What Seeds Have Taught Me

Seeds. I love seeds and the potential nourishment they represent. If the truth were to be told, I have too many seeds, so some of them age past their prime and lose viability before they have the opportunity to grow. A waste? Yes, could be, but like our preparations, I would rather have too many, than wish I had something grow because we were hungry. Frank has heard me say many times that seeds are worth more than gold. The food that seeds provide can keep us alive. If there are no seeds to be had, all the gold in the world is worthless.

I am grateful that we have had the last seven years here to learn the climate, soil conditions, pests and temperature variations. No two years have had the same weather conditions, which has offered even more to learn. Our first two gardens were grown under extreme drought conditions. This past year we lost some of our hard earned topsoil to flooding, and it was so wet that seeds rotted in the ground.

During the first few years we tried growing the same varieties of vegetables we had grown else where, some did well and some did not. We experimented one year with about six or eight types of peppers, tomatoes and winter squashes. That gave us a very good idea of which ones would produce well here. Some of our favorites made the cut and some did not, fortunately we found better producing varieties that have now become our new favorites.

It took me three years to figure out how to grow lima beans only to discover we really didn’t like them. Until two years ago, I didn’t like fresh tomatoes. We started growing two old heirloom varieties, and surprisingly, I liked them. Frank has always liked tomatoes and he describes them as more acidic than many of the newer varieties. I have also discovered that my back cannot pick a row of bush beans. I just can’t do it. This has led to experiments with several types of pole beans until we found one that we really enjoy, that produces well into the fall.

I wish I could figure out how to grow a head of cabbage. I even wrote an article about it. And onions. Those are things I will continue to work on because we eat a lot of both. I also need to be more diligent at saving our seeds. It has always been easier for me to order seeds instead of planning ahead for seed saving. There will come a time when the only seeds we have will be the ones we save, so this is not a skill for me to continue avoiding or neglecting. 

The greenhouse has given us a whole new learning experience in growing food. As would be expected, the cool weather crops are happier than those that like the heat of summer. We have picked one yellow squash and the tomatoes are blooming, but with 38* lows at night, I don’t expect much from them. I will soon be planting seedlings in the greenhouse. The window I’ve used for the past few years has now been replaced by the greenhouse entrance and I find that to be very comforting. I’m excited about the greatly expanded room to grow many more seedlings that won’t be leggy and leaning over sideways in an attempt to reach the sunlight. I’ll be learning much more about the timing for growing, hardening off and planting these seedlings.

There are many beautiful seed catalogs arriving in the mail now days. They all have something to offer that is new, different or interesting, but I have found a company that has a very wide variety of quality products for a fraction of the cost. With few exceptions, we order our seeds from R.H. Shumway’s, which I have no affiliation with, except as a very satisfied customer. Their catalog is not shiny and showy, but it is packed full of seeds and information.  I would highly recommend them.

So, what have the seeds taught me? Patience, diligence, responsibility, the power of observation and learning, conditions for success, hard work usually pays off, and that hope springs eternal in the miracle of germination and growth. In a recent article I said, Our future will be one of incredibly hard work, grubbing in the dirt for our survival.” That’s what seeds mean to me. Life. Survival. I am continually fascinated that one tiny little seed can produce so much food. In the coming days if you have a few seeds and a shovel to spare, a man could help feed his family. Do you have enough seeds for this year, and the next, and the next?

If you are new to your area, or plan to go somewhere else when the SHTF, do you know someone that can help you with invaluable information about local growing conditions and varieties that produce? When is the average first and last frost date? What insect pests cause the most destruction? Do you know how to deal with them without running down to the local garden center for a fix? Has the soil been turned and worked? Is it fertile enough to support the production you need? There are so many things to learn and know before those seeds will turn into food. I have read many places that people feel prepared to replenish their food supply because they have a can of survival seeds. Unless these people have figured out, and made accommodations for many of the things I have mentioned, they will starve. Not that these cans of seeds are a bad idea or contain inferior products, but the conditions necessary for adequate food production are dependent upon so many factors that the odds are stacked against them. 

Grace’s garden

We have a friend, Grace, that gardens just a few miles down the road. She can grow things we cannot. We have pests she doesn’t, and she has some we don’t. Conditions can change quickly, from location to location, as well as year to year..

