal of a fishing hook and says “What a beauty! I’m surely going to catch a marlin here in Lake Redman today! Hope there’s room in the freezer!” So there. Maybe a lot of worms aspire to have a second job as a fisherman, or be an engineer of a train, or an accountant. I don’t know these things. I have never mind-melded with a worm. However, we have a shared love of gardening. I think my worms are pretty happy. We both dig around in the dirt and think plants are cool and like getting covered in dirt. Come to think of it, maybe I HAVE mind-melded with worms. That makes me lucky. 

Thoughts like these are in my head sometimes as I perform often tedious, often repetitive chores. You must always try to be high-spirited and driven while doing yard work, that energy will carry you through hard labor that can be uninteresting and painful. But you can do it, you know why? Because you’re awesome. There, it’s in print for all to see, so it must be true. Now go forth, brave gardeners, and clean and plant the world.

 Next Blog- Why volunteering is sexy.

My Old Seeds

My old seed story.

I have a collection of seseedpacks_upclose3_blogeds that go back years. Mostly, it’s pointless to keep seeds that are very old, but every once in awhile I dig through boxes from one of my past lives and find them tucked away. They are wrapped up in napkins or sealed in labeled envelopes or even in tiny bottles (if I had some handy at the time).  It’s like finding photos of an old vacation, a memorable experience that I wanted to revisit again.

Lucky for you, if you saved your seeds properly, you can. I save seeds from local and exotic gardens, parks, other gardeners, smuggled out of countries foreign and exotic in soil of such variety of color it would amaze you.

soil1_blogSome are local seeds I harvested from produce I buy at the markets, or buy from catalogues. Each method has pros and cons.

A few years ago I planted an entire box full of 30 seedpacks_upclose2_blogyear-old seeds I had found that for one reason or another I never got around to tossing out. I had a serious conversation with my cat-less self about the wisdom of saving old seeds in a cardboard box up in a blisteringly hot and arctic cold attic, about the same time I discovered I had a mouse problem. As it was spring, I had dug the garden and had several rows of fresh soil uncommitted to seed yet. I planted each type of seed into its own row, without much hope. 

It was vastly unsuccessful, the age and exposure to wildly changing temperatures wasn’t helpful. The only thing that sprouted and flourished were beets. Red beets, yellow beets, seedpacks_upclose_blogand some types I never did actually identify. They all tasted wonderful! I had so many beets that there was no possible way to consume them all, and a great many of them ended up getting donated to neighbors and local food banks. I left a few of the plants unharvested and allowed to go to seed, so that I can continue to harvest and store them for the next years planting. I also got a cat that is a mighty hunter, in case the mice put in an unwise appearance again.

Next Blog: Cleaning up those outside flower beds.

The Dirty Hands Club or Potting Your Brains Out

smileypots_blogWhen my seeds are sorted and ready, I prepare the soil. I usually buy a small bag of potting soil, since the ground outside is too wet to do anything serious with yet. My own local soil, like most of York county, even with years of improvements, is still a very tough yellow or white clay. Clay holds moisture, and drowns plants, and is rock hard when dry. You see, it’s all about the roots. If you have a seed unable to properly sprout and grow strong roots, you get nowhere. Purchased potting soil is rich and beautiful and ready to go. Usually I’m a big believer in not buying too many things for gardening, and scrounging around is fine, but going cheap in the very beginning is not the answer when it comes to seedlings. Each previous year I saved small plastic pots, round or square, from plants I donated to gardens that I volunteer at. pots_blogThese are good to use, as well as small paper cups, or even plastic cups that have small drainage holes punched into the bottom. Everything you plant individual seedlings in MUST have a punctured bottom. It is critical that whatever type of container you start seeds in, has holes for drainage. Otherwise when you water, the seeds will sit in the overly wet soil and rot. Nobody wants to smell that.drainholes_blog

I do NOT use the small wax containers that you get school lunch milk in. Those “paper” containers are too strong for the eventual root systems to burst through, (unless you tear them up when you plant, which generally damages the plant) and the plant dies. They are ok to use if you take some newspaper, and fold it into the pot FIRST. The idea is to form an inner “skin” inside the pot that will hold everything together in an easily biodegradable “pouch” that roots can easily burst through at important stages and bursts in growth. When its time to eventually plant these in your garden, you can simply roll these pots around in you hands to loosen the dirt, or tug on the newspaper. All the dirt and roots and plants will come out easily in one generally tidy package and you can pop it directly into the garden. Simple, eh? Damaging the roots of plants when transplanting can be fatal, and its best to avoid loosing the effort, money and time you’ve already spent on your tiny beauties.
It will start to take root in whatever type of soil your own future garden consists of, good or bad. If your plants have a good root system already started, they stand a better chance of surviving. Once your green babies are out there, they are totally exposed. Isn’t it good plants in newspaper_blogthat you learned this now? That’s called planning ahead.

