Getting seedy

Magical thinking

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about magic. Partly this was precipitated by a recent indoor cleaning frenzy. (The garden is not the only place I’m inconstant.) You know the state that can get you into, right? With everything moved askew or turned upside-down, vacuum cleaner attachments strewn around and the right one hiding when you need it, dusters losing the battle against the cobwebs…. Around then is when I start thinking of the Harry Potter series, and Mrs. Weasley waving her wand to set the wooden spoons stirring and everything whisking to where it belongs. Yeah, I could use a little Accio this and Wingardium leviosa that, come the reckoning with dust bunnies and worse.

Fortunately, no waxy yellow buildup. At least on the floors.

Old painting of Cinderella in kitchen with fairy godmother turning pumpkin and mice into carriage and horses

William Henry Margetson (1861-1940), ‘Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother’
by sofi01 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

But the other thing that has me pondering magic is realizing that for all the wondrous powers of wizards and fairy godmothers and such, they always had to start with something. Before you can conjure up the carriage, you need the pumpkin. And look at all the ingredients old Voldemort had to get assembled before he could rematerialize himself!

What does any of this have to do with gardening? Two things, really.

First, I’m still hoping for the day when somebody discovers the magical indoor equivalent of the outdoor no-cleanup, no-dig, leave-it-lie approach. Or maybe I have: I discovered that if you leave it lie indoors, things will grow in it. Indoors, however, you don’t necessarily want that to happen. Call me rigid, but that’s my reaction to what I unearthed.

close-up of sprout arching out of ground, with seed still attached at its end

Magic! Seed sprouting in soil
Getty Images Signature via

Second, I do consider gardening a kind of magic. But it has to start with something. Quite a few somethings, actually, but most of them were already outside under the February snow just waiting for the starting whistle. One crucial something, though, relies on me to act, and, I realized as February shazammed into March, act fast.

That something is seeds.

The clock ticketh

You may recall that a couple or three posts back, I said it was way too soon to order seeds. I continued blissfully to think that. Somehow, I had myself convinced that April is when I need to think actively about gardening again. Real gardening, rather than pretend, planned, or theoretical gardening, that is. Those, I think about all the time.

Closeup of many icicles hanging on an andromeda bush, with snow beneath.

It’s still winter, isn’t it?

Outside was snow and occasionally sleet and lots of lovely icicles, and temperatures dipping well below frostbite level. So I was still safe, right?

After all, I had vowed to approach the veggie/herb garden more systematically this year, which meant that (so I told myself) I should wait until all the seed catalogs had arrived (on March 3, still waiting for some) and then attack them in one swoop to see what I should order. Go about it in businesslike fashion.

The thought plickens

Covers of several books on no-dig gardening, foodscaping, vegetable gardening, and a naturalist's notebook

So many books, so little time….

First, I wanted to educate myself, so’s to make all the right decisions. That meant ordering books and signing up for webinars outlining special approaches: ecological gardening, no-dig, foodscaping, yada yada.

Do you have any idea how many gardening books get published every year? Neither do I, but I am afraid that my groaning bookshelves would never hold a tenth of them, even if pocketbook permitted.

Then there were the webinars: eco-gardening, bark, pecans. No, I’m not planning to grow any new bark, or pecans. Those were free events. How could a geek like me resist? If the Master Gardener certification training had been open for applications, I probably would have signed up for that too–but it wasn’t. Which left time, or so I thought, to…

Go to seed

a box containing seed packets sorted according to planting dates, with a few seed packets to the right of the box

Seed sorting, no bells or whistles

Yep. I sorted all the seeds left over from previous years. This is always a good idea, although maybe last fall would have been the best idea. But here they were, handily tossed into one box. I first sorted according to planting dates. If you want an easy way to figure out what to plant when, indoors or out, Margaret Roach’s website gives you an online calculator that generates the planting table according to your last-frost date.

