Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I dreamed I was planting carrots

For reals. I don't remember the entire dream, but I do remember kneeling on the ground, smoothing a patch of my garden soil, breaking up clumps of dirt, then making the tiny trenches in which to sprinkle my carrot seeds.

I think this means I'm gearing up to plant a vegetable garden after all. As I've mentioned previously, last year started with grand hopes for my most ambitious garden yet, but ended up with dried-out seedlings, no planting, and a garden patch turned into a jungle of weeds. By fall I was so depressed by the state of things, I thought I'd never want to put on my Wellies and pick up my shovel again.

Thankfully, things change, and now I find myself waiting for what's passing for winter around here to pass so that I can start slowly, patiently digging up all those weeds, redigging the borders for my beds, and yes, try again to start my seedlings indoors under the miniature grow lights Mulch Boy got me last year.

I have actually made a start, too! Monday, for the first time in almost a year, I went to the local nursery and bought my vegetable seeds. Seeds! I'm still enough of a neophyte at planting from seed to still be astonished when the seeds actually germinate. "This will never work!" is always in the back of my mind. But surprise, surprise, it does work, and boy is it cheaper than buying all those little plants from the garden center.

How long do seeds last, though? This year I bought new packets of carrots, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, beets, cukes, bell peppers, bush beans, and wax beans. I already had seed packets from years past for all of these, but of course the dates on the labels were long past. I decided to trash the old packets, plus any other seed packets that were more than two years old.

I did, however, keep a good bunch of "outdated" seeds I had bought in the last two years, especially a rather large collection of vegetables and flowers from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home. At Monticello, they not only maintain the flower and vegetable gardens, they preserve the seeds of specific varieties that Jefferson himself planted, and you can buy them!

These I cannot just toss in the trash. I believe I've read that seeds don't "expire" by the package date, but that the germination rate declines the further you get from the date. So I decided that for the must-have veg of the garden I would use new, more-guaranteed-to work seed, but that I would still try my Monticello seeds, too. Why not? If I don't get a generous crop of Texas bird peppers out of it, my heart won't be broken. But if I get even a few, I will get a huge kick out of the fact that my yard shares some of the same peppers that Jefferson grew. (What I'd really like to grow is some of John Adams' plants. Alas, the Adams National Historic Park doesn't sell seeds.)


  1. I have some TJ seeds, too, that my sis gave me: tomato, kale, and lettuce. The kale was lovely, the others didn't do so well last year.

    As for old seed packets, I've seen resources online giving guidelines for how long seeds stay viable. I don't remember the source, or much of what it said, except that onions and onion relatives generally don't last past a year but some other veggies will easily last 2-3 years. I just germinated peas from a 2-3 year old packet, and they did just as well as the (different variety) from this year's packet.

  2. Hi, Cherry! Did you know you can also order the JT seeds from the Monticello website? Mine are now two years old, but I'm definitely going to give them a shot. Those packets dated 2003, though...