By Leah Allen
March is an unpredictable month. Frankly, I don’t trust March at all. Remember the old riddle “If March comes in like a lion, it’ll go out like a lamb and if it comes in like a lamb, it’ll go out like a lion?” Well I feel March doesn’t care about lions or lambs, March does whatever it wants. That includes possibly having a 60-degree day followed by a nor’easter with inches of snow and then back to 60 degrees again. It’s hard to predict how March will go weather-wise or where to even start because of that.
This March, I want to focus on some gardening basics, starting with how to read a seed packet.
Seed packets can be a bit overwhelming and downright confusing with all the fine print.
Basically when you break it down, each packet has a little biography about the seed, including the complete name (common and Latin), proper planting directions, a short summary of characteristics, and what environment it will do best in.
It’s important to remember that seed companies vary in quality and how they choose to market their seeds. So whether it’s a simple drawing of a tomato on the front of the packet versus a realistic glossy photo, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is the reputable seed source from where you’re getting the seed. A good seed source is worth its weight in gold. In addition to our local seed lending library located at Wheeler Library, you can also check out my list of reputable – many CT-based – seed companies that I’m certain you’ll find great success with.
by Leah Allen
A Connecticut winter can be harsh on trees and shrubs, with months of snow and ice suppressing branches and dominating the landscape. Winter 2020? Not so much. However, we have had our fair share of violent wind storms that have caused severe damage to trees and shrubs all over North Stonington.
We’re entering late winter and early spring, the ideal time to prune some (not all) trees and shrubs before any new growth begins. If you see mild damage, you can assess and make the call whether limbs need to be removed, cut back, or supported with a branch sling to let heal. Of course, at any time if there are loose dangling branches overhead, remove them immediately to avoid any injury to passers-by.
by Leah Allen
A seed library, or a seed lending program, is an excellent community practice in sustainability. Seed programs are popular and gaining momentum in the last few years, rewarding their communities with collections of seed stock that thrive in their climate.
What is a seed library? It’s exactly how it sounds – a program where gardeners can borrow seeds at no cost with the understanding they’ll save the seeds from those plants at the end of the growing season and return to the seed library (but you really don’t have to).
Besides the obvious perk of saving money when participating in a save and share seed program, it also encourages healthy living and lessens our dependence on the booming mainstream agribusiness. In other words, a seed library is keeping it fresh and local.
Our local seed lending program is located on the top floor of the beautiful Wheeler Library on Main Street. If you’re new to seed saving, it’s never been easier to get started. To borrow seeds, borrow only what you can use. Recommended beginner seeds include beans, basil, sunflowers, and peas.
Seeds which would be considered more advanced are those like eggplant, peppers and tomatoes because they have a long growing season. Plants with a long growing season need to be started 6-8 weeks early and babied. Onions should be started by the end of February.
Educating yourself about the difference between heirloom seeds and hybrid seeds will be helpful when getting started. Some tricky seeds require special planning to preserve varietal purity. If certain precautions are not taken, then the next grower will not get the same plant. It’s important that the seeds that are returned to the seed library are exactly what they claim to be. So seeds designated as “hybrid” don’t need to be returned.
Additionally, if you have been growing the same plant for generations, the seed lending library would be an excellent place to donate seeds, to play your part in spreading local heirloom plants.
Diana Hunt of North Stonington spearheads the Wheeler Library’s seed lending library. As she organized the library with a team of volunteers this past Wednesday, she noted that when you continue to plant and harvest your own seeds, you cultivate a variety of plant particular to your growing environment by the fifth year.
One of the best ways you can learn more about seed saving is talking to experienced seed-saving gardeners. Many have vast knowledge and invaluable advise that will be helpful when getting started.
Please always remember that even the most established gardeners were once beginners at one point in their life. They asked questions too! Don’t be afraid to pick the brain of an accomplished seed saving gardener and collect all the tips you can.
Also, you can read about seed lending – there are beautiful seed catalogues located at the seed library in addition to related books that can be checked out at the circulation desk downstairs. For those living online, you can join the forum at seedsavers.org and/or check out www.seedsaversalliance.org for all other seed saving resources.
