All about seedlings

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2018

By Biff and Susan Andrews

There are as many types of gardeners as there are people. At this time of year, they reveal themselves by the seed catalogues they get, the seed starter kits they try, and how and when they sow.

Burpee is, of course, the industry giant. Every year, the catalog comes showing luscious tomatoes, especially new heirlooms, exotic new flowers, can’t-miss perennials, new beans, squash, roses and annuals. We admit to having succumbed to the ads, with mixed results. Some stuff never “did,” but one plant we bought has spread so widely and fast that our yard is inundated with it. Other catalogs by lesser known suppliers — Gurney’s, Johnny’s, Park, Territorial — promise the same amazing results. “Caveat emptor” — let the buyer beware.


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Then there are the big box stores, such as Lowes and Walmart. They already have huge displays of seed starter kits, bags of seed starter soil, pellets, peat pots and on and on, with all the seeds; some of their spring seed selections are for summer or fall, but buy now! Such a deal! Most of these kits work, as long as the medium is at just the right moisture, with just the right light. Woe be to the gardener who leaves town for the weekend.

The feed and seed stores and the many good quality local nurseries have pros who can give you real direction and good advice. Their seed selections are for our local area and conditions and may be sold in bulk — especially onion sets and such. These businesses care about gardeners who actually plan to feed the family (if not the entire neighborhood) with zucchini, eggplant, “cukes” and “maters.” My buddy already has his seed corn, bush beans, etc., and he knows just how long to wait to plant. He has another friend who grows flats and flats of “termaters” —they’re pros. Tomatoes 8 feet tall, no problem, canning 100 quarts. Green beans, another 100-plus quarts. Who cares what the deer eat. Sheesh!

In our family, we have been through most of these stages, with the exception of the pro stage. We are at a disadvantage, because we have chosen to have big trees. Big trees and gardens don’t mix. Our yard has so many trees that we labor to grow food with four hours of sunlight. We grow basil, some annuals, a few spring flowers, blue lake green beans and early peas from seeds in raised beds. But more and more, we rely on the little six-packs of plants. With four hours of sun, we struggle.

Oh, well. We have good friends with 12 hours of sun, large gardens, tillers, talent and seed catalogues.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at