April 29, 2012

Best Beginner Garden - How to Read a Seed Packet - How to Buy Seed - What Seeds? - SHTF - How to Have a Garden

A seed is actually a living and breathing entity.  All she will be is in her now, waiting in anticipation for the fruition of destiny.  Because seeds magically have their own communication with creation, planting a seed and watching it grow is like witnessing Immaculate Conception.  And when that plant joyously blooms, we share in the rapture as if, almost, it was our own creation.

Words on a Seed Packet

Name tells which plant seed is in the packet, usually as we would generically refer to it, like a last name Tomato.  As many plants grow in different areas under different names.  Latin names are used for definitive identification, and allow us to access the pertinent data that has been collected around the world on a plant that might well be a native weed to us.

Start by growing the vegetables and fruit you like eating and expand your repertoire to the food plants which will produce in your area when no other plants are available.

Variety is the unique name for the plant; only plants with this name are totally the same, like a describing name as in Red Beefsteak tomato.  Each variety has different characteristics like appearance and growing habits.  One variety of squash will grow prolifically where another won’t grow at all.  The heritage of vegetables has included a great number of varieties.

Each variety desires an environment which allows it to grow to its full potential.  Keep trying different varieties of the vegetables you use, until you find the ones that grow the best for you.  Check with your neighbours to see what
they grow or use seed saved from heritage vegetables bought at your local farmer’s market since this seed has a great chance of being adapted to your gardening area.

Hardy means a plant grows well in extreme hot or cold conditions.  Hardy plants will continue to develop food during cold and hot temperatures when other plants die off.  Seeds from a hardy plant will reliably produce food from their own seed, without your assistance, in the garden.  Plants that have purple or dark brown shades of colour with their green seem to be the hardiest.  Look around you and ask for the names of the varieties that are hardy for your location.

Tender refers to a plant that won’t thrive in cool weather and won’t survive in cold.  They will not grow from seed reliably in areas that have winter.  Most houseplants fall into this category.  You can grow it outside in the summer but must take it in the house to keep it alive through the winter. 

Hardy perennials are plants where the root develops enough in a season to sustain it through each winter.  Once planted, they live with your life, offering you their bounty in exchange for their existence year after year.
Some perennial plants grow so vigorously they could be considered weeds.  These include plants with square stems mint, catnip, bee balm, lemon balm, and hyssop.  It is a good thing for these plants are very nutritious and tasty tea plants, but not so good if you have limited growing space.  They do demand to have their own exclusive communities with plenty of water and will overtake the whole garden if given half a chance.  Don’t plant these plants in garden beds, but directly into the ground.  If you have space grow mint it is good for you and, even dried, it will keep mice, ants, mosquitoes at bay.

Tender perennials are plants originally from an environment that stays hot most of the year.  This plant will never reliably grow from their own seed outside; these include eggplant, melons, pepper, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers.  Don’t bother buying seed for these vegetables unless you can start them growing in the spring, for a couple of months, indoors.  Alternately, buy these as plants from a local greenhouse.  Either way all tender perennials should be transplanted into the garden during the week prior to the full moon in May.

House plants are usually tender perennials.

Annuals are plants which live and die in one, or if you are lucky, two seasons.  They usually personify fragile, bright, fancy prima donnas; little equipped for the harsh realities of life and who die tragically young unprepared
for the harsh realities of life.  They grow quickly are also more demanding for resources and don’t process or keep as readily as perennials.  They do attract beneficial influences such as bugs and bees to the garden.  Some are tender and some are hardy.  Hardy annuals spread their seed and reproduce readily. 

Biennials are plants with attributes of both perennials and annuals.  Uniquely, with biennial vegetables, if the seed is planted in spring, it can be harvested for its roots in fall.  But, if hardy, and left to survive the winter, will flower in spring to produce seeds in the fall; which in turn will make vegetables the following spring.

Most vegetables require exposure to full sun while in your garden.  The more sun these plants get the more food they will produce.  In summer, a garden should have 8 to 10 hours of sunshine on the garden; any part that gets shade is partially shaded and shade means never fully in the sun.

