Seed Selection Made Easy

It’s still a bit early to start sowing seeds here in Seattle – but it’s not too early to order them! Looking out of my office at the still snow-covered garden, I need a promise of spring, and poring over seed catalogs with tempting images of juicy vegetables and a rainbow of flowers gives me just that. Some seeds are better sown directly into the soil (this is called direct sowing and the packet will tell you if the seeds prefer this). Others can be started indoors on a bright windowsill or under grow lights and transplanted into the garden later. Again every seed packet will tell you the temperature that the seed will need to germinate as well as the outdoor temperatures that are needed before you can safely transplant them. I’ve always been a “list” person. Each day I write down all the things I want to accomplish and take great satisfaction checking them off one by one. If I do something that wasn’t on the list – I add it – just so I can cross it out again!! (Anyone else guilty of that?) That being said, here are some spring seed-starting lists for you.

Windowsill Gardening – Easy Seeds

I often grow lettuce in the shade of climbing sweet peas

No fancy lights or heat mats needed for these, just a bright windowsill (turn the seeds daily once they emerge though) Mesclun, cut-and-come-again type lettuce Sweet peas Spinach – try baby leaf for summer salads and some of the  larger leaf varieties for later in the season  

Easiest Seeds for Beginners and Kids

Radish – direct sow these big seeds for a fast harvest Nasturtium – big seeds that can be started indoors or direct sown Sunflowers – big seeds – easy for little fingers Beans – big seeds that grow bigger than the kids!  

Seeds that will Save you Money

A bed of meslcun ready for easy harvesting (with a rogue marigold!)

While my main reasons for growing my own veggies include superior flavor, supreme freshness, and access to unusual varieties, it also makes sense to grow a few things that otherwise would be expensive to buy either as plants or as harvested produce at the store. Basil – I grow about 24 plants every year; enough to give a few away yet plenty to keep us in caprese salads and pesto all summer and several bags of frozen basil ice cubes to add to winter dishes. Mesclun – how often have you thrown half a bag of mixed salad leaves away? Never again when you grow your own cut-and-come-again mix. Plus the flavor is so much better Tomatoes – if you grow lots of tomatoes and have plenty of indoor or greenhouse space, then growing from seed makes sense as you’ll be able to grow those heirloom and fancy varieties that cost a fortune at the grocery store Bulb fennel – this can cost as much as $5/head st the grocery store! Parsnips – still not as popular in the USA as the UK – and therefore overpriced. They need a cold snap to sweeten up so think of these as winter veggies, not for summer harvest Parsley – if you like adding this to winter dishes, plan ahead. Grow several plants, harvest in late summer, chop finely, and freeze in 1/4cup amounts.  

My Favorite Veggie Varieties for the PNW from Seed

Jericho lettuce is remarkable heat and bolt resistant

CornAvalon (white, super sweet, good yield) BeansFortex (round, non stringy, high yield), Helda (flat) BeetRed Ace (reliable, good for pickling, roasting or steaming), Flat of Egypt, Detroit Dark Red, CarrotsNantes, Purple Dragon Parsnips – Cobham Improved, Gladiator Romaine lettuceJericho (doesn’t bolt)  

My Favorite Deer-Resistant Annuals from Seed

The deer completely ignored these stunning zinnia

ZinniaBenary’s Giant Coral were stunning last year Gomphrena Cleome – easy to grow. Snapdragons – Some great seed companies listed here. 2019 is the Year of the Snapdragon for the National Garden Bureau! Enter to win BIG!!  

Seeds for Dry Winter Storage and Fresh Eating

Even though the tops will die down in winter, the parsnip roots will be fine

Winter squash – My favorite is Butternut LeeksGiant Musselburgh did well from seed. Carrots – Nantes holds well in the ground (Purple Dragon does not) Parsnips  

Plan Ahead

This single bed of beans yields plenty for us, our friends, and the local food pantry