After inserting newspaper inside your containers, even if its just a square of it covering the bottom, I throw in a few small pebbles or stones, to help with any drainage issues in case of accidental over watering. It happens to the best of us, I admit it. Next I then add the potting soil, this involves slitting open the bag and scooping it out with a cup or a big spoon. Cups spill less. Fill your planting pot about 3/4 of the way full, and press down gently with your fingers. Keep repeating till it remains at 3/4 full. Its good to get dirty, isnt it? If you are not a dirty hands sort of person, you can moisten a bar of soap before you start this part, and drag your fingernails across it. That means the space underneath your nails fills with soap, blocking dirt’s access, and you can easily wash everything clean when you are finished. You will eventually have to take a bath someday, I suppose, and now you are all ready for it. You can also wear gloves, but where’s the fun in that? I do recommend wearing gloves, however, if you have cuts or bandages on your hands. Dirt has a lot of things in it that you don’t exactly want in your bloodstream.

Planting- Now I take the seeds I selected, all of things I love to eat, and usually a few purely experimental ones (okra was a great discovery to me, peanuts are also fun, and both grow great here in York County!). Let’s say 10 to 20 seeds per plant desired, as not all of them are going to make it, and run a small bit of water over them, providing them with a bit of gentle moisture. This prepares them to better receive a coating of rooting powder, if you feel like using that. This  black powder assists in growing stronger additional roots. Its invaluable when you grow really leggy plants, especially peas, and beans. For the record, I don’t start peas or beans inside, I find they grow better direct seeded right into the garden itself.plants in newspaper and dirt_blog

I follow the directions for each type of seed, some require deeper planting than others. Some require being buried a full inch, others  scratched into the surface,  covered with barely 1/8th of an inch of soil. I generally plant 3 or 4 seeds per pot, one in each corner of the square pot, or 3 in each round pot. Not all the seeds will sprout, despite your best efforts, 100% of the time, so this means I don’t have to worry about overplanting. As they grow in size and need more space to thrive, I can easily grasp and “break off” a chunk of the soil that holds the seedlings and its roots, and transplant into larger pots, until the garden is fully prepared and the temps and conditions are perfect for transplanting. Some seed shells are VERY HARD and it is required to soak them for 24 hours in a shallow bowl of water. It is necessary to take a small knife and score the edge of the seed shell itself, before soaking, thus allowing the inner seed to get moisture, and grow. Adults only should do this, as the odds for injury by cutting yourself are pretty high.

The planted pots now get put onto a tray to hold them, either an old plastic boot tray (AC Moore in Hanover has them for $3 to $4 each now) or old metal trays left over from baking, etc. Plastic storage tubs will work especially well for you. The trick is that you want to keep these pots and seeds in a durable container because it will get wet and become damp and you may need to move this around by your windows/tables/floor. You don’t want it leaking everywhere. Been there done that. You can even put a few layers of lovely old newspaper on the bottom of the tray/tub to absorb any extra water that may get in there. Another reason I love these tubs is that the taller walls of the tub will prevent any spilled dirt from pots getting knocked over, and won’t spill all over the floor requiring cleaning up.

more new paper plants_blogI keep my tub of seedlings by my window unless curiosity gets the better of my cat. Putting an aquarium screen on top of this tub is helpful if your pets suffer from terminal curiosity, as mine do. Don’t let the cats get  interested in them, as they may mistake your lovely seeds as a litter box. It helps to be able to protect your pots from any excessive heat or cold temps as our weather is still subjected to drastic changes. Remember last weekend’s snow? Nobody wants to sit right next to a cold window when its freezing outside .The seeds you have now planted, need to have a drink. Be gentle with them, and use a sprayer bottle to mist the surface. You can use any old sprayer bottle, just make sure it is very clean and has no remaining residue of any previous item left in there at ALL. You can also just pour from a cup or bottle. I use warm tap water. Not too much, you don’t want to drown them. No fertilizer yet, its way too easy to overdo it and ruin everything. Keep it easy, and gentle. I generally give three short sprays of water to each pot, watering every other day. Mark it on your calendar if you are busy and can’t always remember. I generally keep a garden calendar just for seed starting, that way I can tell if the seeds are taking as long to germinate as they are supposed to, according to the directions on the seed packet. Some places still have calendars on sale now, severely marked down. Go buy one, it will make some local shop keeper really happy and scratching their head about you. Now keep them in a moderately lighted area (dim is better, by a window with the shades drawn) and keep them warm. They don’t need sun as much as warmth to generate, this time now is all about the seed shell cracking open and roots forming. They NEED it dark. Keeping them “warm” does not mean keeping a space heater on them! You don’t want to dry them out, or add to your heating bills. Unless you are growing some exotic tropical plant, you don’t need to keep a grow light on them either. Average room temperatures of the 60’s are perfectly fine.
Now you have done your preparatory work and only need to spritz every other day (vary this accordingly if the soil feels too dry or too moist). Some seeds literally will come up in less than a week, and some will take much longer than that. If nothing comes up after 3-4 weeks, (unless its gourds) I’d say it’s a safe bet to replant.

