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Shopping for seeds in winter

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, at 7:46 a.m.

Like Lucy from Peanuts joyously shaking a can into which Charlie Brown has deposited a nickel, I’ve been shaking my first packet of seeds of Garden Season 2013.

While I’m shaking, I can’t help but do it to the drumsticks of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Is Coming,” still emanating from the CD player in my car.

I can’t do a whole lot more with them right now.

The seeds in question are an organic heirloom blend of greens that, frankly, I think would require a degree from the culinary institute to sort out: mizuna, mispoona, mild mustards and Russian kale.

Full disclosure: The $3.79 pack came from Renee’s Garden Seeds along with a list of the company’s 2013 offerings, not from a particular order of mine. Still, when I think of planting from seed, leafy greens are the main things that come to mind, and they are top of mind now as the best counter to the sugar that I always overconsume at Christmastime.

Breaking down this particular seed mix, I find out that mispoona is a cross between mizuna, a Japanese mustard green, and tatsoi. And I’ve seen tatsoi described as tasting like a combination of bok choy and spinach.

I’m not sure breaking it down is building me up.

Let’s just say that Renee’s calls these “crunchy, succulent Asian greens” that can go into a “quick” stir-fry (who has time to cook?) or that, if cut earlier at 3 to 4 inches, can be eaten raw as a tender young green addition to salads. “Best to start directly outdoors,” the seed packet says. That’s my style. And the greens have perhaps my favorite characteristic of home-grown vegetables: cut and come again. That is, in the case of these particular plants, you wait until they are 6 to 7 inches tall and then cut as much of the greens as you need, leaving an inch or two of the leaves to grow again for several more cuttings.

The selection of garden seeds is so overwhelming, even within this one seed pack, that I don’t know what I would do if seed catalogs arrived anytime but the dead of winter.

I was overcome by gazing at just a handful of Renee’s new packets: little icebox watermelons, some with pink, some with yellow flesh, called Doll Babies; a combo of purple, white and orange carrots called Circus Circus; the ever-important pollinator flowers in the form of Cha-Cha-Cha butterfly zinnias; the ever-beloved basil in a large-leaf container form called Italian Cameo; and, even though they won’t be in the window box by Feb. 14, a sweet-pea mix in pink and red hues called Color Palette Cupid.

Renee’s is on point with trends for seeds in 2013: organic and heirloom varieties, sometimes but not always one and the same; vegetable mixes that feature a healthy rainbow of colors; plants that attract and provide food and habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects; and compact varieties that can be contained in pots.

Renee’s even mentions “helping others grow,” as the company donates thousands of seed packets to groups that grow food for the hungry and for school and community gardens. It’s never too early to plan a place in our garden for that extra Row for the Hungry that we can donate conveniently at several garden centers and at the Kansas Food Bank in Wichita during the summer.

Other considerations to keep in mind as you shop for seeds in winter: how much usable garden space you have (taking into consideration that you probably need full sun); what foods you will actually eat from your garden (I tend to plant things that I really have no concrete plans to cook); how much trouble you want to take growing from seed vs. growing from a transplant that you buy at the garden center (some vegetables are just as easily grown from seed, though: cucumbers, summer squash, cantaloupe, watermelon – but that’s not until early May); and things that you can just as easily and perhaps even more cheaply buy at the farmers market or grocery.

There’s certainly no hurry to buy seed now, unless you want a particularly hot variety that may sell out. But there is joy in ordering seed or buying it at the garden center in January, as it increases anticipation for gardening. And I suppose it spreads out some of the cost that can pile up quickly in April.

Sometimes, too, you want to grow seeds that need to be started early, and this is the time to come to that knowledge. Find out when your plants will need to be planted outside, and count back from that the amount of time needed to grow the transplant to that point, Ward Upham of K-State advises.

“The target date for transplanting the cool-season crops such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and onions are the end of March to the beginning of April,” Upham writes in the year’s first issue of Horticulture 2013.

“Warm-season crops like tomatoes, peppers and most annual flowers are usually planted about May 10.”

I usually wait until the weather warms enough to let me sow seeds directly outside, either in a pot or in the ground. Even south-facing windows usually don’t provide enough light for growing seeds indoors; fluorescent lights are what is needed.

Or I wonder how they would work under my anti-winter-blues seasonal-affective-disorder light? It gives me a headache, so I’m relying on these garden seeds and Vince Guaraldi for my ray of sunshine.

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com.

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