A telltale sign of spring: Seed racks are up and the first spring vegetable starts are making their way to local nurseries. If you’ve kept a vegetable garden before, you already understand the joy of creating a meal with your very own harvest. There is no more real connection you can make with your food than to grow it yourself.
We live in a mild climate where almost everything can be grown, although some things take a little more effort than others. Certain plants that require long, warm summers (you know the ones we’re talking about) are only successful when transplanted from seedlings.
Seedlings may be started indoors with proper light, temperature and air flow or you may purchase seedlings from someone who has done the work for you. Most vegetables, though, may be grown by sowing seed at the appropriate time directly into the garden soil and letting Mother Nature do her job.
These days there are countless seed companies and hundreds of varieties to sort through. Throw in terms like “heirloom,” “open-pollinated” and “non-GMO” and you can feel as if you need a special degree just to grow a head of lettuce.
While we don’t have a degree in lettuce growing, we can explain a few things about seeds and plants.
The term “heirloom seed” refers to a variety of fruit or vegetable that has been cultivated and passed down through generations of families, friends and neighbors. With the exception of a few “off-types,” heirloom seed will produce the same plant each time it is sown, as that from which it was collected. Therefore, heirloom seeds may be collected and used the next season.
A hybrid seed is the offspring of two or more parent plants selected for commercially desirable traits and manually cross-pollinated. Seed saved from a hybrid plant will not produce an identical plant the next time it is sown. New seed must be purchased from a seed distributor each season.
Open-pollinated seeds are non-hybrid varieties that produce their next generation of seed by natural pollination, usually wind, birds or insects. All heirloom seeds are open-pollinated.
Do I buy organic seed?
Growing organically is a choice not to use synthetic chemical fertilizers or pesticides to enhance the soil or to combat weeds, pests or disease. In the context of a backyard garden, whether or not you choose organic seed is a choice made mostly by your conscience. By choosing organic seed, not only are you ensured the seed was produced using organic methods, you are supporting organic practices in general.
Is non-GMO important?
The Safe Seed Pledge was created in 1999 by The Council for Responsible Genetics as a way for seed companies producing non-GMO seed to connect with consumers concerned about this issue. An excerpt from that pledge gives the reason for concern:
“The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political and cultural threats. We feel genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release.”
Planting a seed, watching it grow, tending it and reaping a harvest is one of life’s most simple rewards. People have many excuses for not growing a garden, and we’ve probably heard them all.
People often see space as an obstacle. Solutions include container gardening and vertical growing, but our favorite is renting a 10-foot by 10-foot plot from one of the two Community Organic Gardens of Sequim. The fee is only $45 for the entire growing season and includes free organic growing classes, seeds, tools, water and the camaraderie of fellow gardeners. Call Liz Harper at 683-7696 for information.
If a vegetable garden is in your plans this year, heed the words of Gertrude Stein: “A vegetable garden in the beginning looks so promising and then after all little by little it grows nothing but vegetables, nothing, nothing but vegetables.”
Eat well, grow well and be well.