I’ve flirted with and tested out countless cheap and cheerful seed organization systems through the years. From plastic storage bins, to glass jars, wicker baskets, and vintage index card boxes — I’ve tried out every affordable option I could think of and then some. As my rag-tag seed bank has grown, I have had to conjure up new and smarter ways to keep on top of countless little packets.
A few weekends ago I realized that once again my seed collection was out of control and needed to be revamped. Years of experience has made it clear to me that I require three systems: One for the plants that are started indoors underneath lights, another for the seeds that are direct sown, and a third for tomatoes.
I’ve got tomatoes on the brain these days. Last weekend I had a table at Seedy Saturday at the Brickworks here in Toronto and the highlight was trading for some new tomato varieties. I walked away with at least ten new varieties feeling like a kid in a candy shop. That giddy feeling hasn’t worn off. I love tomatoes! The hard part comes next in deciding which to grow.
Later, when I got home from the event I took stock of my total tomato seed collection and was shocked to discover that I have collected over 130 varieties. I had never bothered to count before now. No wonder I have a harder and harder time narrowing down the list that will end up in the soil each year!
Last year was my best tomato season ever. By the time the hard frost hit we had harvested 110lbs of ripe fruit (NOT including cherry or currant varieties) plus another 30 or so pounds in green tomatoes. I don’t think I grew more plants than I have in the past as there were years when I was able to split the plants up between 3 gardens, and I recall one year just under a decade back when I was able to fit 16 plants into the community garden plot, plus the same on the roof. I think the windfall came down to even better, sunnier growing conditions and a really hot summer.
Okra Earrings in Sterling $54.00: I am always on the lookout for vegetable themed jewelry that takes advantage of their elegant beauty. These do that.
Wearable Planter Jewelry $20.00US: Months back everyone was sending me links to these wearable planter necklaces with the subject line, “This is SO YOU!” to which I thought, “But no plant can live in such a tiny pot!” And that upset me. “No, I’m sorry, but I will not hang a dead plant set inside a pretty little vessel around my neck, thank you very much.”
But time has passed and I’ve softened. So fine, you guys win. They really are SO ME. Especially the orange. And if you’re reading this site, they are probably SO YOU, too.
Give the Gift of Seeds About $20.00: I agree, seeds are one of the best gifts to give, especially on Valentine’s Day since the holiday is used to mark the beginning of planting season in some climates. You can’t go wrong with the Hudson Valley Seed Library — they have some of the most artistic packages around, and if you buy a gift membership, your loved one can choose the plants their heart (and stomach) desires most.
In Canada, Cubit’s Organics has a six-pack offer, with free shipping.
This morning, a group of farmers and organic seed growers have gathered at a hearing in New York City to present oral arguments as the first phase in what could turn out to be an historic lawsuit brought against biotech giant Monsanto.
The suit, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) et al v. Monsanto, was brought as a pre-emptive suit by a group of 83 co-plaintiffs that seeks, in part, to protect themselves against the alleged patent infringement suits that they fear they will face if their seed becomes contaminated by transgenic (aka GMO) genetics.
“According to the Public Patent Foundation, Monsanto has one of the most aggressive patent assertion agendas in history. Between 1997 and 2010, Monsanto admits to filing 144 lawsuits against America’s family farmers, while settling another 700 out of court for undisclosed amounts.“
Last week I traveled to Montreal to speak at the Montreal Seed Fair and sign copies of the “Grow Great Grub” book in support of the collective food gardening group, Action Communiterre.
Toronto’s Annual Seed Fair is coming up this Sunday and is expected to be packed to the gills. I find it difficult to shop at this event since I am a vendor and need to focus on working, so I took the opportunity to get some seeds for myself at the Montreal event.
Shopping for seeds in French turned out to be more difficult than I anticipated. Here in Canada we are taught French in the public school system, but despite years of lessons, none of it has stuck. I can say, “I don’t speak French” and ask “Where’s the bathroom?” and that’s about it. Most seed packets had the Latin botanical name on them so that helped. But they were often organized according to the common name, which was in French.
I basically felt like a total idiot most of the time, especially when I launched into Spanish when I meant to reply in French. I’m nowhere near fluid in Spanish (I speak it on an infant level) but the language seems to come more naturally to me. As you can probably predict, mistakes were made. For example, I bought morning glory seeds thinking they were something else. I won’t tell you what that something else was — it’s too embarrassing.
That said, I did come out with some good stuff, even if most of it wasn’t on my mental list for this year. Not that I had a mental list, or any sort of list at all for that matter. Year after year it is always the same with me. Try as I might, I am not a planner. I am an experimenter. I pick and choose for the season based more on impulse and the possibility of an interesting experiment than planning. Sometimes plants choose me. For the most part I just go with what comes.