What have you learned from your seeds? Please share with us because we are all in this together. Any knowledge we can glean now, before it is a vital means of survival will be of great benefit. As soon as I get back the use of these two hands I will be rolling up a new batch of pot makers and planting them in the greenhouse. I can’t wait.

Until next time – Fern

42 thoughts on “What Seeds Have Taught Me

  1. In regards to your pots–I use toilet paper tubes. Either leave them open (stuffed w/ sphegnum moss) or roll under the base and fill with soil. The roots grow right through the tubes, or they can be gently taken off and composted.

  2. We are going to use some of the vegetables we have wanted to grow but not had the room for. We will also use some of our own saved seed to make sure it will germinate. We will have a lot to learn about this climate and it was hard to drive back and forth from Virginia last summer before we took possession but it helped us learn a bit about the heat and humidity of summer. It astonishes me at how much knowledge has been lost in this age of easy fast groceries at supermarkets!

  3. Between the slugs and cabbage worms last year, our harvest, that I thought would finally be good, was dismal. I tried DE, which made a small dent, but it kept getting washed away by the rain. I also tried green lace wing eggs, but I think they also got mostly washed away. But we'll keep trying. I need to get another jar of sprouts going by the kitchen sink. We seem to grow them in cycles. Thank you for sharing, Kymber, great information.Fern

  4. Good advice on the carrots and onions, Bendt. I usually plant the carrots beside the tomatoes and beans on the trellises, but I can tuck in a row of onions as well. Thank you.Fern

  5. Good information, Bellen. The greenhouse is starting to get that greenhouse smell now that the plants are up and growing. It is very interesting. Thank you for sharing your experiences, Marilyn.Fern

  6. I have some Jacobs Cattle seeds, I think that's what they're called, that I'm going to try this year. Even after we dried the limas, they were a mottled red and white, we still didn't like them.Arkansas Travelers are one of my main crops. It's interesting how we have to learn what works in our own areas. You're right about carrots, they are challenging, but I think we finally have the soil worked deep enough, well we did before losing some of the topsoil, that is.Thank you for sharing.Fern

  7. my friend uses sheer curtain to cover her brassicas (cabbage, kale, etc) she has great cabbage, etc . I save seed every year. you never know when you will have a bad year and not be able to save seeds.Sue

  8. It's good to hear from you Calidore. I've been wondering if the fires in Australia were anywhere near you.I always find techniques, varieties and perspectives from other places very interesting and enlightening. It broadens my view. Happy grubbing.Fern

  9. I've read quite a bit about floating row covers, but have never been very interested in trying it. That may be the only way we'll ever get a decent crop, though. Thank you.Fern

  10. The article from the Deliberate Agrarian on onions was a very good one, Deborah. I really enjoy reading his site.The worms ate the cabbage, and yes, we really like collards. I have to keep an eye on the ants and aphids, but they were quite hardy this past summer. We also have some growing in the greenhouse and have enjoyed them this winter. Thank you for sharing.Fern

  11. Hi, SJ, it's good to hear from you, I've missed your comments. This is a very old set of gardening books I inherited from a family member. The pages are yellowing, but the information is wonderful. They even smell old. New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Gardening, Unabridged, Revised edition, 1963, Greystone Press.Thank you for sharing your gardening experiences. I enjoy hearing from people around the world, like Calidore in Australia. It's such a good way to learn from each other. Take care.Fern

  12. Another great article, Fern. I also have quite a collection of seeds. I buy a few more then I need every year just in case. I also have been working on saving my tomato, squash and pumpkin seeds.I've been growing in this area for some time and am always learning something new each season. I now have two community garden plots and each is a different micro-climate. In the first one I could not grow cucumbers. In the second plot, I grew amazing cucumbers. The second plot had a different orientation and was just a little bit warmer and more protected from wind. I've spent the last two seasons learning more about succession planting. My goal was to have carrots, beets and radish available for harvest throughout the summer. I came very close to that last year. I also have yet to grow cabbage but have abundant kale and chard crops. Last year was my first year to grow tomatillos. O, my, I harvested them by the 5-gallon bucket load. All too funny since I have yet to grow a slicer tomato. I am limited here to cherry tomatoes. Bottom line – I'm learning what works for me and what doesn't.Off topic – what is the set of books in your header underneath your garden notebook? It's driving me crazy that I can't read the tittles. SJ in Vancouver BC Canada