Always leave a little space to try something new each year too. Last year I grew red quinoa for example. It was so pretty – but I admit that I found harvesting way too much work and not worth the effort. This year I’m tempted to try tomatillo, and cucamelons. Certainly there are gazillion more options but I buy some things as sets (e.g. onions) or small plants (tomatoes, sugar snap peas, eggplant, peppers (bell, jalapeno, assorted chili type) because I need only a few and/or would like several different varieties. We don’t eat a lot of brassicas or potatoes – so I don’t grow them anymore. As much as we like summer squash we always produce far more than we need and since they don’t store well I’ve stopped growing them, dedicating that space to produce I can freeze or can such as extra tomatoes and corn. Our Seattle climate isn’t ideal for melons and since all my vegetable gardening is within a deer enclosure, I don’t want to take up valuable space with pumpkin vines that would be more for decorative purposes than eating (I use butternut squash for my Thanksgiving “pumpkin” pies as well as soups and stews). I also try to make sure that not everything needs harvesting and processing at the same time!!

It’s always fun to try new varieties

Finally, share the bounty. If you have room for a few extra plants, take the harvest to your local food bank or share it with your neighbors.  

Favorite Books on Growing your Own

The Family Kitchen Garden (Timber Press) – easy to understand, good information on crop rotation plus great ideas to get the kids involved. My most dog-eared veggie book! The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour (Storey) – great info from a cold winter gardener with tips on cold frames, succession cropping and more Growing Vegetables – west of the Cascades by Steve Solomon (Sasquatch) – meaty, thorough, science-based guide for organic growing. Vegetable Gardening in the PNW by Lorene Edwards Forkner (Timber Press) – well organized with month by month information  

Favorite Seed Companies

Renees Garden Seeds – especially their sweet peas! Territorial  – my #1 go-to for organic veggie seeds and onion sets Botanical Interest – their Mesclun mix is still one of my favorites Seeds of Change – great selection Baker Creek – specialty heirloom varieties Johnny Seeds – often has varieties others don’t  

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Disclaimer: the book links are affiliate links. If you choose to order from them I’ll earn a few pennies towards my seed fetish.

Behind The Scenes

video set up

What was I thinking?! Back on a cozy winters evening, glass of wine in hand, it seemed such a good idea. “Let’s film a short online workshop to help people get creative with their spring containers,” I said. My long suffering husband (aka roadie, book sales assistant, pot mover, and videographer) readily agreed. After all,…
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Seed Selection Made Easy

It’s still a bit early to start sowing seeds here in Seattle – but it’s not too early to order them! Looking out of my office at the still snow-covered garden, I need a promise of spring, and poring over seed catalogs with tempting images of juicy vegetables and a rainbow of flowers gives me…
Read More

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It’s all very well knowing that for a garden to look good in winter it has to have “good bones“. But what do you do when a foot or more of snow turns those bones into a lumpy graveyard? Seriously – since when do white lumps look like anything other than just white lumps? When…
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Gardens of the World – come for FREE!

It’s that time of year when Seattle-ites go into season-denial. Sure it may be snowing or raining outside, but within the walls of the Washington State Convention Center the sun is shining, the birds are singing and the air is perfumed with the heady spring time mix of hyacinths, daphne and sweetbox (Sarcococca). It’s Show…
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Little girl tasting her first iced lolly in her nana's garden

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  For several years I taught this workshop at my home, teaching guests how to design festive indoor containers. They were always a hit – and sold out quickly, as we could only get a limited number of folks around the table. But the bigger problem was that only those who lived within an easy…
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Using a cabin as a focal point in a large island border of deer-resistant plants

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Heart-shaped, golden leaves of a katsura tree in fall

It’s a truly glorious fall here in the Pacific Northwest – blue skies, incredible foliage color and warm temperatures that have me still wearing T-shirts rather than polar fleece. It’s a joy to be outside on days like this and spending a day “working” in the garden is both fun and easy. Can you say…
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Pathway covered in leaves from red maple in October

It’s that time of year when I’m dodging rain showers in the garden and preparing for cooler days ahead while enjoying the rich colors of autumn that still have me reaching for my camera. The best fall gardens are those which celebrate the season with bold combinations and dramatic vignettes. Here are some tips to…
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I'm a serious plant-aholic. In other words I'm usually covered in a layer or two of soil, I drive everywhere with a large tarp for impromptu plant purchases and I'm truly passionate about sharing the joys of gardening.

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