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The problem with panic sowing


When the world was busy panic-buying toilet paper, I was busy panic-sowing. 

As it became clear that the novel coronavirus pandemic was going to change life, at least for awhile, I was in the middle of my regularly scheduled indoor seed starting. I had made a quiet promise to myself that this year, for once, I would keep my seed starting under control. And I was doing pretty good sticking to that.

And all of a sudden things were shutting down. Something in my brain clicked and suddenly I was like the squirrel who stashes way too many nuts for winter. What if there was no way to buy plants? I switched into gardener survival mode. My focus was laserlike. Must. Have. Plants.

My sowing plan was thrown out the window. Instead of sowing eight of something, which seems like a completely reasonable number, I sowed entire trays. In the case of Nicotiana, I sowed two trays. I can’t imagine a private garden with room for that many Nicotiana. 

I justified this behavior by telling myself that if my friends and family couldn’t get plants they would appreciate whatever I could produce. 

Of course they better like flowers. Because while I sowed flower seeds with reckless abandon, I stuck to my restrained plan when it came to tomatoes and peppers. My friends and family will just have to have very pretty and not very productive victory gardens. Well, other than basil. I am currently caring for close to 100 basil plants. I have no reasonable explanation for this. 

seed startingAll of this seemed like perfectly rational behavior until a week ago when the responsibility of these plants became a lot to manage. Seedlings are constantly in need of potting on, thinning and, of course, watering. Oh the watering. Watering is not a difficult chore until it requires constant checking and refilling a watering can.

I finally relented and put a small ceramic space heater in the pop-up greenhouse. With it, I’m able to keep the nighttime temperature safe for a lot more varieties of seedlings and I was able to create a lot more space in the basement. I am going to ignore the impact on the electric bill for the time being.

My twice daily trips to the basement where the seed starting now happens were for months a joy. They are now a chore, but I got myself into this and well, we’re in it for the long haul at this point. 

I comfort myself with thoughts of all the homemade pesto my friends will make for me. 

44 Responses

  1. What do you have wrapped around your rack? I have two shelves with lights like that in my own basement. I love the idea of something to reflect the light and heat back inside at the seeds.

  2. This is hilarious and spot on! It’s nice to know we are in it together, including the panic-sowing

  3. Inspiring ! … have a metal rack in storage exactly like the one in your picture, and now I know what I’m going to use it for … looks like a fairly straight-forward set-up … hey, you can never have too much basil

  4. Fun, fun my daughter has never started seeds until this year. She gathered my grow lamps and I think we can really plant a farm.
    47 tomato plants, I think we will have a table in the yard with free veggies to share.

  5. I don’t have room inside with everyone home these days, so I’m using the winter sowing concept with my covered trays outside in the daytime, and bring them in at night when the countertop and table aren’t being used. We’re having unusually warm days, though the nights are still too cold. I panic plant every year as a result of Spring Fever. This year I’m so happy to be at home and able to keep up with it all!

  6. To Erin and each of you that has written,
    I am howling with laughter that there are so many of us out there. You all have made my morning. I have, I had thought ,been
    singularly responsible for the warnings on the nursery sites of long delays due to increase in volume. But I can now see more clearly. So instead of starting a million seeds that I have ordered, I am going to take some of the seed packets and tie them with pretty ribbons. Then I am going to drop them off with a bag of soil on unsuspecting friends. Who says in this time we can not change the world. It’s just going to be one seed at a time.
    May all your seeds and seedlings flourish. Stay well.

  7. I’m still giggling over your Nicotiana comment even after reading thru all the great comments! Keep on rockin’ girl!

  8. Hi there!
    I’m a gardener on the other side of the world, Melbourne, Australia.
    How can anyone plant too many seeds? Giving away my “too many” flowers and veg is one of the joys of gardening. I was raised on a Greek island before my family migrated to Australia, and I had an uncle and a grandmother whose joy in life was to share what their gardens produced.
    I’ve been gardening all my life, and I don’t think it’s not boasting to say that us gardeners are gorgeous generous people.
    BTW I just chuck my sweet pea seeds in large pots in a sunny part of my courtyard and do nothing to mollycoddle them. Up some string and bamboo cane supports and I get three months of glory in spring. I sooo agree, if I only had one annual to sow it would be sweet peas.
    I love your blog, and wish you good health and many many years of gardening and blogging ahead.


  9. You sound like me. I started with planting flowers for cutting then went into panic mood for starting tomato and pepper plants. I have a space heater in a greenhouse in the yard because my basement, living room and dining room are overflowing with plants. Sure hope it warms up soon so I can plant what I have room for and sell the rest!

  10. It must be all those ‘farmer’s genes resurfacing–remember phenotypes as we change the human race back a generation or two or three.
    Also rember that the new news about plant communication means we will all be thinking green thoughts soon-‘ speaking of which (we were not) I only play Public Radio in an effort to provide education for growing plants & chicks.