  13. i don't know what ate your cabbage but the lace is beautiful.countryside magazine archives should contain the long ago and very detailed article on onion growing. all about short day and long day and other incomprehensible stuff.just read an article, which i will direct you to if i remember where i saw it.gardener grew onion from seed [maybe the deliberate agrarian?] covered the holes with vermiculite, and saved the green onions [onion sets] by putting them in a clamp for full grown onions next year.onions are two year plants if you want the big ones.have you tried collards?

  14. Hi Folks, after I finished reading all the comments I went right to the R H Shumway site and wound up ordering$98.00 worth of seeds. Then today I got the new Seeds Of Change catalog an ordered another outrageous amount, of seeds and money, and made sure they were all different strains of the vegetables that I can grow well and different from the ones I got from Shumway. I have been TRYING to save seeds for years but am not very adept at it. Right now I have a pretty diverse cache. All the ones I got from SOC were of the heirloom and Native American varieties with few exceptions. I just have to get off my butt and get them organized! TIFN Everett

  15. I would appreciate any advice that your readers have for dealing with ants. I have a very nasty invasion of biting ants. Our extension service told me that they are Appalachian Mounding Ants. The last time I tried to plant marigolds, onions, and garlic (last year) the little buggers pulled out every seed, bulb, and plant and left them in a pile at the end of the rows. Any suggestions that don't involve heavy duty pesticides?

  16. I know you can buy a device to make them but you can also go to Youtube – my husband did that and made me about 50 one night. Had to get him to stop, he was having a really good time!!

  17. Plant marigolds around your cabbages. It will repel cabbage worms, and it does work. You can also start in flats and transplant based around the time of when cabbage moths appear in your area. If you can get the cabbages to start maturing before the cabbage moths start appearing to lay their eggs you may get a good harvest. Choose varieties that mature earlier than the cabbage moths.It doesn't always work out the way we plan but gardening is always a gamble. We just need to be able to have the knowledge to adjust to the challenge.

  18. I try to buy seed from as close to my area as possible. Thinking these seeds are adopted to my climate as close as possible

  19. My brassicas (cabbage, kale, etc) are always attacked by the cabbage butterfly and so far I've not found anything that works. But friends of mine in the UK use the green scaffold debris netting draped over bent 10ft lengths of 1/2\” pvc pipes (in a tent formation) and they never have problems. I've recently sourced some of this netting, 8.5 or 10 ft wide, which should also work for strawberries (too many thieving birds, chipmunks and squirrels). Unfortunately, the smallest length is 150 ft but I'm sure I can sell some to friends who also have the same problems. Just a thought for you for the future.

  20. I have lived at the same place for 33 years, and have had a garden every year except one. Some years are good, and some are not. However, I've always been able to grow the best sweet corn, regardless of the kind. We especially like ambrosia, but it's a hybrid and saving seed from it wouldn't be very successful. A friend cans the best dill pickles. I've used her recipe, and they just don't turn out the same. I wondered if it was the kind of cucumber I was using, so I asked what kind she grew. She had no idea. Her family had saved the seeds since the time of her grandparents and maybe even before that. She gave me some of the seeds. had such great success with them that after eating some and canning enough for two years for my entire family, I gave them away by the five-gallon bucketful. I saved enough seed for several people or for my family for several years. I try to plant heirloom seeds for everything, but still plant a few hybrids. I save seeds and have had success with it. Last summer I had trouble being stooped over to pick beans and peas. I'm going to do as you do and plant pole beans this year. Pigweed and deer are my greatest challenges. The deer have fields full of corn and soybeans, but they still eat my vegetables and fruit. They really did a number on my blueberries, raspberries, and new apple and pear trees. I can't believe the amount of damage they did in one day. When I first saw what they did, I was initially both sick and mad. My next thought was how devastating this would be in a survival situation. That's how I look at everything now: Would/Could this potentially affect my survival? This gives me perspective on situations that many deem a problem. If it could affect survival, I problem solve. I will be getting goats in two months, but I've been getting goats milk from a friend to learn how to make cheese before I get milk from my own goats. The thought that goes through my mind is, \”What if 'it' happens before the goats are producing milk?\” I want to know what I'm doing before it's critical to my survival. I may not have all of the 'things' I would like to have in a survival situation, but I want to have the knowledge before I'm able to get them. Do you know what I mean? I don't have anything set up to get the water from a natural spring on my property, but I've printed some options and I'm gathering supplies. (I have a pond and a creek also.) I can't do everything, but I'm doing what I can as I have the resources to do it. I do have a stash of seeds that I've purchased. I do not want to depend on this, and I'm not. I look at this as insurance. There are seeds in the kit that I don't typically plant, but I might in a survival situation. I might also use these seeds as a bartering item, but probably not. I don't think you can ever have too many seeds. Like you, I love seeing the little bags and jars labeled with the kind of seed it contains. They really are gold…No, they're better than gold. I can live without gold; I can't live without food. God bless, and may we all have successful gardens this year.