Note: don’t throw out your old seeds until you check to see whether they may still be viable! Did you know some veggie seeds can stay good for five to as many as ten years? (Handy simple table for reference here.) Not all of them, though. Onion seeds are at the low end: toss them after the year’s up, or possibly (if they’re organic) use them in cooking. Waste not want not, no?

A number of my brassicas (aka broccoli, kale, etc.) and beans and peas should still be good to go. Even carrots, although they hark back to 2019, so maybe a tad iffy. Unfortunately, some of my bounteous supply of seeds with short viabilities dated back to 2014 and 2015.

No sooner had I sorted than in came the latest gardening newsletters, whispering that there might be a rush-to-garden again this year. So even though I did not yet have a plan (as in planting blueprint) or a list carefully sketched out and winnowed (which professionals say you really must do before you start buying), I jumped upon hearing the warning whispers. After colliding with last year’s shortage of canning jars, I’m leery of all shortages and figured maybe I should buy first and think later.

The supply dwindleth!

ten seed packets of various vegetables from High Mowing Organic Seeds and three packets from Ox and Robin

Impulse buying, for garden geeks

Now, I’d like to tell you that I had at least some system in doing this, but that would be fibbing.

The first purchases: pure impulse. Out of curiosity, I checked under the “Seeds” heading when ordering online for a grocery pickup from my local farm store. They had such luscious looking veggie seeds from High Mowing and Ox & Robin, and it is after all Year of the Ox (happy lunar new year, a little late). How could I resist? Besides, I was getting a 15% discount.

Looking just at these new acquisitions, I realized that everything wouldn’t fit in my garden. Not in the two new 4X8 raised beds, even if I follow foodscaping suggestions and plunk the kale and arugula out in the tree-shrub-perennial beds.

Here is where friends come in handy. I fired an e-mail off to my gardening buddy across the road, telling her not to buy any new seeds before checking with me.

six green lined index cards with handwritten list and notes for vegetables and herbs; backgrounded by a red-orange-green plaid mat

Desiderata or pipe dream?

Then I contemplated an old list of desiderata in the veggie and herbs department. So much still missing from my inventory! What about asparagus and skinny beans and golden beets and carrots and cauliflower? And that only got me through the C’s.

Out of not quite idle curiosity, I checked some seed company websites. Yikes. Johnny’s Selected Seeds was only open for home-gardener orders two days this week, reserving the rest for farms and commercial growers. Several sites showed Out of Stock for more than half the varieties of some vegetables; others had some seeds on back order. Clearly, delay could be fatal.

Screenshot of portion of web page at, showing three types of onion sets sold out

All. Sold. Out.

Embarrassing riches…

Peril lurked in every foray; that much was obvious from the dozens of items I marked in just one of the seed catalogs sitting on my coffee table. Nevertheless, I persisted. I set some rules for myself: do it online to avoid browsing up more yearnings; order no seeds for anything ordinary, anything easily/cheaply obtainable in organic form from grocery or farm store. Except do get parsley and dill, because the black swallowtail caterpillars love to feast on those. Best to order only one variety of each vegetable, or at most two. Well, maybe three, but not many threesomes. No, stick to two. Bush beans and pole beans are different vegetables, not varieties.

If you believe that, there’s a bridge for sale too.

Millennium asparagus (plants). Greensleeves dill. Cylindra beets. Yellowstone carrots. Maxibel haricot vert. Stuttgarter onion sets. Pink beauty radish. Perilla green ao shiso. Blue kuri squash. Toma verde tomatillo. I swooned.

Reader, I ordered twenty-seven of the suckers.

I thought I might go back in and cancel some, but one company almost immediately e-mailed me saying the stuff was packed and ready to ship. That, I concluded, was a message from the cosmos. And I do not mean cosmos the flower.

Photo of a British backyard vegetable garden with profusion of plants in wood-bordered beds, hedges along the left and small trees in background, with houses beyond

A girl can dream
“The Vegetable Garden” by Shelley & Dave is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

So off went another message to my gardening neighbor, telling her really not to order anything, except for tomatoes and eggplant and peppers. I may end up supplying the entire neighborhood with seeds. But if not, there’s that viability table telling me that everything but the parsnip seeds and onion sets will keep till next year, by which time I will most assuredly (do I hear snickers?) have a Plan.