Next blog: My old seeds.


Start Your Seeds!

Rule number one- start with the good stuff. Respect your time and materials. If you tryseed clock_blog planting seeds that obviously have not been kept in the best of conditions, plant them very last as a dare, or get rid of them. Toss them in your compost, where critters will eat them. Birds love them. You’re going to want to keep the birds around and interested anyway, since when your wonderful garden is growing, its going to attract its share of unwelcome bugs. Birds are great at bug control. The theme of this blog is not only seed starting, but “Plant now, and plan for LATER”.

Next, sorting. Seeds are SMALL. Admit you are getting older and wear your reading glasses, and have some small helpful hands and sharp eyes help you out, if you can. This turns into a yearly spring ritual that many serious gardeners and seed sharing groups enjoy. Go through all the seeds you want to plant this spring, either gardener-saved, or purchased from a store or catalogue and inspect them. This is good advice. Let’s say you love lettuce and you assume you have a ton of viable lettuce seed. Yet at an inopportune moment you realize you need MORE lettuce seed. Perhaps someone is coming to visit this summer and they love fresh homegrown salads. Perchance they are healthy eaters. Maybe they (or you) are on a diet, or have special health concerns or can’t stand store-bought produce sprayed with god-knows-what chemicals. But if all the stores are sold out of lettuce seed in JUNE, (it happens), you are in trouble. Best to know and plan ahead.

seedtable_blogI take seeds that are a minimum of 5 years old, and inspect and sort them, eliminating broken ones, funky unformed ones, and especially thin ones unlikely to have the vigor to sprout. This is when big and fat is good. Get rid of any seeds that mice or mold have made contact with. It’s easy to know the age of the seeds, as I have written down the year on the envelope I stored it in. Purchased seed packets will usually always tell you the year your seeds were harvested in, and what is the peak year to grow them in. Anything too old, continue to toss ‘em in the compost. Each year that passes will determine the ability of the seed to germinate, and as each year passes, with few exceptions, it’s not looking good.


Generally you can get away with directly planting whatever seeds you purchase, but I like to save seeds from previous years especially delicious or rare growth, so this sorting and removing bits of leftover organic debris requires time. I consider it well worth it, as it also saves money. I sort sitting at any table or floor with plenty of room to spread out, usually on a rainy spring day. I pour the seeds slowly onto a plate with a rim, or onto a baking tray, also with a rim. No sense in pouring seeds into something if they are going to just bounce and roll off the table. They will, I promise. Have some good music playing in the background as you do this. I usually play classical as I find it relaxing, and a good accompaniment to tedious tasks. I also want my plants to hold their heads up really high and be well rounded when they grow and set a good example to other life forms. Exposure to classical music can do this, it works with both plants and people, honest.

I use a dull butter knife to line up and arrange seeds that are not cooperative at stayingsquashseeds_blog organized. Underneath all this, I usually have an opened page of a newspaper (the Dispatch!) so adding a double layer to hold seeds on if spillage occurs. You can always fold up the paper at the end of the project and funnel seeds back into a cup, or whatever you are using to hold them. Learn from my mistakes. This will save you a lot of time.

When I eventually do plant my seeds indoors, I have to restrain myself to late March, or April, since starting them earlier results in plants too physically advanced (leggy) to do well when they are planted outside. When temps are still too low outside to support tender growth, they will die, unless you have the time and initiative to continually run back and forth covering and uncovering them. So you see, even though you plant today, you are actually planning for a month or two into the future already, it’s ALL about the planning. If you screw up, that means months of growth, GONE. Or having to spend a lot more on buying actual plants at a nursery to replace them. That’s also ok, as I love nurseries, and they could use the money. However, learn from my mistakes. Unless you are growing to sell, or have a heated greenhouse, or are growing especially long term sprouting seeds, like gourds, you can afford to wait.

Next Blog: Preparing never-fail pots, soil for planting, and getting those seeds in!