A Year in My Garden: Selecting Seeds

Welcome to the newest series on the Planting Justice blog: A Gardener’s Revolution! This year, I’ll be following one Planting Justice-installed garden (mine!) throughout the entire year bounteous California year — fall to winter to spring to summer, and back to fall. — Nicole Wires, PJ Permaculture Designer

This year, I decided to grow all of my seedlings from seed. Starting seeds is a truly magical process — it never ceases to amaze me that the smallest, most fragile and unassuming seed can produce a bountiful, nourishing plant. Growing your own seedlings from seed is also one of the best ways to make healthy, local, sustainably grown food truly affordable. With time, energy, and mindfulness you can save seeds from your own garden, share seeds with your neighbors, and begin to build a truly self-reliant, local food economy that costs no money to participate in!

Choosing seeds to grow for the season is one of my favorite rituals. Take a visit to your local seed lending library and see what your neighbors and community have been growing and saving — in the Bay Area check out the BASIL Seed Library at the Ecology Center in Berkeley, the Seedfolks Seed Lending Library at the Cesar Chavez Branch of the Oakland Public Library, the Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library at the Main Branch of the Richmond Public Library, or the SF Seed Library at the Potrero Hill branch of the San Francisco Public Library. If you decide to purchase seeds, a few of my favorite seed companies are Seed Savers Exchange, a non-profit dedicated to preserving culturally diverse and genetically endangered food crop varieties, Native Seeds/SEARCH, a Tucson-based non-profit that preserves heirloom arid land seed varieties and works closely with indigenous communities in the desert Southwest to preserve seeds grown by generations of indigenous peoples. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds also has an amazing and fun variety or rare, heirloom seeds to explore. And of course, you can always save your own seeds — creating a truly self-sustaining landscape of vegetables well adapted to your own local micro-climate. When the time is right, I’ll write about all sorts of seed saving endeavors you can undertake from your own garden!

If you are going to be growing your own seeds at home, it helps to have a greenhouse. While a greenhouse isn’t necessary, it enables you to extend your growing season by nearly a month — seeds that you would normally need to wait until April to plant outside can be planted in a greenhouse in early to mid February. They will grow 6–8” tall by April, when they are ready to be transplanted out to your garden. At this rate, you’ll have fruits by mid-May, nearly a month early! If you don’t have a greenhouse, a south facing window with good solar exposure will do the trick! You can also try one of many products made to start seeds indoors, although I can’t recommend any as I’m not familiar with them. My guiding philosophy in my garden is to use reclaimed and recycled locally available products whenever possible, so I tend to steer clear of these pre-fabricated products.

I had already built a small greenhouse using a reclaimed single-pane window that I purchased from Urban Ore for only $10 (in a later post I will describe how I built my greenhouse, for anyone who wants to build one at home!), so once I made my selection my seeds were ready to plant! This summer, I grew Ukrainian Purple Tomato, Isis Candy Tomato, Gold Medal Tomato, Black Cherry Tomato, Purple de Milpa Tomatillo, Sweet Fall Squash, Golden Zucchini, Garden Sunshine Pepper, Joe’s Long Cayenne, Seed Savers Lettuce Mixture, Pingtung Long Eggplant, Early Fortune Cucumber, Crystal Apple Cucumber, True Lemon, Oaxacan Green Dent Corn, Albino Beet and Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans. I also grew cilantro, kale and arugula seeds that I saved from my garden last year, and I’ll be growing lots of new medicinal plants this year! I’ll write a separate post entirely about my medicinal growing adventures, so stay tuned!

For fall and winter, I planted cabbage, pak choy, spinach, arugula, three varieties of lettuce, broccoli and broccoli raab, snap peas, kale (lacinato and curly), chard, garlic (from a head), and onions (from sets — I didn’t grow these from seeds). You could also plant leeks, cauliflower, mustard greens, collards, other Asian greens like tat soi, radishes, and beets this time of year! Stay tuned for upcoming posts about how to build your own seedling boxes for growing seeds at home, and learning more about seed germination and trouble-shooting what happens when your seeds don’t grow!

In Praise Of The Earth

John O’Donohue

Let us bless

The imagination of the Earth,

That knew early the patience

To harness the mind of time,

Waited for the seas to warm,

Ready to welcome the emergence

Of things dreaming of voyaging

Among the stillness of land.

And how light knew to nurse

The growth until the face of the Earth

Brightened beneath a vision of color.

When the ages of ice came

And sealed the Earth inside

An endless coma of cold,

The heart of the Earth held hope,

Storing fragments of memory,

Ready for the return of the sun.

Let us thank the Earth

That offers ground for home

And hold our feet firm

To walk in space open

To infinite galaxies.

Let us salute the silence

And certainty of mountains:

Their sublime stillness,

Their dream-filled hearts.

The wonder of a garden

Trusting the first warmth of spring

Until its black infinity of cells

Becomes charged with dream;

Then the silent, slow nurture

Of the seed’s self, coaxing it

To trust the act of death.

The humility of the Earth

That transfigures all

That has fallen

Of outlived growth.

The kindness of the Earth,

Opening to receive

Our worn forms

Into the final stillness.

Let us ask forgiveness of the Earth

For all our sins against her:

For our violence and poisonings

Of her beauty.

Let us remember within us

The ancient clay,

Holding the memory of seasons,

The passion of the wind,

The fluency of water,

The warmth of fire,

The quiver-touch of the sun

And shadowed sureness of the moon.

That we may awaken,

To live to the full

The dream of the Earth

Who chose us to emerge

And incarnate its hidden night

In mind, spirit, and light.

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