Time for seed searching.

A newspaper mulch for onions keeps winter weeds at bay. Lee Miller photo

These past few days the plant and seed catalogues are starting to arrive to remind us that spring is just around the corner. With all the rain lately it is not timely to be in the garden. Walking on wet soil can cause soil compaction, so it is a good time to stay inside. That said, I did have the foresight or perhaps good luck to spread wood chips in the walkway between Dahlia rows before the rains were heavy. Hence, I was able to get out between storms and dig Dahlia tubers because the wood chips kept mud at bay. I am also glad I planted my garlic and onions through repurposed Records which keeps down the weeds during the winter. It is difficult to be weeding in this weather and the weeds are thriving with the rain.

It is best to enjoy the rain while perusing some catalogues by the fireside. You can think about new vegetables and old vegetables to try out this coming season. I like to grow tasty heirloom tomatoes and I am always willing to try a few new varieties. One of the catalogues I received recently was from Tomato Growers Supply Co. They offer seeds for about 600 varieties of tomatoes and a few hundred peppers which should be enough to keep trying new tomatoes and pepper varieties for years. They have an on-line catalogue as well at: http://www.tomatogrowers.com/.  I have bought seeds from them in the past and have been satisfied with their seeds.

Of course you can save your own seeds from open-pollenated varieties. These are not hybrid seeds. Saved hybrid seeds will not produce a plant like the parent F1 generation hybrid, but will likely revert to one of the parents. Hybrids do often offer the advantage of inbred genetic resistant to diseases and can be tasty as well.

Of course there are lots of seed purveyors around and if you want to check out how reliable they are, you can go to Dave’s Garden website (http://davesgarden.com/ ) and check out the number of negative or positive reviews on nurseries and seed houses in their Garden Watchdog page. One seed company that I have used for research, because it carries lots of peppers and tomatoes, had 83 negative comments, 14 neutral and 32 positive ones. That is a pretty sorry record. Thus it is good to check out seed houses and not get burned.

Seeds for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants as well as many flowers need to be started in late January or early February to get them sized right for April planting. If seeds have poor germination, a common complaint, then it throws off the timing of planting, or may result in a desired cultivar not getting planted this season.

We are fortunate here in Stockton to have our very own seed house, Lockhart seeds, and they carry a fair range of bulbs and seeds for vegetables and flowers. It is fun to go into their store, because it is a heirloom of a seed store with old varnished oak seed cabinets, 3 inch tongue and groove wood floors and a unique old-fashioned, cozy charm. Such stores were a fixture in many cities years ago, but many have disappeared.  Our big box stores also carry a variety of seeds.

One seed purveyor I like to support is the Seed-Saver’s Exchange which is a non-profit organization that has a seed bank for heirloom seeds that have come from various sources including Native Americans and the offspring of immigrant families that brought seeds of their  favorite vegetables when they emigrated to America.  It was started in 1975 by Diane Ott Whealy and her husband, who wanted to save her grandfather’s ‘German Pink’ tomato and a morning glory for future generations.

From that modest start of saving two heirlooms, the SSE has grown into a large enterprise with thousands of seeds in their seed bank. Today they have 13,000 supporting members and have 20,000 plant varieties that they maintain on a 890 acre, Heritage Farm near Decorah, Iowa. They offer some of their best heirlooms in a beautiful, well-illustrated catalogue and their materials are also accessible on line at: http://www.seedsavers.org/.

Another good heirloom seed company is Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. which was started in 1998 and has along with SSE promoted interest in maintaining and providing heirloom seeds.  It is based in Missouri, but also has a seed store in an old bank in downtown Petaluma; it has a website catalogue as well: http://www.rareseeds.com/ .  Dave’s Garden Watchdog lists 1029 positive to 40 negatives for this company. That is a pretty good endorsement. Where ever you find your seeds or plants for this year’s garden, may you find joy and happiness in gardening in 2017.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website:  http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/

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  • Blog Author

    Lee Miller

    Lee Miller is a University of Delaware graduate and retired fisheries biologist, he gardens on 10 acres and makes wine each year with the help of a cadre of friends. However, his first love is gardening and he grows various fruit trees, heirloom ... Read Full

    Marcy Sousa

    Marcy Sousa is the San Joaquin County UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator. She is a Stockton native and enjoys teaching others about gardening. She has her bachelors from Stanislaus State in Permaculture. She has been with the program since 2007. Read Full

    Nadia Zane

    Nadia Zane is a UC Master Gardener, a landscape designer and Stockton native. She has a fondness for California native plants and sustainable landscaping, which she utilizes in her work for Native Beauty Garden Design. She is a member of the CA ... Read Full
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