If you have not already collected seeds from your favorite annual flowers for next year, now is the time. Frost tends to harden seed coats and to dry out seed heads, maturing seeds that will survive the winter. Save those little packets of silica gel that come packed with electronic equipment. Keep all your seeds in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and place a handful of the silica gel packs in the container. This keeps moisture to a minimum and maximizes storage life.
Properly stored in this way, many seeds will remain viable for a much longer time than is commonly stated in reference works.
PLANNING FOR 2013
Speaking of seeds, it won’t be long before the catalogs start showing up. For many companies, online catalogs are always accessible, although not all seed varieties are necessarily available at all times. With printed catalogs completed months in advance, availability of most, if not all, of the offerings is assured. I still enjoy flipping through the print catalogs, even though it has become a guilty pleasure. Despite the use of paper and ink to display what can be displayed digitally, catalogs offer me a sense of nostalgia for the years when I first started gardening. I swear, some of the seed companies are still using photos from that era, too. I’ll bet the children depicted in some of these photos, holding a huge tomato or sunflower or whatever, have grandchildren by now.In any case, it is time to start thinking about what to plant in the vegetable garden next year. I like to make plans for the next season while the experience of the season past remains vividly in memory. Based on last year’s successes and errors, the overall goal for next year will be to grow less of certain crops to avoid the time and effort entailed in producing more than we need. We are going to aim for quality, not quantity, for the majority of veggies, and focus on a few that we want in abundance for preserving. Unless you simply enjoy having an exuberant garden and want to give lots of food away, both of which are admirable traits, mind you, is it really necessary to plant more than one eggplant, for example?
Crowding crops can be counterproductive. Cabbages grown too close together, for example, will produce smaller heads and lower total weight than fewer plants spaced farther apart would produce. Parsimonious use of garden space is important. Why supply the room, fertilizer and water for any but the minimum garden that will supply your needs? Our two person household can seldom accommodate the abundance of some veggies our relatively tiny garden now yields.
Thomas Jefferson directed that the vegetable garden at Monticello be planted with “a teaspoon of lettuce seed every Monday.” This embodies the approach backyard gardeners must take. Sow small amounts in succession. Aim for a continuous harvest, rather than a seasonal glut. This approach, incidentally, lends itself to experimentation with new varieties. For us, experimentation provides a lot of the pleasure we derive from growing veggies. We are already looking to next spring with anticipation.
Bring on the seed catalogs!