  21. HELLO,I have been reading your site for almost two years. I check in every other day. I use an android normally and your site locks my phone. I must restart each time I visit and could never comment.I am about one hour N/W of your location, and have also been here 7 years this fall.I love seeds. I have always wondered if you have Polk and morels where you are? Both of these wild foods I have successfully integrated into my garden/orchard.I have already ordered seeds for spring and I use several heirloom varieties that are remnants of the local Native American tribes successes.I enjoy your articles as I am usually paralleling you in crop and weather.Have a wonderful 2016…and buckle up.

  22. I'm with you Fern – I looooove seeds. All that potential in one tiny (or not so tiny) package. Our new vegie garden is going great guns despite the horrific heat we are having. I have found, though experimentation over the past couple of years, that if I only water the garden a couple of times a week even with the heat, the vegies do far better. I guess because their roots are forced deeper to seek out water. Plenty of mulch is required but that's a must anyway.Tomatoes are in abundance – I'm getting slightly snowed under with them and have already canned heaps – however DD2 pointed out that we should be canning all the tomatoes we can this year as next might not be as good a year. She's right so another batch of salsa and tomatoe chutney is planned. Already I'm planning for my autumn planting – and am about to start making lists of the new seeds and varieties I want to try. Here in my part of Australia the only way I can grow carrot is to sow the seeds then cover them with 4 inch pipe cut in half long ways so they are sheltered and moist until they germinate. My Grandapa used to grow his carrots this way and he always had success.I can only growing climbing beans here. Dwarf beans do no good at all so I grow what we fondly call \”Dawn's Mum's Climbing Beans\”. I have no idea what variety they are but a dear friend gave me some seeds that her Mum always grew and they are awesome. I picked a kilogram (2 lbs) of beans off just one plant last year.As for the \”grubbing in the dirt for our survivial\” – bring it on. :-))))Love the greenhouse as always. No chance of ever needing one here – shade houses are more the required garden structures.Blessing and happy gardening to you both.

  23. Frank and Fern. My wife and I also live in Oklahoma and also have tried to grow things that just wouldn't happen. We have planned and made the choice to give up on some crops. Our lack of space is one reason, but the other is labor and time input vs. results. For that reason, we have gone with freeze dried sweet corn, onions and a few other vegetables and fruits to fill our pantry. That isn't a cure-all, but it will give us a cushion as we gear up food production in a crisis. Tomatoes happen to grow well in our neighborhood. Not too many problems as long as I rotate the plot every year. My neighbor a half mile away just cannot get a break with his. However, he grows the best blue lake green beans. I don't. So, we trade. You must have friends in the times to come.

