Starting A Vegetable Garden
Choosing vegetables for your region and climate, and deciding whether to start seeds or transplants.
Most veggies need full sun, so choose a location that doesn’t block the sun for too much of the day.
Vegetables need rich, well-drained soil that is amended with organic matter before planting. Have your soil tested to determine its nutrient levels and pH before adding any supplements.
Reviewed by Marcia Lawrence
“Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners (Second Edition)” by Suzanne Ashworth, Seed Savers Exchange/Chelsea Green Publishing 2002, ISBN 9781882424580, Paperback, 228 pages, $24.95
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of seeds sprouting, flowers blooming, and vegetables beginning to produce in the springtime garden. Just as important, however, is ensuring that you will have seeds to plant and enjoy in future years.
Author Suzanne Ashworth notes that about 60 million American gardeners grew a portion of their own food at the dawn of the millenium. Fast-forward to a post-pandemic world, in which 18.3 million new gardeners — most of them millennials — grow some of their own food. Currently, 55% of American households engage in gardening activities.
When “Seed to Seed” was published in 2002, there were 255 mail order seed companies. Today, fewer than half that number survive. The seed industry is dominated by the “Big Four:” Bayer (formerly Monsanto), Corteva (formerly DuPont), Syngenta (part of ChemChina), and Limagrain together control 50% of the global seed market, with Bayer and Corteva alone claiming roughly 40%.
These are all good reasons to start saving your own seeds, but you can also contribute to perpetuating the availability of heirloom seeds, remnants of a not-so-long-ago culture in which seed-saving not only was thrifty, but allowed for careful selection of the strongest and best characteristics that slowly developed resistance to local diseases and insects.
Ashworth says, “The seeds that gardeners hold in their hands at planting time are living links in an unbroken chain reaching back into antiquity… Because the United States is a nation of immigrants, today’s gardeners are blessed with access to an immense cornucopia of vegetable varieties. Gardeners from every corner of the world invariably brought along cherished vegetable seeds when their families immigrated… Seeds provided a living reminder of their past and ensured continued enjoyment of foods from the old country. This unique heritage of seeds, steadily accumulating for nearly four centuries, was first brought over by passengers on the Mayflower and is still arriving today with immigrants from every corner of the globe.”
While heirloom varieties are still being maintained in family gardens across the country, there are fewer and fewer places to obtain them. Untold numbers of varieties are lost each year because elderly gardeners can no longer rely on family and friends to grow and maintain them. Unless those seeds are replanted by other gardeners, they become extinct, their invaluable genetic characteristics lost forever.
“Seed to Seed” is a comprehensive handbook for both experienced and beginning seed savers interested in conserving our rich vegetable heritage. It’s also a fascinating book to browse, with extensive growing and usage information about each vegetable, including Latin and common names. It’s a concise discussion of botanical classifications, pollination and flower structure, and step by step how-tos on maintaining varietal purity, seed cleaning methods, and seed storage techniques. Seed saving organizations and tool/equipment resources are included as well. The Glossary and the “Common Name Index” are particularly helpful.
Maybe it’s time to take your gardening activities to the next level and participate in saving our precious heirloom seed heritage.