Growing plants from seeds is such an awesome experience. Nothing tastes sweeter than the fruits of your own labor, not to mention the pure joy that comes from nurturing a plant from seed. When you participate in the local seed library you create a culture of sharing and abundance in addition to preserving our agricultural heritage.
Information about Wheeler Library can be found at www.wheelerlibrary.org
Wheeler Library Hours:
Monday, Wednesday, Friday 10 A.M. – 4 P.M.
Tuesday, Thursday 10 A.M. – 8 P.M.
Saturday 10 A.M. – 1 P.M.
Beth Varas is the hard-working owner and one-woman show behind Mystical Gardens Flower Farm in North Stonington. Beth sustainably grows specialty cut flowers for weddings, bouquet subscriptions, local farmers markets & businesses. From farm to bouquet, her flowers are grown from seed and nurtured into beautiful cut flowers without using any harmful chemicals. Fresh flower bouquets don’t get any more local and gorgeous than hers.
On Saturday Feb 8., Beth presented a workshop at Wheeler Library on “Soil Blocking” and how she starts thousands of seedlings indoor each season without using a greenhouse. Soil blocking is a resourceful seed starting method using compressed blocks of soil that results in seedlings with strong roots that quickly reestablish growth upon transplanting.
Using an informative easy to follow slide show presentation followed by a live soil block demonstration, Beth packed a lot of information into her workshop, which drew around 25 people to Wheeler Library on Main Street.
Working with supplies like a soil blocker, blocking mix, and a potato masher, she started 40 Digitalis (common name Foxglove) seeds in a matter of minutes.
A lot of people may think the cold winter months - especially January and February - are the most useless months of all in the garden, truly a dead time, of unpleasant temperatures with no color or life. Although this may be a tad true of the outdoors at this time of the year, a gardener’s mind is very much alive with rejuvenated optimism for a new growing season. In the winter months, a gardener starts planning their garden. Excitement builds as seed catalogues start arriving in the mail and page after page of new possibilities encircle their minds. But before any seeds are ordered and new tools are bought, a vision is needed.
After I horrified you last week with the invasive plants that have taken over, I want to happily orient you this week with the native plant species that grace our land - or as I call them, the ones that are supposed to be here. There’s many definitions surrounding the word “native”, however most can agree that it refers to a plant that occurs naturally in the place where it evolved without any human intervention, those that evolved naturally in North America. Native plants vary from the East coast to the South to the West coast, the mountains and the Midwest. These plants have all adapted to their climate and soil conditions making them super hardy requiring no pesticides, fertilizers, or watering.
In Connecticut, we have our own unique list of trees, shrubs, grasses, ferns, and flowers that thrive naturally and wildly and hopefully will gain your appreciation as you make the connection with them being native to our area. Many can be seen around our beautiful town, even in the winter months.
by Leah Allen
The word invasive means to spread prolifically, undesirably, and/or harmfully. And that’s exactly what some non-native plant species have done throughout our land. This time of the year, invasive plant species are more obvious to the eye, especially along our highways, roads, open fields, and forests. All those heavy vines strangling trees that you see are invasive plant species, brought to the US in the 1800’s from other countries as ornamental plants to help build our growing landscape. Unfortunately, they’ve spread their seeds far and wide and have naturalized over much of our terrain wrapping themselves around trees, smothering vegetation, monopolizing nutrients, and becoming a serious threat to our native environments.
Welcome to “In the Garden with Leah ,” a weekly column I’ll be curating and writing in the Milltown Monitor. I’m Leah Allen, and I’ll be concentrating on all gardening matters local. More than a column, it’s an organic niche where one can get inspired by your neighbors North Stonington gardens and the hard-working gardeners behind them.
You’ll find a niche where being mindful about what’s blooming around our town is encouraged, a niche offering ideas and suggestions for our area and answering your questions. I want it to be a niche where gardening is celebrated and positive gardening practices are promoted amongst beginner gardeners and advanced gardeners alike.
North Stonington has some of the most beautiful and abundant gardens in Connecticut, and we can all gain inspiration and learn from their beauty. Gardeners are some of the most optimistic and hard-working people on this planet and should be recognized for their efforts, whether its a beginner veggie garden or a collection of magnificent Knock Out rose bushes. Gardening is for everyone and we can all truly make the world a better place with gardens.
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