And then I try to stick it all somewhere appropriate in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. Below are the items I bought that I will be attempting to stick somewhere this spring.
Top Row (left to right):
- Seed Potatoes ‘All Red’ – I was amazed by how many vendors sold potatoes at this event. Thank you! I bought this small bag of seed potatoes for $3. I’m a small space gardener — I don’t require pounds and pounds of seed potatoes. So every year I buy my potatoes in the quantity I want from a local organic produce store that I know carries decent stock. The only drag is that some of those potatoes probably come from… who knows where, and aren’t adapted to this climate. These seed potatoes were produced in Quebec. Close enough. And now, I FINALLY get to grow the ‘All Red’ variety that I’ve had on my list for years. Hooray!
- Jerusalem Artichoke ‘Red’ – I bought this red variety because I was under the impression that I have only been able to grow the yellow variety. I’m not so sure now. I guess I’ll find out in the spring when the soil thaws. These were also $3 a bag.
- French Shallots – As you can imagine, several vendors in French Canada had shallots for sale. This is something I rarely see in Toronto so I bought a bag for $3.
Middle Row (left to right):
- Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfolita) – Residents of California will think it strange to purchase claytonia seeds since it grows like a weed there. Here in Toronto claytonia is a rare sight in edible gardens.
The next four packages were bought from La SociÃƒÂ©tÃƒÂ© des Plantes who happen to make very nicely designed packages. I didn’t REALLY need more claytonia seeds but I will eventually… and look how nice the package is! That’s my excuse. I showed someone the packages and her response was, “Does that matter?” Hell, yes! Not only does it show that they have great taste but demonstrates that they put an extra bit of effort into their product. Some might say that’s just superficial, but I think it is Classy (with a capital ‘C’).
- Shungiku (Chrysanthemum coronarium) – Shungiku is an edible chrysanthemum that I have grown a few times. You can eat both the tender leaves and the flowers. The flavour is hard to describe but I’d say pungent and a bit how chrysanthemum flowers smell.
- Purple Plantain (Plantago major ‘Purpurea’) – One day I’ll tell the story of plantain and what it means to me, but in the meantime I’m very excited about this purple variety.
- Morning Glory (Ipomoea purpurea) – Embarrassing mistake. Let’s never speak of it again. I’m going to give these away or trade.
- Chufa Nuts aka Tiger Nuts (Cyperus esculentus) – The description of this plant is so interesting I couldn’t help being intrigued. The seeds are tiny little tubers that grow into a grassy, sedge plant. At the end of the season the tubers are dug up and dried. Apparently they taste like coconut and can be made into a Spanish drink called Horchata that is different than the Mexican rice drink of the same name. I think this will do well in medium-sized containers.
- Red and Black Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor gr. Saccharatum Ã¢â‚¬ËœBlack AfricanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢) – I first came across black sorghum last year on a trip to the Montreal Botanical Gardens so how fitting that I bought seeds there less than a year later. I was told that the red variety grows to be as tall as 12 feet while the black variety is much shorter. I’m planning to try growing these in the street garden. If they don’t get destroyed or urinated on, I might just try pressing out the juice for homegrown sweetener. I also recommend the film “Red Sorghum” by Zhang Yimou.
Bottom Row (left to right):
- Morelle de Balbis (Solanum sisymbrifolium) On the night before the event, my friend Gwynne was telling me about her experience growing this plant on her farm and I was intrigued. The next day I found seeds! It reminds me of naranjilla, but even thornier and more dangerous looking. Do you think this might keep the urinators out of the street garden? If you’re looking for seeds, Solana Seeds carries a wide variety of interesting and exotic tomato family plants.
- Blue Flowers – These were from the trade. They were listed as “fleurs bleues” and can’t for the life of me recall the name. The flowers eventually turn to seed pods that look like tiny Chinese Lanterns.
Does anyone know the name? Update: Thanks to Dan of Ferme CoopÃƒÂ©rative Tourne-Sol for identifying these as Shou Fly (Nicandra physalodes).
- Ginkgo Biloba – This is the third time someone has given me ginkgo seeds. If I believed in The Secret and manifesting from the Universe and all that jazz I would be getting the distinct message that I am supposed to grow this plant. I will admit that it is a gorgeous tree and if I had the space I would indeed grow it. Who doesn’t love ginkgo leaves? But I don’t have space, so growing one is not likely to happen anytime soon. I’ve got to find a spot for that 12 foot red sorghum first! I’ll happily send these to the first person in the comments who is interested in growing them. Bonus points for making it this far down in the post.