News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Start thinking about seeds and starts for this spring’s garden

Linn County Master Gardener

Seed racks are up in the stores! 

One vendor already has them on sale – are they last year’s? Check the date on the back of the packet. They are probably only a year or less from packaging date, and still viable. 

Before shopping, inventory seeds left over from last year to avoid having more than needed. Seeds might still be good if they were stored where they were not subjected to temperature fluctuations. Seeds retain more vigor at a constant temperature, whatever it is. 

Purchase only enough seeds for the season and share with others who will use the leftover seeds. 

We’re preparing for a Seed Swap at Santiam Community Gardens at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 4. Participants who bring seeds to share are first in line to pick from what’s on the table. Mini zip-lock baggies are available for small quantities. At the end of the day the leftover seeds will go into our new “Little Seed Library” for a continuous swap opportunity to visitors and volunteers.

Make a list of vegetables the family will actually eat and flowers that are favorites. Will the vegetable from the garden be eaten fresh or preserved – it makes a difference when choosing varieties. 

I’m kind of partial to miniatures, like Minnesota Midget Cantaloupe, that will be eaten without leftovers. I also look for varieties that preserve well because there are always too many to eat when they all get ripe at once. An example is Roma-type tomatoes that make good sauce with less juice and fewer seeds. 

How much can the family consume? Will you share seed, produce or flowers with others? Are you growing to save money or improve the quality of your life? Some crops are more economical when purchased at the grocery store, but taste better when grown locally.

Will you have a setup to start transplants successfully? Lights, water, space and temperature control are important to get strong plant starts. The investment may be more expensive than purchasing transplants for a small garden. But the thrill of seeing seedlings sprout has some value, too. Using seedling transplants may be necessary to get a head start on the growing season. You can start hundred of seeds for the price of one transplant at the store.

Catalogs are great sources of information – often more than the seed packets. There are free catalogs available, but reading those located nearest our climate will give us the most useful facts. Territorial Seed near Cottage Grove, Adaptive Seeds in Sweet Home, Nichol Garden Nursery in Albany or One Green World near Portland all have catalogs that are good resource guides. 

GMO seeds are not available for noncommercial farmers and gardeners, so don’t worry about that. Organic seeds are about 65 percent more expensive and less plentiful than non-organic. Organic growers often start with mass-produced non-organic seed anyway, then hold off on chemical use while growing the crop from which they collect their seeds to sell. 

Hybrids are engineered for special characteristics, but cost more to pay for the engineering. Actually the cost of a packet is about the same, but there are fewer seeds inside. Hybrid seeds are not good for saving because the next generation may be sterile and reflect a “grandparent” plant. 

Heirloom seeds are from favorite varieties that have been grown and saved for more than 100 years, but where were they grown? Open-pollinated seeds are good for seed-savers because the offspring will be clones of the parents. All heirloom seeds are open pollinated, but all open-pollinated seeds are not heirlooms. 

Pelleted seeds are tiny, coated in clay or chalk to make them big enough to handle. It can be cheaper to buy un-pelleted seed, then use white glue to space them out on a paper towel or toilet paper to make seed tapes to lay out in the garden.

It’s still too early to start planting seeds outside, but it’s never too early to start planning for a better garden. Gardeners call this the Dream Season because we are thinking about what a wonderful garden we can create when Spring finally arrives. 

Actually, it is not too early to sow seeds indoors if the packet suggests starting them eight to ten weeks before last frost. Or the seeds by how many weeks before last frost to starts – every two weeks or so, sow some more. Climate research says our growing season will be longer, with earlier last frost and later first frost. 

There will be a seed-starting workshop at Santiam Community Gardens in Lyons Feb. 18 with suggestions for success. Please pre-register at 503-859-2517 or [email protected].

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