Column, Looking Back

Seed packets…the first sign of spring!

By Mary Ellen Shaw

I know the skiers aren’t thinking like I am. Their season has just begun and they don’t want to think about it ending. I, on the other hand, am excited because flower and veggie seeds are in the stores! Seed catalogs have begun to arrive and I get to spend time looking for something different to grow this year.

I promised an occasional garden column during the winter so let’s take a “look forward” to the pleasure we will get from playing in the dirt!

When the pandemic arrived gardening became a very popular way to spend free time…time that people never had before. Seed packets disappeared from shelves at a rapid clip.

I have always been an early buyer of seeds. I look for ads in January that offer excellent discounts, up to 40% in some cases. There is nothing more satisfying than heading to a store on a cold winter day and seeing all those packets with brightly colored flowers and delicious looking veggies.

I make sure to bring my list and have always been able to find just about everything I plan to grow.

Last year my handy husband, Peter, made me a wooden box with slots to hold the packets. I divided the box into veggie and flower sections. I put the packets in alphabetically – beans to zucchini and asters to zinnias! Now it’s so easy to find what I am looking for. When all the seeds in the packet aren’t used, I can put a paper clip on the packet and back in the slot it goes. It will be right where it belongs for a fall planting of spinach or radishes.

Once you get home with your seeds you may be motivated to grow something right away. Who wants to wait over four months for that to happen? You don’t have to. Grow lights to the rescue!

There are several types of grow-lights available. They range from floor models to clamp-lights and some that hang from chains. Experts always recommend starting small when you are venturing into something new. Herbs and lettuce are two good choices for indoor growing. Choose your container and get soil mix designed for growing seeds. Plant and wait!

I saw a YouTube video where a plastic gallon jug was filled with sand and a PVC pipe was inserted into the neck of the bottle. A grow-light was clamped to the PVC pipe so it could be moved up as the plants grow in their containers. Now that wins the prize for an inexpensive and very creative method!

If you plan to grow plants from seed and then move them outside in summer, the seeds should be planted six to eight weeks before the last expected frost. For Vermont, that would be in early to mid-April. Using grow-lights will prevent your plants from getting “leggy.” Since the lights are above your plants, they mimic the sun. This makes the stems strong. You will need to allow for a couple of weeks of gradual outdoor exposure to sun and wind before the plants are ready for the garden.

I like to grow flowers that I can’t find at local garden centers. For me it’s an added bonus when they can be dried at the end of the summer and enjoyed indoors all winter. My favorites are strawflowers which come in a variety of colors and statice, which is available in either blue or apricot.

When you are buying seeds keep in mind that they could be in short supply by late summer. If you want to do a fall planting it’s a good idea to buy the extra seeds now. Then you won’t be disappointed later.

Perhaps growing flowers inside seems too labor intensive. In that case, choose seeds that you can sow directly in the ground in May. My favorites are “cut and come again” zinnias and calendulas. They won’t bloom until late in the season but that can be ideal as so many perennials are finished by then. What I love about the zinnias is the fact that you can cut them for a bouquet and as the name says, they will “come again” and you get more flowers from the same plant.

It’s time for your “spring fix” and a packet of seeds is all it takes! Have fun browsing through the enticing packets and even more fun planting the seeds when the time is right.

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