I just remembered: I didn’t order artichokes! Maybe next year.

Of seeds and shortages

Maybe I went overboard on the seeds because of my anxiety over trying to get an appointment for a Covid-19 vaccination. Until my cohort was called, I didn’t think about it at all, and was content to be kept waiting till April or even May.

But then the state of Massachusetts declared it had opened eligibility to my age group (now you know just how wizened I probably am). I resisted the urge to stampede with everyone else, and thereby missed the first-day spectacle of the nearly immediate crash of the state’s vax-scheduling website. But shortly after that, as conversations among friends and fellow Zoom-workshop attendees percolated with did-you-get-it can-you-find-an-appointment try-here well-then-try-there maybe-next-week, I decided–purely as a matter of scientific inquiry, of course–to try getting an appointment.

A word-frequency distribution graphic with COVID-19 centered in red, and associated words surrounding it in shades of gray font, sized according to frequency of occurrence

by is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I won’t bore you with the rabbit holes I fell into. If you’re in Massachusetts, either you’ve already experienced them or you’re going to. If you’re not in Massachusetts, I don’t want to set you to gloating and then feeling guilty for your schadenfreude. Suffice to say: I tried seven or maybe it was eight separate appointment-scheduling sites, from whole-state down to very local. And from approx. Feb. 18, when they announced the second-rung geezers stampede, until last night, I got nowhere.

So seed-seeking might have siphoned off the residue of anxiety that yoga couldn’t cope with. It was either that or binge-eat chocolate chip cookies. It makes me feel a bit hamsterish, except that “hamster” might be too high in the evolutionary ladder for this sentiment. More like crazed reptile-brain directly wired to a laptop.

Intermittently during that frenzy of attempts, I kept reminding myself how lucky I am. Over half a million people in this country have died of this disease, many of them because of government mismanagement or worse, or because too many believed the disinformation spread by people who should have known better. I lost one dear friend and worried about others who were infected, but thousands have lost far more than that. I had the luxury of being able to hole up and have things brought by lovely friends or delivery angels. I didn’t have to homeschool children or serve as a solo caregiver. The pandemic did not fundamentally affect my livelihood.

So I don’t feel that I have a right to the anxiety. But is there anyone among us, after this insane year, who isn’t plagued by anxiety, even if untouched by objective harm? I hope, if you’re looking for vaccination, that you can get it soon, and that it helps relieve some of the stress. And that you and your loved ones can stay healthy until we get past this.

I am happy to report that I now seem to have a vaccination appointment that requires only a 10-day wait and a 70-mile drive (each way). I can afford the wait, and I am able to drive. As I said, lucky.

close-up photo of several lavender crocus blossoms not quite open, above dark green spikes of foliage; unfocused background of more such crocuses; in the foreground a couple of dark brown fallen leaves

by Infomastern is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Meanwhile, spring approacheth, and maybe for many of us the prospect of being back out in the garden helps restore some measure of stability and hope, whether or not we got all the seeds we wanted. I contemplate the arrival of 27 packets of seed, asparagus roots&crowns, and onion sets, along with the seed-starting paraphernalia (grow-lights! warming mat! cowpots!) that I ordered in between seed frenzies.

Next post maybe I’ll regale you with my adventures in first-time indoor farming.

And now, your turn:

Please post your comments below. (If others post comments before you, the Reply box for your comment will appear after their posts.) I try to reply to every comment, but please feel free to answer others’ comments yourself, too. Here are a few questions to get you started, but go for any topic this post or gardening in general inspires you to.

  1. What’s your approach to planning your spring planting? When do you start, how do you do the planning, and do you already have everything you’ll need?
  2. Have you tried foodscaping (planting food plants in among shrubs and flowers)? What worked or didn’t work, and what recommendations would you make?
  3. If you gardened last year, do you think you’ll do as much this year, or more, or less? Or will you do something differently, whether in a major or a minor way? Reasons?
  4. Any good ideas for sharing extra seeds or seedlings?
  5. How have you been coping with pandemic stress?

