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spring, really?

Christmas present -- today's garden

Christmas present — today’s garden

Yes, the calendar declared that spring had arrived two days ago. The day before that, we got several inches of snow along with sleet, freezing rain, and an abundance of grouchiness. If we’re really lucky today, the mercury will climb to 40 degrees, but then we’ll dip into the teens. The next several weeks don’t promise much of an improvement. My grandmother always put out her peas on St. Paddy’s Day. That wasn’t about to happen this year, as you can see from the “Christmas Present” picture! For gardeners, this is the “dark night of the soil.” What can you do? Read on…

Christmas past -- or better, Christmas future

Christmas past — or better, Christmas future

take solace in seeds

Despite the blanket of white that covers my garden, I must believe that there is hope packed in my newly acquired seed packets along with my future heirloom Pink Brandywines. The instructions say “Start indoors in a well-lighted area 6–8 weeks before planting outdoors.”

If I can believe those resources that track weather and frost dates, I should feel confident that my tomatoes will need to be ready to face the world in late May. And that means, dust off the seed starting trays, clear the south-facing window, get your seed-starting soil, and launch the gardening season!

why start from seeds?

While I can’t pretend that growing your veggies from seeds is more economical than buying your plants, it does have its benefits:

  • More variety — just look at any seed catalog. The options are many for almost any vegetable, but when you look at the tomato pages, the options are mind-numbing! Whatever you want — slicing, sauce, salad — early, mid-, late-season — heirloom, hybrid — organic, conventional — red, yellow, pink, purple, streaked — it’s available.
  • More control — there is great comfort in knowing where your plants have been and if they’ve been exposed to some nasty virus or fungus while traveling across country
  • More fun — maybe not for everyone, but for me, watching the seed germinate and then grow is the perfect elixir for the late-winter blues.

so let’s start some seeds

You can make this as complicated as you want with germination mats, custom plant boxes,  fancy grow lights and such, but the seed starting page give you a basic (less-daunting) guide to getting your hope springing. The important thing to remember is to have fun doing this. If this is your first foray, start small and simple. Don’t be tempted or guilted into buying more “stuff” than you need.

and now there’s hope

these seeds have just popped!

these seeds have just popped!

these seeds have their plastic cover during germination. The legend tells me which plants are in which cells -- very helpful!

these seeds have their plastic cover during germination. The legend tells me which plants are in which cells — very helpful!

a reprieve from the shop lights, these guys got to enjoy a few days of "real" sun

a reprieve from the shop lights, these guys got to enjoy a few days of “real” sun

these seedlings are over a month old and just ready to graduate to a slightly larger pot

these seedlings are over a month old and just ready to graduate to a slightly larger pot

don’t forget to look in your own backyard!

Comstock Ferre in Wethersfield, Connecticut

Comstock Ferre in Wethersfield, Connecticut

I was teaching my gardening class a few weeks ago for our town’s Parks and Rec department. The topic was “Banishing the Winter Blues, Dusting Off Your Green Thumb.” During the course of the evening, we talked about the various mail order seed companies. One student interjected, what about Comstock Ferre and Company? Wow, that was a major “Duh” moment. After lecturing about the importance of local eating and growing, how could I forget a treasure like the venerable (since 1811) local seed company in our own backyard. I’ve included a few pictures below from my visit yesterday, but my point here is to remind all to check for local resources and support them! Wherever you live, look around — ask around — Google around. What’s in your own backyard? Who are your neighbors who are producing and selling what you need. 

Comstock, Ferre & Co.

For those of you who are not from Connecticut, or who may not have heard of Comstock, this seed company was started over 200 years ago. It’s located in historic Old Wethersfield and is worth the visit even if all you do is look around and take in its Colonial ambiance. There are wonderful wide pine floors, wooden bins, and drawers full of seed packets and seed growing accessories, foods and crafts, and more. There’s a whole room full of antique equipment.  Here are a few glimpses of what you’ll find.

antique implements

antique implements


and classes, too



Check out their website for their listing of spring classes. As a community service, nearly every Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. they have a garden/food-related class. Topics are quite diverse and include themes such as organic gardening, spring greens, kitchen knives, lawn care, and more. And most classes are free! I went to one yesterday that they did in conjunction with Wind Hill Community Garden. Randel Agrella, Comstock’s very knowledgeable general manager, discussed “Everything You Wanted to Know about Seeds.”  It was great! Learned lots about heirloom seeds, seed starting, seed savings, and general gardening. He pointed out that with the right conditions (cool and dry) most seeds can easily last three years or more.

and more seeds!

and more seeds!

In the summer (August 4th) I’ll be doing a canning class there at 1:00 p.m. Be sure to come!

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