Got Seeds?

Grow them. Grow your own. One tiny seed can produce more food than you can imagine.

One tough Swiss Chard that keeps coming back every year.

It’s not easy and includes a big learning curve. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes they are viable, sometimes they aren’t. Guaranteed germination rate like store bought? No. But it can be done. Even by accident. That is how much of our learning takes place. We find there are times we learn more from our failures than our successes.

The small salad bed on the east side of the house.

Spinach going to seed.

Around here in the late spring spinach and lettuce go to seed. I will let the spinach seeds drop right in the bed where they are growing. I will harvest the lettuce seeds from the pot on the front porch and broadcast them into the “salad bed” where the spinach is growing. 

Back in February I spread some old spinach and lettuce seeds in this bed not expecting anything to grow since they were older. We received a nice surprise of an extended ‘salad’ season. I will remember this and broadcast seeds next February in hopes this will replicate.

This lettuce is growing on the porch in the same pot as some sweet potatoes.

Surprise spinach
Surprise lettuce and parsley

Last years sunflowers seeds have germinated very well and are growing great.

Turnips planted last fall went to seed and provided this seed harvest. We dried them in the greenhouse.

Last year’s sweet potato plants probably aren’t considered seeds, but we’re hoping this experiment, planting them in a large pot, having them in the greenhouse all winter, and now on the porch, will show us if they will continue growing potatoes. The few potatoes we harvested last year gave us half a dozen sprouts that have been planted in the garden. They are growing well, so we hope to have replacement plants from year to year. Kind of like seeds, right?

You can grow some type of food almost anywhere with a sunny window, a porch, a sidewalk, with a bucket, a large tub or other container, a flower bed, the edge of a yard along the fence. You can plant nutritious, calorie rich foods just about anywhere, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, any type of cowpea (purple hull peas, black-eyed peas, etc.), to name just a few. If you can find them, buy a bag of pinto beans at the store, they will grow vines you can train on a fence or trellis. The potatoes you can store and eat over the winter, the beans and peas you can dry for cooking later. Neither has to be canned, so no need for canners, jars, shelf space, etc.

The Seed Starters Handbook is a great resource. I bought our copy back in the 1980’s and still use it regularly. It’s part of our resource library.

Got seeds? Got food? Grow some. Any amount you can provide for yourself will decrease your dependence on others, be it the grocery store or the government. It will increase your self confidence and determination to maintain or regain a small portion of independence for you and those you love.

Until next time – Fern

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

Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

I was excited when my first ever sunflowers came up this summer. And then they actually had these big, beautiful sunflowers! I have always looked at pictures of gardens that had sunflowers and thought I would like to do that someday. Well, this summer, someday arrived. It has been an interesting venture. 

I didn’t grow very many. The seeds I planted were a few years old and I didn’t know if they would still be viable.

Here are the first two that I thought were ready to pick. I wasn’t sure at what stage I should pick them.


The rest I left to ripen longer on the plants. This first batch of seeds I picked out very carefully.

When it came time to get the seeds out of these flower heads, they were much drier and the material surrounding the seeds came out of the flower head as well. It reminds me of the chaff surrounding a wheat seed.

I ended up pulling the dried stem portion from the back of the flower then breaking up the seed head into pieces. This made it easier to handle and remove the seeds. I got a few splinters in my hand and would recommend wearing gloves.

The kittens decided it would be fun to help.

They are great fun to watch. It is a toss up which one is more fun to watch, kittens or baby goats. They both love to run and play and crack me up regularly.


A few days ago Frank refurbished our old triangle dinner bell. We have had this for many years and it was a little worse for the wear. He got out the wire brush and cleaned the corrosion off of the metal and added new leather string for hanging. He also had to add another hook to the porch for it to hang from. It is a neat addition to the back porch. I got to admire it while I was working on the sunflower seeds.

I was surprised at the number of seeds I harvested from these few flowers. But as I look at my pan of seeds, I know that it wouldn’t last a few days if I was trying to feed goats and chickens. I would need many more. I thought of trying to winnow out some of the chaff or waste material that came with the seeds from the flower head, but if I were to feed these to the goats, I think they would eat it all.

I plan to keep most of these to plant next year. I want to make sure I can grow replacement seeds.  I’ll also find out if the goats like them. The chickens get some sunflower seeds in the scratch grain we feed them now, so I know they would eat these as well. 

This has been another good learning experience, one I have wanted to try out for a long time. Now it’s your turn. Enjoy.

Until next time – Fern

Saving Seeds Really Pays Off

Remember when we showed the pictures of the zinnia and marigold seed heads we had picked one afternoon? After they had dried somewhat, we separated them to make sure they dry completely before we store them for next year. There are millions, well maybe not millions, but thousands of seeds. Most of these came from

volunteer plants that came up this year from the seeds we planted last year. Many of those seeds came from an end-of-the-year sale at a hardware store for 10 cents a package. 10 cents! So for 10 cents, we now have thousands of seeds that we can use for 10 years even if we never save another seed.

So, that got me to thinking. We saved three big cucumbers and kept the seeds from them. Since we don’t really like cucumbers (believe it or not, I just like dill pickles) these seeds will last us forever – not counting the ones still in the original package I bought that I have been planting for three years now.

In the past few years we have saved okra, corn, zinnia, marigold and black-eyed pea seeds. If we continue to expand this process with seeds from plants we like to eat that are non-hybrid, pretty soon we will not need to buy any. Wouldn’t that be great? One more small step toward independence and self-reliance. 

It is always good to have a stock of seeds on hand though. What if the weather doesn’t cooperate and you need to replant? What if the bugs kill everything and you need to replant? What if you can never buy another seed and what you have is all you have? You’ve heard the old saying ‘Never put all of your eggs in one basket’? Well, never plant all of your seeds. Never. Always have some in reserve for the unexpected. Your life may depend on it one day.

I know that sounds odd in our day of plenty, but I truly believe this will not always be the case. I am very grateful for the comfort and luxury of living in a time when failure is an option – that I can go to the store and replenish all I need and want that is within our means. We are truly blessed. 

Now, at the end of the season, wisely stock up on extra seeds – more than you think you will ever need in your lifetime. They will be worth more than silver or gold. They may feed your family, your neighbors or your community. They will be tremendous bartering commodities. Providing others with the means to provide for themselves may be one of the most

priceless gifts you will ever be able to give someone.

Until next time – Fern