I'm about two-thirds of the way through my canned spaghetti sauce from my 2017 harvest. It's mid-February in Indiana, which frankly isn't that pleasant. Typically these winter nights are the perfect back-drop for linguine with red sauce. It makes me happy that I know exactly how my sauce tastes and what's in it. It also makes me think of my happy place, my garden, and how it won't be too terribly long before it springs to life. Time to start planning.
I really get off on opening my mailbox to find that new seed catalogs have been delivered. Sure, I've got my favorite varietals, the plants I'll ALWAYS have a few of. But an amazing thing about growing plants, especially food plants, is the insane amounts of options that you have when you start from seed.
As consumers, we are so accustomed to paltry choices at the grocery. Produce has been commercially selected for its ability to LOOK good and travel well, but not necessarily for taste. Organic choices seem to be even fewer. Boring.
I've gardened now for over 20 years. When I started, I chose plants from big box stores and stuck them in the ground. They grew and I got some summer veggies and pretty herbs for my restaurant. Over time I've learned much about preparing, organic growing, harvesting then cooking or preserving what I've gathered. There's satisfaction in knowing where your food comes from. Both emotionally (digging in the dirt is amazingly therapeutic), physically (great exercise and nutritious eats) and artistically (to create something delicious and beautiful is truly an art).
Oh, there are financial benefits, too. Once you learn to grown what you and your family will use, you are on the way. This is a hobby/lifestyle that is CHEAP! On the average, a package of seeds costs $2 and soil is well, dirt- cheap!
Begin with the end in mind. What is your goal? Do you want gallon jars or strawberry jam, crocks of kraut or a freezer full of beans? Think about what you and your family love and buy most often. Consider what kind of space you'll have to plant in. Next, google your "Plant Hardiness Zone." This information is mapped by the USDA to help famers and gardeners know what plants are suited to their little corner of the world. I am in zone 5b. Here's why this matters: I REALLY wanted to buy a package of FASTIGIATA PIN STRIPED PEANUTS but alas, these babies need a LONG and real hot growing season. Like a "South of Kentucky" growing season. That ain't happening' in my zone 5b. (Most seed catalogs and all seed packets will tell you on the back what zone the seed is appropriate for. Don't bother if it isn't zoned for you. Set yourself up for success!
Whether you'll tackle a 1/4 acre kitchen garden or have pots on your balcony, you can do it! You've decided what you want to grow, where you will grow it and what zone your'e in. WhileI firmly believe on starting from seed, it can be SO hard to wait on the little buggers. If you need the instant gratification of buying little plants. Cool your jets until after the last frost in your area. (This info can also be had when you locate your hardiness zone.) You'll be sorry if you plant early. I mean it.
If you are planting from"scratch"- get your seeds ordered and when they arrive, check out the instructions. If it says to start indoors, do it! There's a reason. If it says "sow directly outside," do that, too. Both sets of instructions will advise you of when it's time to plant. Mark it on your calendar, or put it in your phone.
When the date comes, prepare your soil (mainly this means removing weeds and stones and if your soil seems really and adding a little organic compost if you like (more on composting later). If you're using pots, fill them up with organic potting soil. Plant according to directions and make sure to water and protect you little plants. And now you wait.
To whet your appetite, here are a few of my favorite seed sources:
Seeds from Italy: www.GrowItalian.com
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: www.Rareseeds.com
Souther Exposure Seed Exchange: www.southernexposure.com
Monticello Garden Seeds: www.monticelloshop.org/
Elizabeth Morse cooks professionally, is an Advanced Master Gardener and lover of all things local.