  11. Omg, I’m glad I’m not the only one that has gone seed wild. You’re not kidding when it comes to watering those lil buggers. I always fill my water jugs so they can sit for 24hrs before I use them, guess again, I can’t keep enough water in my (inside) pitchers. But, looking forward to an abundance of flowers and veggies. Even ordered fabric pots for my beets, carrots, radishes and first time ever potatoes. EVERYONE ENJOY?????????

  12. I ended up with 21 snow pea plants and 17 snap pea plants. And might have 32 tomato plants of various varieties. For a gardener typically with only a 16×4 plot, i might have gone overboard. I had to till 2 brand new sections of garden and build a pea trellis capable of supporting such a larger quantity of peas than normal. And I’m sure I still won’t have enough space to accommodate the lettuce, spinach, peppers cucumbers and eggplant. Besides the green beans that are well deserving of space in the garden.

  13. In early March I started to worry about eventual food shortages so I decided to start only veggies this season. Fingers crossed there will be plenty which I will then distribute to those in need of food. The flowers can wait!

  14. I grew tomatoes from seed for the first time last year, and grew FAR too many and gave them away far and wide. I had said I wouldn’t do that this year, but hey, I had the seeds, so off I went! Lots of friends will be getting tomato plants!! ?

  15. Me too!
    Most wild: ordered pallets of blocks and am 52 feet into a new COVID19 MEMORIAL GARDEN that will wrap my small home, about 148 feet long. Can you believe it? It it almost covering one side and makes a massive shift in appearance, plus “earth berming” my home. Wow, can’t believe I am doing this.
    I filled all 8 existing raised hugelkultur beds with 180 onion sets, 23 potatoes, 30 wheat seeds (1 tiny pkt heirloom), 100 red lentil seeds, 15 asparagus plants, 150 barley seeds, a pkt carrot seeds, a pkt parsnips, a pkt radishes, 3 pkts peas. I started banana, jalapeño, serrano peppers indoors. Made five cuttings instead of two from my wintered over Coyote tomato. Wintered over one lovage. Six kale plants wintered over. Never mind a salad wall in my living room.
    I know it is panic driven, but… I bought four bitty egg layers too.

  16. I wish i had panic sowing my garden. This is only my second year as a gardener. I have slowly started planting seeds for the things I think we will need while my transplants from inside have made it to my raised beds already. I have finished adding to my supply in hopes that they grow. Thanx for this post.

    1. It is not too late to do some panic gardening, no matter where you live, … lol, … I have about 9 russet potato plants left, (out of the 14 plants that survived the initial purposing from 3 left over potatoes in the kitchen), … that have been buried at least once, lol, …I have moved some of them from their 1st home in some re brewed coffee, & tea grounds, … into 1 gallon baggies, & used milk jugs & even into the empty bags from my kittens empty feed, & litter box material bags, … where I just rolled the bags down so as to make them available to sunlight, & used a sharpened stick to poke drainage holes in the bottom of the bags, … sat them out on the front porch, & the magic just started happening, … lol, … it has been pretty cool to watch them grow, bury them, & to watch it start all over again, … some, are already 2’ tall, & I don’t know if I should bury them again into a big black yard guard lawn bag, … it would be crazy if I were to get a 100 lbs of potatoes from each bag, … lmbo, … so yeah! Get off your duff, & get to planting, … I actually started the potatoes off of peelings from preparing mashed potatoes the 3 taters I peeled thad had lots of eyes, … so yes, It is most definitely worth it, … it’ll take about 3 months, so you better get started, …lmbo!

  17. Me too. I have trays of seeds stacked on top of things anywhere I could to get them under lights. What fit perfectly in my organized seed starting area no longer fits as I pot them on. I have 2-3 weeks before I can safely plant them in the garden. But it has been a tremendous distraction for me too and I have been having more success with seeds than I could have imagined.

  18. We have 2 acres in Detroit to plant. As of last night we have 2,737 viable plants, 300 garlic bulb in the ground, another 1,000 onion bulbs to get in, and 2,000+ seeds germinating. Built a 16×20 greenhouse frame out of PVC last night, and plan on sheeting it tomorrow. Our goal is to grow enough food for the surrounding community…for free. We’re asking for no labors, nor any monetary contributions from our neighbors to achieve this feat, they already suffering economic burdens that come hand in hand with living where we do. But, we can We have a gofundme set up through the link in bio on our instagram page, or simply @Westdetroitfarms If anyone could help out with even $1, we would be very grateful. Thank you!