If you’re commenting for the first time with a particular email address, your comment has to wait for my clearance (spam-thwarting at work there). After your first approved comment using that address, your next should go up automatically. If you’re concerned about privacy, you don’t need to include your surname. I am the only one who sees your email address.

Remember I’m running a contest for 2021: the reader who sends me (kateriffoley at gmail dot com) the weirdest garden-related snippet of news or information between now and December 31, 2021, will win some kind of cool prize. Might be a hori hori: might be a gorgeous gardening book. I promise it won’t be a woodchuck. I’ll offer a few choices when the time comes. So please, keep your antennae up for choice tidbits, and send them on!




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6 Responses to Getting seedy

  1. Susan says:

    Here’s that non-gardener again—but I did identify with letting the dirt inside the house lie fallow. I have a nice crop of dust bunnies with several strange varieties; there’s what looks like a dust polar bear taking shape on the floor of my closet. But seriously, I have an appointment for my first vaccine 💉, and am looking forward Kate to trying out some of your rarefied veggies this summer. Thanks, as always, for this gardening blog that is about oh so much more. Magical thinking indeed.

  2. Merry White says:

    Being as how I have only a deck, planters and not a lot of sun, my gardening is mostly done vicariously through reading YOU. But this year, as last, I ordered seeds through Kitazawa Seeds which is my very favorite catalogue which also has a back section of wonderful recipes from various Asian grandmothers, or so I imagine. So I have several microgreens – sango,oka hijiki, kaiware and yes, shiso which can be a microgreen, and, with enough, a wonderful basis for pesto. And for many other things, wrapping pink mochi with red beans for girls’ day (well that was last week), and generally pleasing the palate. The crazy purchase was a bag of poha berry seed which is utterly for dreaming: I love poha berry jam, which is hard to find even in Hawai’i where I first had it. And the berries don’t appear on the bush until 75 days after flowering and flowers don’t appear for eight weeks after transplanting which is six weeks after the last frost, and here I am in Cambridge. I appreciate your more practical planning but a girl has to have a dream, too. Aloha!

  3. Hillary says:

    I love foodscaping, though I tend to limit to herbs that help protect my flowers which I love for the colors they provide.

    But “plickens” is a word I do not know…

    • Kateri says:

      Hillary, I’d love a list of herbs you’ve found that protect flowers.

      “Thought plickens” is a play on “plot thickens.” So far, plicken is noddawird, but if we use it often enough, it might become one. Worked for Shakespeare….

  4. Helen Snively says:

    foodscaping: Chard, garlic, and parsley all work well in among other stuff in a garden. Chives too.

    sharing seeds/seedlings: A neighbor made up a sharable google doc that others could type into, and we added the seeds we don’t want plus contact info. A few people looked through it and shared stuff. Maybe 6 of us total.. I think it would work better with more people. Try it? Also would work for plants or tools or whatever else.

    getting through the pandemic. Ouch. My try to do this every day list:
    walk, talk to someone, look at/listen to something beautiful, take a bath and stretch (hope for yoga to start again), eat healthy, sleep enough. Have I done it all? No way.. but I do remember to do most of it most days. Now that we have more light and warmth and a hope of vaccine, I”m feeling lighter. But man, what a case of the midwinter blahs.. Not serious blues, but a damn good case of the blahs.

    • Kateri says:

      What great ideas, Helen! I was planning to plant some parsley in my little pollinator garden strip next to the garage, but I’ll also try out some chard there or with flowers in another bed or two. And the google doc for seed sharers sounds like one of the few things I’d willingly use google docs for.

      Your list of daily pandemic routines was daunting until you said you haven’t done it all. That I can certainly relate to! Get up, drink coffee, and get lost is my most reliable routine. But I like the reminder to lean positive.

      Hope the blahs continue to subside as spring creeps in!

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