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A seed starting plan for hoarders


This started as a post to share what I’m growing from seed this year. What it evolved into is a sordid tale of seed hoarding, a gardener so traumatized by a never-ending winter that she completely overestimated her ability to grow so many plants and, in the end, a way to justify it all.

As I’ve said before, I find great satisfaction in growing plants from seed for so many reasons, but one of the primary reasons I do it (in particular why I grow lots of flowers from seed) is because it is very cost effective. I can grow a garden full of plants for pennies. But the cost savings decline when you start buying seeds with reckless abandon.

These are some of the seeds I plan to grow this year.

So many seed packets that a plan is called for
This is just a portion of the seeds I plan to grow from this year.

Yes, some. More are on the way. 

I showed you where and how I start seeds, and when they are ready to move on and be hardened off, they move out to a temporary greenhouse when it’s warm enough, but there is no way I can start that many seeds indoors. I attempted to pare down the pile by deciding what I didn’t really need to grow. As you might imagine, given that I obviously do not think clearly when it comes to plants, this was not successful. I want to grow it all. But what I was able to do was prioritize seeds that need to be started inside.

I have a lot more success with some flowers by direct sowing them. Zinnia, cosmos, poppies and nigella are among them. In fact, I have never successfully started zinnias indoors before, although plenty of people do with great success. I also direct sow several vegetables: peas, beans, lettuce, cucumbers, chard, beets and sometimes kale. It’s sometimes nice to plant seedlings because it’s easier to judge spacing, but skipping that step is one way to lessen the inside seed-sowing burden.

Flower seeds
I love growing flowers from seed because it’s an inexpensive way to fill up the garden and I never feel guilty cutting bouquets.

Several readers have also suggested I try winter sowing, and I did for the first time last year with mixed results. If you’re not familiar with winter sowing, check out this article on how to do it. Since this is only my second year trying it, I don’t feel qualified to offer instruction quite yet. The one plant it worked very well on last year was verbena bonariensis, which requires a period of cold to germinate. So I snagged a milk jug and sowed that last week. Another packet moved on.

Since I’m not willing to eliminate varieties, I’ve decided to just grow fewer of plants of each. In the past I’ve grown a lot of backups, only to have every seed germinate and thrive. Two years ago I grew four of every tomato and ended up having to offer all my extras in a local Facebook rummage site and ended up with a stampede of people showing up at my house. This year I will only grow one or two plants of each tomato variety. If something fails, well, I’ve got more tomatoes than I can fit anyway.

Speaking of tomatoes, I invested heavily in dwarf tomatoes this year. These are full-size tomatoes that grow on small plants. Craig LeHoullier has been leading the “dwarf tomato project” for several years, trying to rediscover these varieties, preserve and identify some of the best. I found many of the tomatoes from that project at Victory Seeds.

Tomato seeds
Some of the tomatoes I’ll be growing this year.

I’m often asked where I order seeds from and the answer is: A lot of places. I’ve found that most seed providers that have their own “store” (be it brick and mortar or online) are pretty good. If they put out a printed catalog they are almost always good (fly by night operations don’t bother with catalogs). I advise people to stay away from sellers on amazon, eBay and other faceless seed purveyors. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. And there’s nothing wrong with picking up seeds at the store, but do check that they are packed for this year, because you don’t know how seed might have been stored in the off season. I just find that there is far more selection available from mail order seed companies. 

Vegetable and herb seeds
Vegetable and herb seeds. My favorite vegetable to grow is lettuce so I have tons of varieties.

This year, in addition to seeds I’ve saved from my own garden, I ordered from (or I’m growing seeds purchased in the past from):

And here’s a list of everything I’m growing. I was going to put in specific varieties but this would get very long. If you’re really interested in something, leave a comment and I’ll look it up.

