It’s the tail end of January, which means it’s time to organize seeds and plan for spring. This is a ritual I adore. Through the drab months of winter, I pore over seed catalogs and meticulously organize my saved seeds from last year. I make lists and spreadsheets of everything I want to order, even choosing backup varieties if my favorite one is too expensive or sold out. When the seeds arrive, it’s like Christmas.
But growing a garden takes so much time, so much patience. It will be weeks before I can start my little seeds in the warm light of spring. Months before they shoot up all fresh and green, and ages before they start to bloom or produce fruit. Add to that the long list of perennials and shrubs I’ve acquired, which will take 3-4 years to mature, requiring constant needy care the entire way before they spit out a single bloom. Sometimes it’s absolutely agonizing.
There are many reasons why I garden. I love the smell of fresh earth, the magic of a sprouting seed, the almost surreal beauty of a field of flowers in bloom. Gardens are so alive, their life force simply envelopes me as I work. They ground me, tying me to the cyclical nature of the seasons, the unpredictability of the weather, the sheer will of Mother Nature. In today’s world, you can live your whole life without ever really caring what’s happening outside your window. A long time ago, I swore I would never farm because it was too much damn work. But here I am, constantly amazed by the life embedded in each and every tiny seed, and the process of coaxing that life out of its pocket- a process so ancient yet so new and real. Seeds are the start of everything.
Sometimes it’s good to wait. I see people starting their seeds now, in the depths of January. I wait until the first week of March to start my seeds. We farm in Zone 6b, with last frosts around Mother’s Day. My peppers, parsley, perennial flowers, and eucalyptus are the seeds that require the most time to germinate and grow (10-14 weeks). It’s tempting to try to start them in February, but I found I only had success under grow lights and not out in the greenhouse. After reading Grace Alexander’s book, she pointed out why- there isn’t enough sunlight hours to grow seeds in the doldrums of February.
I’d prefer to follow the whims of Mother Nature. There’s honestly no sense in trying to outwit her. I also don’t have the resources to start all my seeds indoors under grow lamps. So I will wait until the first week of March. I put a little space heater out in the greenhouse, lay my trays on heated mats, and tuck them in each night under a frost blanket until the end of April. Sometimes I try to set them out early, the first week of May, but there’s always a constant fear of frost. Only the hardiest survive- nigella, poppies, spinach, broccoli- they thrive even under heavy frosts. I’ve found there’s really no harm in starting seeds a bit late. They tend to catch up through the season. The bigger issue for me has been making sure they’re planted out in the field in time.
Starting seeds, growing a garden- it takes time and patience. But it’s so worth the wait. I’m learning as I’m going along here, following Mother Nature’s lead and the gentle cycle of the seasons.