My most favorite part of the growing season is the part where you get to buy seeds! It’s really easy to go overboard though, and I thought I would write up a blog post on how I ‘do’ seeds and share some arctic gardening seed guidelines. It’s easy to get intimidated by all of the information and choices available to us so here is a good place to start.
Funky Terms: If you look on the back of a seed packet or if you are browsing online there are some terms you will need to be familiar with. My descriptions are going to be VERY brief. Heirloom vs. Hybrid – Heirloom basically means that you can ‘breed’ the plants and get the same plants from those seeds. Hybrid means that they ‘bred’ two different varieties to get a third variety that will not make seeds that look like it, so it’s a one generation plant pretty much. I prefer heirloom but I do use hybrid if I feel I can get a substantial bonus for our climate out of it. Days to Maturity – this is the words they use to tell you how long it will take to eat something in a nut shell. Here in AKP if we plant it outside we look for 40-60 Days to maturity. If we want to start the plants inside first we look for a plant that is no more than 90 days to maturity. No use growing a plant you will never get to eat! I am finding though that even though some plants say they are more than 90 days they ted to behave differently here in our 24 hour sunlight and will actually reach maturity. Annual, Biennial, Perennial – Describes the plants life cycle. One, two or more years. The bulk of our plants are Annuals because not very many plant roots can survive the winter (there are some exceptions though!). These terms are the most important terms to pay attention to.
What to grow: Start SMALL. Pick a few plants you KNOW you and your family will eat for sure. Salad veggies are very popular like romaine lettuce, mustard greens, kale, onion greens, cucumbers, carrots and the like. Then add a couple that are different but you want to try. Every year I add a few plants to my garden that I am unfamiliar with just for the experience, and your experience will grow every year. Expect some plants to fail every year and take NOTES. Write in a journal about when you plant things and what happened to them with dates so that you will remember. Because I NEVER remember anything the next year besides the hazy bliss of a warm buzzing garden.
Starting seeds inside: As you can tell we do start some seeds inside. To do that you will need an appropriate light source (normal everyday light bulbs do not provide the right type of light for a plant to grow), a pot (you can use anything that has a hole in the bottom like yogurt cups and such), seedling soil and a spot to grow it undisturbed. Unlike other places in the U.S. we do not get enough sunlight in early spring to start them in windows, though you can move them to a south facing window around Mid May. Seedling soil has to drain well and be sterile. If you are unsure if your soil is sterile just pop in in the oven in a oven safe pan no more than 4 inches deep at 200 degrees for about half an hour. This kills off old seeds and mold spores and such so the baby plant has a better fighting chance. Leave the light only a few inches above the plant (it will seem super close) so that it doesn’t reach for the light and get weak. Water regularly and feed plant food once they get more than four or five leaves. Once it’s warm enough you do whats called ‘hardening’, where you take outside for longer and longer times so it will get used of the change. If you decide to buy seedling please buy seedlings from inside of Alaska to prevent disease spreading.
Storing seeds: I tend to buy WAY more seed than I need and if you are like me you will need to store them. After all these years I finally bought these expensive cases used for photos that are plastic and come in a convenient case, but you don’t have to be that fancy! A ziploc bag will work just as well. Just keep the seeds in a dry, dark, cool place. And if you live in the arctic that means NOT storing it over the winter where it will freeze. I put my seeds under some stuff in the corner of the farthest room once and it froze and the condensation ruined the seeds so lesson learned!
Where to buy seeds: I am NOT endorsing any of these companies but I do want to share where I get seeds that are reliable and produce well for me most seasons. Here is the short list:
- Denali seed company … carries arctic friendly selection (LINK)
- Foundroot …an Alaskan company (LINK)
- Bakers creek Seeds …offers unique seeds (LINK)
- Territorial seeds – (LINK)
- Johnny’s Seeds -(LINK)
This was a pretty brief post about seeds so please feel free to ask questions below!