    1. I was born in William Beaumont hosp. in Royal Oak. As a kid we moved to Clawson and Chicago and finally Oklahoma. Here in Oklahoma we put in huge vegetable gardens every year to help feed our new family. I had previously only grown tomatoes with my fathers help.
      In my wanderlust years I landed in the Lower East Side of NYC as an urban homesteader. I got to garden with the likes of Adam Purple, famous Loisaida gardening hero. We thought we could change the world. Turns out our real estate was too valuable for it to be handed over to the homeless.
      I listened and watched Detroit from afar. I had retreated to OklHoma and eventually bought a micro place in the country, and never gave up on my gardening. This spring I managed to convince 4 of my neighbors to put in community gardens. This food will be shared for free with any neighbor who needs it.
      Many times I wished for a community like the one I had in NYC or the ones I heard about in Detroit. Many times I wish I had the courage and strength to move back to Detroit and join what has been going on there. As I get older I am just glad someone is doing it there. So in spite of our ages and disabilities we are doing it here. Not quite my dream of a progressive multicultural community, but progressive and multicultural enough.
      I wish you all or y’all the best of garden years.

  19. Thanks for the laugh! I have sowed seeds and the panic started when the tomatoes got 6 inches tall with only one set of leaves. I had time to start over, so I did. I also (among others) planted Indian Peacepipe Nicotiana. As tiny as those seeds are, I think some are even invisible! And EVERY ONE I PLANTED CAME UP!!! They look a lot like a green bubble bath… with lots of tiny green bubbles! Haha

  20. Haha I showed a tray of 50 basil and got 96% germination. Why on earth did I sow so much! Wound up potting them up in solo cups and will drop off on friends/families doorsteps once it gets a little nicer outside.

  21. Isnt it fun?! I’m putting my broccoli, cauliflower and kale in the garden today. That will make room in my pantry-turned-greenhouse to start more seeds! It’s working, I have to turn sideways to water the back shelves. All the food that was so neatly stacked in the pantry is stacked on the kitchen table, but….
    Hardening off is the part I dont enjoy, hauling in and out. But FOOD! Isnt it fun!?

  22. Oh yes I went crazy with snapdragons and pansies our weather is like yours and way too cold to harden off yet. I also potted up dahlias and canna lilies too early and they are growing like weeds so hope when I transplant them they do ok. Holding off on veggie seeds at moment until weekend to start. May long weekend here may still be too cool to transplant and running out of windows to put them in lol

  23. My story is similar. I was planning for a May 23 plant sale from the extras I was starting for my over the top fabulous garden this year. Then corona hit. I have two 6′ tables with grow lights plants in flats in every sunny window and 3 small green houses outside heated with crackpots. Every night I have to cover them with tarps and every morning uncover them. Some of my plants take shifts under the lights.
    Watering and reorganizing flats is a lot of work. But I have some really beautiful varieties of flowers and vegetables and the thought of my garden keeps me going.

  24. I have started 63 pots of dahlias in my living room (since no one can come over, why not). Hoping it will warm up when they begin to grow then I can transfer to my portable greenhouse, may have to do the heater thing also. Have you started your dahlias yet?

  25. Panic sowing- love it! Worse things than being surrounded by beautiful flowers and basil- which makes an attractive and fragrant foliage filler in flower arrangements, if you can’t eat/share all of it. I confess I did the same, but opposite- for once I didn’t start any flowers, but sowed all the vegetables and herbs (even things I don’t normally start from seed because I only want one or two plants). I now have an over abundance of tomatoes, cucumber, eggplant, jalapeno, beans, spinach, radish, basil …….. you get the picture! Luckily here in Georgia, I was able to plant most of them this week. I also just ordered netting to cover my 4 yr old fruit trees- this is one year I really don’t want the birds to eat our fruit.

  26. I started the seed starting year out with the same plan of restraint. Not only that, but after my saved seeds were ravaged by a family of mice, I ordered mostly flower seeds (plus parsley and basil) and eschewed the thought of vegetables for this year. Then the sky fell and I ordered another round of vegetables seeds which have not yet arrived. Already under lights for my urban garden, I’ve got 24 gomphrena, 24 lemon gem marigolds, 24 profusion white zinnias, 24 sonata cosmos, 24 basil, and 12 parsley. Vegetable seeds haven’t arrived yet. I’ll be adding cucumber, leeks, and squash. I’ve got lettuces, snap peas and garlic already in the garden.

    The good news is that with my husband at home, I’m getting lots of help.

  27. Planting way more than is needed must be a genetic part of every gardener – super funny – loved your blog

  28. I love this! Last month I went on a seed purchasing frenzy. The order has yet to ship and now I’m envisioning trays everywhere. Oh, did I mention the perennial plants and roses arriving soon by mail?

    1. Tears down my cheeks! Laying flat after upsizing 32 tomato plants to gallons. 32!! What was I thinking? Then the Broccoli goes up tomorrow.. just 20 to gallons.. then.. oh no! And, there are two of us.

  29. This is hilarious. You will be so happy you did this when it is warm enough to get these lovelies into the ground or passed out to family and friends. Everyone will appreciate your mad planting escapades.

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