Garden Planning: Buying Seeds and Thinking Ahead

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It’s always an exciting winter day for me when I finally feel inspired enough to head down to my local garden center and start looking through seeds.  It’s even more fun if I happen to go to a garden center that has a green house attached – there’s just something about being in that plant-borne humidity when it’s still cold outside that gives many a gardener a shiver of excitement.

I have to admit, one of the reasons I end up buying these seeds from Botanical Interests is because of the beautiful artwork of the plants they have on the packets – seriously, aren’t they just gorgeous?!  I came home with several seeds I can hardly wait to plant:

Mmmm… Beets.  I grew them for the first time last year.  Even my husband, who before claimed “I don’t like beets” remarked after eating these home grown ones, “Wow, I’ve only had them from a can before, no wonder I didn’t like them.  Hrm, fresh, who knew?”

Swiss chard was also a new treat for me to grow last year – fabulous, tasty, and beautiful.  Collard greens – this one is new to me this year.  Have you grown collard greens before?  I’d love to hear any comments or suggestions you have for this crop.

This is all cool season stuff that will be going into the ground fairly soon!

Last Saturday I attended Kirkwood’s Winter Gardening Fair put on by the Linn County Extension Office.  This was my second year attending the Fair, and if you live in the area of Cedar Rapids, IA, and love to garden, I highly recommend checking out this event.  One of the five classes I got to take was about companion planting, a great alternative to high use of herbicides, pesticides, -icides in general.  Marigolds, Four O’Clocks, and Nasturtium were the big three flowers we talked about.
Four-O’Clocks: Draws Japanese beetles like a magnet which then dine on the foliage. The foliage is pure poison to them and they won’t live to have dessert! It is important to mention that Four O’clock are also poisonous to humans and animals. Please be careful where you plant them if you have children and pets. They are a beautiful annual plant growing from 2-3 feet high with a bushy growth form.
French Marigold (T. patula) has roots that exude a substance which spreads in their immediate vicinity killing nematodes. For nematode control you want to plant dense areas of them. There have been some studies done that proved this nematode killing effect lasted for several years after the plants died back. These marigolds also help to deter whiteflies when planted around tomatoes and can be used in greenhouses for the same purpose. Whiteflies hate the smell of marigolds.
Nasturtium is an excellent companion for many plants. It is a companion to radishes, cabbage family plants (cabbage, collards, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, broccoli and mustards), deterring aphids, squash bugs, and striped pumpkin beetles, and improving growth and flavor.”
I did have nasturtium last year but didn’t plant it in with the veggies.  I’m planning to do a lot more “edible landscaping” this year rather than having the flowers and veggies mostly separate.   I’m going to attempt to start some of these inside here soon.  We had some issues with our seed starting area last year, so this year again will be somewhat of an experiment.
Stuff to plant when the warm season gets here (after May 10 for us here in Iowa City, zone 5).  We’ll definitely need more than one packet of basil, but I wanted to check out a couple other garden centers before buying more seed.  We are huge pesto fans at our house.  We put up about 35 batches of pesto in the freezer last season and we’re just getting to the end of it now.
And of course some lettuce and spinach.  I did most of my lettuce in planters last year and will do the same for the most part this coming year.  Another suggestion I came across at the Winter Gardening Fair was growing these crops in hanging baskets.  Since our yard is fairly small (for how much I’d like to grow back there anyway!) I will probably do at least some of my lettuces and spinach in hanging baskets.

I’m still missing some seeds that I want, and I’ll need to get back to a different garden center soon, but I’m also planning to plant kale, carrots, and beans from seed.  Seed yukon potatoes still need to be acquired (if you’re in this area, check out Stringtown Grocery down by Kalona for cheap seed potatoes, among other things!).   
Tomatoes, bell peppers, and some spicy peppers will also go in the garden; however last year we learned the hard way that our seed starting area isn’t warm enough to get the tomatoes and peppers going very well.  This fact is complicated by the fact that we have three curious cats who love to get into plants – dirt is way too much fun for them.  So this year I’ll be buying those seedlings to make things easy on myself.

So where are you with your garden planning?  It may still be February, but planting time will be here before you know it!

Three cheers for diggin’-in-the-dirt season!

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