The beginning of February finds many of us planting pepper seeds, wondering just how long they will take to germinate this year! Sweet potatoes suspended over water glasses begin to line the counters. We’re crawling around our attics, rummaging through our garages, looking for our grow lights and heat mats.
The pandemic seemed to encourage anyone who had ever thought about growing a tomato to search out a seed catalogue. Just as hoarding in March 2020 saw empty shelves where toilet paper should have been, it seems as though people are stocking up on seeds. There are a lot of online suppliers currently sold out of certain seeds. With our current lockdown, the options for seed buying are less than we might hope for. Hardware stores or box stores don’t generally catalogue their seeds, so they don’t necessarily have the system in place to allow people to shop online for seeds. Some places are trying to get them online, but it’s a huge job, and spring is fast approaching! We are lucky in North Dundas and Kemptville to have stores doing curbside pickup from telephone orders. Often you can pick up the phone and order what you need. Ritchie’s in Winchester, for example, has put some of its seeds online, so you can either shop online and pick up locally, or give them a call. Give any local store that sells seeds a call, and they will most likely help you out.
You can buy all sorts of seed-starting kits. Many of them have drainage trays, and places to put tiny individual pots. They are lovely, but not necessary. Many gardeners start their seeds in bulk in a plastic tray from a grocery store, the kind you might find salad or bakery goods in. If you are using heat mats, make sure that the container is thin enough to let the heat through. Most seeds you will be starting now, and for the next month or two, yield remarkably hardy seedlings! You can put many seeds in a container to germinate, then transplant them once they start growing past their first two little leaves. You can plant onions and peppers like this now. When you start tomatoes and eggplants at the beginning of March, you can start them the same way. It saves space, light resources, heat resources, and allows you to transplant only those seeds that germinate. Remember though, some pepper seeds take seemingly forever to germinate. Do not give up on a tray of pepper seeds until the absolute last moment!
Seeds are also available through seed swaps. Obviously, Covid-19 and pandemic restrictions make seed swaps problematic, but organisers are creatively devising ways to have people deposit and collect seeds, while maintaining no contact guidelines and pandemic protocols. Kemptville’s Gardeners are having their Third Annual Seedy Saturday this year, modified to allow people to drop off seeds, hopefully re-packaged in small quantities, and to allow people to pick up seeds they choose. Everything is different this year, including seed swaps!
Many people save seeds from one year to the next. Depending on the source, and variety of plant, what grows from the seed you saved might not necessarily be what you expected! Heirloom varieties of plants tend to be stable. Cross pollination is a possibility too, so sometimes a pepper seed from a mild pepper you saved will yield a somewhat more spicy fruit if you planted your jalapenos nearby! Seed saving is fun and rewarding, and often times surprising.
If you’ve never grown anything, give it a try. You can grow a couple of tomato plants on a deck or balcony, or some kale alongside your geraniums in your flower garden. If you need seeds, and can’t find them, reach out to neighbours or friends or to an online community. Most seed savers have some to spare!