Flowers for direct sowing/winter sowing:

  • Cosmos (my favorite is ‘Lemonade’)
  • Zinnia (many varieties, but I love ‘Queeny Lime Orange’
  • Poppies (several bread seed varieties)
  • Verbena bonariensis
  • Nigella (I may start a few indoors for safety)
  • Nasturtium (I will also start some indoors)

Flowers to start inside:

  • Amaranth (more ornamental varieties)
  • China aster
  • Ageratum
  • Sweet peas (lots and lots of sweet peas)
  • Silver sage (perennial mostly grown for foliage but I love the flowers)
  • Burpleurum (I don’t even know what this is but it looks interesting)
  • Cup and saucer vine
  • Foxglove (‘Dalmation Peach’ blooms the first year)
  • Nicotiana
  • Signet marigold (‘Tangerine Gem’ this year)
  • Tithonia
  • Petunia (‘Evening Scentsation’)
  • Annual phlox
  • Cerinthe (aka honeywort, two varieties just to see what I like better)
  • Gomphrena
  • Hyacinth vine

Vegetables and herbs for direct sowing:

  • Arugula
  • Bush beans
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Swiss chard (‘Bright Lights’ is my favorite)
  • Lettuce (more varieties than I can name; I will start a few inside as well)
  • Cilantro
  • Lacinato kale (some inside as well)
  • Brocollini (maybe …. if I remember to sow them in late summer)

Vegetables and herbs to start indoors:

  • Basil (several varieties including Thai basil for more ornamental uses)
  • Tomatoes (so many tomatoes)
  • Zucchini
  • Butternut squash (‘Butterbaby’)
  • Parsley (Italian ‘Gigante’ is amazing)
  • Peppers (sweet and hot)
  • Onions (new for me)
  • Ground cherries (new this year)

And of course there are other things I pick up as plants, including some herbs, an occasional squash and whatever else strikes my fancy.

It’s all very ambitious, I know. I will admit that by May, when it’s too early to plant many seedlings out, but they are all big enough to need a fair amount of attention, I tire of the whole seed-starting process. I usually swear that the next year I won’t grow so much from seed. But gardeners’ memories are short and for most of the time I’m starting seeds, I take untold joy in the process. So keep on growing. 

8 Responses

  1. Wow, that’s quite the list!! I expanded what I’m growing from seed this year, but you reminded me of a few I wanted to try, and a few I had forgotten about so thanks!! Pansies, Snapdragons, and Cleome were started two weeks ago – 5 varieties of peppers, celery, leeks, basil, parsley, thyme, and sweet peas were started yesterday! Peppers are so slow to grow and our season so short that I’m starting them early this year in the hopes I might have a good pepper harvest – wish me luck!

  2. My seeds have arrived. I only ordered from Renee’s and Territorial. Only 10, maybe 12, well 15 or 20 packets. I have started the parsley and broccoli. They’ve sprouted. I use curly parsley with tangerine gem marigolds as a border. Flat parsley for cooking. I, too, have limited the tomato plan to only three varieties plus a few cherries. I had trouble finding profusion zinnias in white which I use in containers that line the patio, I hope seeds from 2013 are still viable. I also couldn’t find gomphrena (but I didn’t look too hard). I love purple hyacinth beans and will use them on a trellis where I lost a climbing rose last year. Nicotiana is on the list for the first time. Cosmos, of course, and sunflowers . . . I just can’t help myself there. I can’t grow sweet peas to save my life and it breaks my heart. I’m too far south, I think, in Baltimore.

    I made a commitment to myself this year to limit the number of seeds I start, so I tried not to buy too many. I am also committed to GETTING THEM ALL IN THE GROUND! That’s a huge problem in my character.

  3. I too am sitting here awaiting seed deliveries and know I ordered far too many to grow this year (or the next 5). Especially since I live in a rental house and will be container gardening. I have super clay soil and really can’t do raised beds. Some of my seeds I’m sharing with friends I left behind in Montana. I am so glad you mentioned Craig LeHoullier. I have bought tomato plants from him for decades now and have grown several of the dwarf varieties as they were being developed. A really super guy (and his wife is nice too).

  4. I keep ordering plants which means lots of things will likely arrive before the garden and I am ready, especially given the snow here. Snowdrops “in the green” are being shippedMarch 4th and I don’t have potting soil let alone anything else.

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