  24. Fern – first off – seeds ARE worth gold! and that's why i save seeds every year! if a plant (like a tomatoe plant or bean plant…etc.) is the first producer, i mark that plant with a string. then i taste-test it's first produce. if the produce is delicious – i save that plant for seeds. if the product isn't delicious, then i mark the next fastest producer, etc., etc.i am glad that you mentioned survival seeds in a can…sure, they are good to have on hand but if you don't get out and practice growing your food, and that recquires years of experience as you know, then that can of seeds is worthless. i am aghast at the number of \”survival\” and \”prepper\” blogs who think that when it hits the fan – they'll just go dump some seeds from a can on the ground and grow food! oh will they be in for a shock! as you say, you must have several years of experience to find out what grows well in your area and what different weather patterns and various pests will affect your harvest. for example – we STILL haven't been able to get a beat to grow here!!! who can't grow a beat??? that would be me. i have researched everything – but apparently not only our soil is too salty – but our air is too salty. so we buy a ton of locally-grown organic beets and save those for pickling and storing over the winter for roasting or making soups,stews, etc.i can get the cabbages to grow…and they start looking good and i think \”this year we will be over-run with cabbages! woohoo!\”…and then august rolls around and they get decimated by slugs. last harvest i managed to get 3 cabbages. so we buy local, organically grown cabbages to store over the winter.so, this year, we are focusing on what we have nailed. and we have plenty of various plants nailed – especially with our greenhouse. no more spending time on things that don't do well here. we think that's the smart approach.and back to seeds – if you have a ton of seeds that are old and you don't want to trust planting them…try sprouting a few in a jar. if they sprout, and you have newer seeds for planting, use the older seeds for healthy, nutritious and delicious sprouts. sprouts can be grown all year round in a mason jar on your counter. and by sprouting them, you can use up your old seeds. that's what we do.anyway, great post! your friend,kymber

  25. This is great stuff. Thank you. I´m sure where you are in the US; maybe you should try kale instead of cabbage. There are many different types, and all can be used fresh or cooked. Are they come in different colors. My sister and her husband has a farm in the Northern part of Denmark, they grow different types of kale, green, red and a black one as well, the black is the favorite of Chef Jamie Oliver from Great Britain.Just a thought…. :-)PS: When my parents had a garden, before they moved into a flat, they placed onions and carrots in alternate rows to beet the flies that goes after the carrots…

  26. Bellen, I have grown the \”Floradade\” tomato for a couple years here in MO and have not been disappointed. In case you want to try it, here is a little info on it: “Floradade Tomato (74 days from transplant) Introduced in 1976 by the Univ. of Florida. Floradade is a large determinant plant. This tomato produces firm smooth 5-7 oz, slightly deep globes, red with green shoulders. This tomato was made for the South and thrives there. Floradades ability to with stand 90-100F temperatures and still produce heavy crops is legendary. Wishing us all a very bountiful 2016 growing season!

  27. Another good article, Fern.Cabbage – hadn't tried cabbage here in FL until this year. Napa cabbage grew quite well but I only harvest a couple of leaves at a time to use in salad. Red cabbage, Red Exress variety, is forming heads, very small ones but I'm hoping they will get bigger as the temps lower – it was 58 this am and is now 75!Last year and this year too, I've grown Yard Long beans. The vines get a good 10 feet tall, the beans I harvest at anything over 12\” up to 18\”, they are crisp and sweet and 6-8 makes two nice servings. They also freeze well. And, because they get so tall I always have some dry on the vine and so have seeds for next season. I don't can as our growing season really is year round.Tomatoes – having such a hard time with blight. Because of that we never have more than 3 plants at a time. The 1st gave us 12, the 2nd about 6 and the last one has 13 nice sized ones waiting to turn red. I'll be starting 3 plants of Everglades tomatoes, a Florida native, in a couple of weeks. They are like a cherry tomato and quite sweet. Had them before but didn't save any seed, will do this year.Trying Seminole pumpkins this year, another Florida native, they've made a good start but I think they need the hot summer temps in the high 80s. Have to wait and see.I've been gardening since I was about 9 and it's always different. I've had few consistencies with any vegetable except for Contender bush green beans, grown in CT, IN and NH, but that doesn't help you.Happy gardening – your greenhouse will be wonderful. Just breathing the air will make you feel good.

  28. Great article, Fern. We've been here 11 years and are still having problems gardening. I'm really shaking things up this year and hoping for better success. I've learned a few things from my seeds. I've grown Arkansas Traveler tomatoes for three years and still haven't had one to eat, they just don't produce for me at all. I've learned that carrots are very challenging, but I keep trying because we eat a lot of them. I've learned that grasshoppers will eat the tops of your onion plants. By the way, have you tried eating dried lima beans? Salt pork and lima beans was a staple dish in my house growing up and I love it, but I hate green limas.

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