Stocking up on Seeds
While tuned into the Cooking Channel one day, I heard the story of the Sustainable Seed Co. Based about 45 miles outside of San Francisco, their philosophy is to build a community that can provide purebred, heirloom seed varieties to small farmers, or wanna-be farmers like myself, all over the US. Real people, real seeds, and really what I wanted. Their catalog is extensive, the captions and descriptions fool-proof and informative. For instance, I ordered the Thomas Laxton Pea. The site’s description: “Introduced in 1898. Any pea that was introduced over 100 years ago and is still widely grown should tell you volumes. Reliable, consistant, and sweet are just some of the words used to describe this pea. They’ve made incredible heirloom seeds attainable.”
What exactly does it mean to be an heirloom seed? Each harvest, the seeds from best of the bunch are selected collected and chosen to move on for planting next time, giving natural selection a little bit of hand-holding. So, say, when the ULTIMATE tomato has sprouted—it’s perfectly juicy, the color is vibrant and even, it’s adapted well to weather and temperature, and its taste is beyond words, you’d want to save their seeds to grow next year. So every seed I have from Sustainable Seed Co. is the perfect little veggie, every single time.
This is also the case for a small batch of heirloom San Marzano tomatoes and Peperoni di Senise seeds that my Calabrian gardening idol, Rosetta Cosentino (author of My Calabria) graciously sent me last year from her home farm in NorCal. She says her seeds have been an heirloom variety since the 70’s and are straight from Calabria—I really couldn’t ask for anything more. I felt guilty when my baby San Marzano tomatoes first sprouted, hoping they wouldn’t notice they were no longer in Calabria. I told them it’s OK—L.A. is a great place to live. The weather is just as nice as it is in Calabria. And though I don’t have that warm, Mediterranean sea breeze passing through, the winds from the Sepulveda pass might help bring back memories of home. Maybe…
But I know that when I bite into that San Marzano, I can imagine it tastes the same as the ones my distant family in Catanzaro are eating. We can share the common experience through a simple tomato, thousands of miles away. It’s like the moon—no matter where you are in the world, it will always look the same, and we can share it together.
I received my seeds quickly in the mail: Calabrese Broccoli, Little Finger Carrots, Parris Island Romaine Lettuce, Detroit Red Beets, and a bag of worm castings and blood meal (amendments to help turn my clay soil in to a rich environment). I also ordered heirloom seeds from GrowItalian—zucchini that promises large, lovely blossoms, cantaloupe, beefsteak tomatoes from Florence, little yellow cherry tomatoes, as well as Genoa basil and flat-leaf parsley seeds. The rest of my herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, tarragon, lavender) I’ll probably purchase from a nursery. I used basil and parsley on the daily so I figure I should go all the way with them from seed.
Starting the seeds really depends on how long they’ll take to grow strong enough for transplant, and it needs to be timed around the last frost date wherever you live. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the last frost in my area is most likely March 7th. You can also base planting by the phases of the moon. Even though I’m into astrology, I don’t know if I can handle the guidance planting by the moon. Everyone was in a frenzy when they found out our zodiac signs aren’t what we think they are, so I’m not about to commit to celestial control just yet…
The seeds I’ve chosen to sprout and transplant take anywhere from 6-8 weeks to fully develop, so I needed to get them started ASAP. Then there are some that I’ll plant directly into the ground—beets, carrots, and spring peas—since they do best to start wherever they’ll end up.
When starting seeds indoors, you’ll need to get a seedling flatbed, pots, or even egg cartons and fill it with a light, soilless mixture. Look for a bag of peat moss—you need something that’s airy and light so that oxygen can flow and will hold enough water to stay moist. Don’t use potting soil! That’s for when you transplant.
I went to a local nursery to find all of these components, but they only had bulk peat moss! But the guys there helped me out and pointed me to this little container starting kit—a “Just Add Water” soil kit that’s designed for starting seeds. This is what it looks like before and after water:
It left me perfect little holes to go ahead and drop the seeds in. Of course, you don’t want to forget to label them. I used post-its and toothpicks…
They stay really moist and it’s easy for me to maintain. It also has a plastic top so that it can act as a greenhouse and keep it warm!
Now, I’ve done a lot of research on how to get your seeds to sprout properly. Lots of people suggest putting your seedling flatbed on a heating pad at night, as the soil needs to stay warm at night in order to get the seeds to activate. I don’t imagine my family in Calabria does this for their tomatoes, so I turned up my nose to that idea. So I decided to keep them in the kitchen—it’s usually mildly warm since I’ve been using the oven, and I have them above the dishwasher that gets used a few times a week and the steam heats up the granite counter tops. In combination with that and the plastic top, there was enough warmth to get them going. And sure enough, only a week after planting, I had seeds sprouting!!