A tomato is a sun loving plant, if isn’t getting enough sun will be smaller and develop slower than its sister with more sun.  Conversely a plant like lettuce which likes partial shade will make seed in the heat rather than good eating leaves for you.  Watch the sun more over the garden, to assess the amount of sunlight available for your plants; usually where the snow first melts in the spring is in full sun.

Days to maturity helps you to establish which month to plant your seeds to ensure food before the season changes.  It allows you to anticipate when to harvest your crop.

The number listed on the seed package is the number of optimal growing days, in succession, after planting to eating stage.  This is only an approximation under ideal conditions.  In actuality, some years have few optimal growing days; it’s too hot or wet, or too cold or dry.  The number of days to maturity is to be viewed as a minimum only.  It takes weeks even months for vegetables to develop to food.

A pearl of wisdom here is using the “days to maturity” on the seed packet to match the harvest time of different vegetables for the same recipe.  For example, if you plant dill and cucumbers at the same time to make dill pickles you will soon realize the dill is ready to eat long before the cucumbers.  In fact if you plant dill early in the spring, it will have enough time that you will be using it’s offspring to make pickles in the fall.

Planting zones refer to guidelines of what will grow best for the temperature and weather conditions of your area.  The changing weather patterns and unpredictable frosts make them somewhat ineffective.  Everyone should be able to grow the plants rated for zone 4.  Then depending on the ease they grow, move to plant with a higher or lower zone number.  The higher a planting zone number you try, the more tender the plant will and you will have to consider protecting the plant from extreme heat or cold. 

Hardy vegetables do better grown in the cooler months, less water consumption, less stress from the elements.  Some vegetables will produce 3 or 4 crops, or even when mature continually until frost.  This is ideal because you to eat directly from your garden for the majority of the year, and produce enough to store and eat over winter.  Consider changing the emphasis of gardening from summer to spring and fall.  If you can only garden one season though, you are better off to grow a summer garden and harvest it for winter consumption.

The best seed is produced in a climate similar to where you are going to plant.  Where possible use seeds and plants grown as close to your home as possible.  With the patience of nurturing a plant from season to season it is possible acclimatize some plants to grow in your garden out of its initial planting zone.

Heirloom and heritage seed is genetically the same seed as grown by our ancestors, valuable, and dependable.  When you start with heritage or heirloom seeds you are planting years of adaptation to, and success in living on this planet. 

Rare seed are means heirloom seed that has now endangered because very few are grown anymore.  Usually this is because they have a flaw that makes them hard to profit from, such as a skin to delicate for shipping or tastes best when picked ripe.

Open-pollinated is the preferred seed to purchase.  The seed will produce plants same as parent, and can be collected to use.  Duplicates of these particular plants
have been unaltered and feeding people for many, many years.  They are usually the most adaptable and hardy, to form the sturdy foundation of a self-sustaining garden.  To secure food for the future, use only seeds that are open pollinated, heirloom, rare, or heritage. 

Organic means grown without chemical pesticides and herbicides.  Certified Organic seed means the government inspected the garden to guarantee the seed was grown organically.

Hybrid is a plant altered by man, combining attributes of different plants.  This is to make a plant more financially viable or profitable, such a thick skin or the ability to ripen during shipping.  It is not worth collecting seed from these plants.  They will not produce a plant same as the parent and efforts to obtain food from them in the future could be ineffective.

Determinate usually only used in reference to tomatoes or beans, is a plant that finishes growing at a predetermined size. Indeterminate describes a plant like a tomato or bean that keeps growing in length until frost.

Date on the seed packet is the year the seed was grown, always try to buy seed from the previous year.  A surprising number of seeds won’t germinate from each packet.  This number increases with the length of time in storage or dry heat.  Ideally buy seeds packaged the previous year in paper and stored in the fridge. 
Planting instructions gives tips for spacing seeds and seed depth.  Some plants grow quite large and therefore need more space between seeds.  Most often a seed is only planted as deep as the seed is long; very small seeds are just  scattered on the surface.  It is best to plant in the evening before a good rain is expected, or on cool days when you can water deeply.  The most important element to planting is keep the soil moist for the seed to sprout.

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