......whispering of the new shades of green and smells of freshly cut grass. Oh, how the prospect of fresh......anything, teases and entices us!
Planning a garden, whether vegetable or flower, seeds often play a huge part of that planning. Decisions made should include:
- Do we want to start plants from seed or buy plants?
- Do we want to save seeds?
- Do you want annual, biennial, perennial plants, or a combination of all three?
- What plants do we want?
- Is our soil good or is it poor?
- How much space do we have?
Hybrid versus Heirloom
Hybrid seeds are just that hybrids, resulting from the crossing between two plants to produce qualities of both in one plant. This has been done to increase production and yield. That's a good thing, right? Not necessarily. With hybrid seeds you may have high return, but if your goal is to save seeds, it is not the best seed to use. Commercial hybrids are 'profit oriented', what sells - the biggest tomato and the greenest pepper, not necessarily an increase in nutritional value or saving seeds from year to year. Some hybrid seeds are actually patented and seeds need to be purchased every year. They are not adapted to all climates and environments. Many believe that hybrids also need more maintenance, as in fertilizer, water, etc. Most plants purchased at your local nursery are hybrid plants.
Heirloom, or open-pollinated, are seeds that have been gathered from plants that are non-hybrid. Heirloom seeds are the specific species or type of plant used over years and many have been handed down for generations! The advantages of heirloom seeds it that they will adapt to your environment and climate. You can save seeds for the following year, saving the annual cost of buying seeds. What we have found with open-pollinated seeds is that the taste is actually far better! We are able to find seeds that grow in our short, Memorial Day to Labor Day, growing season. Because heirloom seeds adapt to their environment, our yields are actually better than with hybrid seeds.
Annual, Biennial, or Perennial
Biennial plants are plants that grow and produce crops in one season, yet need more than one year for seed production. Seeds also need separation to prevent cross-pollination (form a hybrid). These plants include: beets, cabbage, carrots, etc.
Perennial plants are plants that grow once planted and continue to grow and produce for an extended period of years. There can be self-pollinating or require a second plant to reproduce. Plants in this group include: raspberries, strawberries, asparagus, etc.
Good or Bad Soil?
An easy way to find out the basic condition of your soil it to purchase a soil test kit from your local garden or hardware center. This test covers the basic BIG three: Nitrogen (N), Phosphate(P), and Potash(K).
We won't get overly technical here. Nitrogen encourages your plants to grow, by providing the energy to grow and produce fruit. Without sufficient Nitrogen, your plants are unable to absorb what nutrients they need from the soil. Organic forms of Nitrogen can be found in guano (bat droppings), blood meal, & fish meal.
Phosphate helps the plant to store nutrients and water better.
Helping plants grow to maturity and assist in better root development. Organic forms of Phosphate can be found in bone meal and rock phosphate (also a good source of calcium and other minerals).
Potash, or potassium, assists the plant moving the water and nutrients through the plant tissue. Potash also helps the plant resist pests and diseases. It is needed for developing the plants flowers, fruit, and seeds. Organic sources of Potash include greensand, kelp, and granite dust.
Type of soil............another thing to do is find out what type of soil you have. Different types of soil have different textures.
Some hold water better, some are more compact (harder) needing extra steps. An easy way to find your soil type is: simply fill a glass jar with soil and water. If you use a quart jar, 2 cups of soil and 1 cup of water should be sufficient. Shake it up a little. Once the soil settles, usually by the next day.........divide the height of each mineral layer by the height of the total amount of soil. Then multiply by 100. In the illustration below there is 50% sand, 25% silt, and 25% clay. This is actually a good soil example.
Easy or Hard to grow?
Easy to grow vegetables can be grown even in poor soil, or need less skill. They don't need as much as other plants and can produce a crop under the worst conditions. Vegetables that fall under 'low-demand' are beans, peas, carrots, and kale.
Medium-demand vegetables need good soil to produce well.
Side dressing, (meaning not placing compost right on the plants), would be needed or at least composting the garden annually. We compost in the fall after harvesting all our produce. Plants that need a little extra care include cabbage family, kohlrabi, lettuce, peppers, spinach, and tomatoes.
Plants that need the most TLC usually won't do well unless it has really good soil, enough light, and water. It may take some time to amend your soil naturally to get it where these 'high demand' plants will do well. Composting yearly, practicing crop rotation, double row planting, and companion planting has worked very well for us. (We will be blogging about those and seed saving in later blogs.) If you're a beginner, don't worry about these plants this year. These plants include asparagus, cantaloupe/honeydew, Chinese cabbage, leeks, & celery.