Gardening: Planning for this year’s garden

Long winter evenings are a great time to peruse seed catalogues, paper and online, before planning this year’s garden.

Start by checking what seeds remain from last year. With the exception of onions, and parsnips most seeds are viable from three to five years if they are kept in a cool, dry environment.

Next make a list of the plants that are to be grown from seed. Divide them into bedding-out-plants, vegetables and flowers that will be directly sown into the flowerbeds.

If planning on starting plants inside, look at the light source and decide how many plants it will grow comfortably. A common mistake it to try to crowd more plants under an inadequate source of light resulting in weak substandard plants. A south window may work to start seeds if the plants are rotated on a regular basis or they will all be bent in one direction, towards the light.

When purchasing vegetable seeds, look at the planting space available as well as how much and what varieties will be eaten. This should include any vegetables that will be preserved and or shared with others. One usually plans for some excess produce but weeding, harvesting and cleaning unwanted produce is hard work.

Some varieties of flower seeds can be direct seeded into the garden. Read the planting directions to make sure that the variety chosen will germinate with this type of treatment. Transplanted seedlings tend to bloom a month before ones that are directly sewn into the earth. Know the best time to direct seed. Flowers such as poppies do well when the seeds are sprinkled on the last of the snow. Sweet Peas should be planted as soon as the soil can be worked. Others need to be planted when all danger of frost is past.

When looking at ordering seed packets, factor in the cost of shipping and handling. Express post is an option but not necessary unless the order is made late. If only a few packages of seed are ordered, the cost per package can double depending on shipping costs. Varieties of seeds will differ between venues. These difference often determine where to purchase seeds.

Like packages bought in the store, catalogues should provide with a package weight and maybe an approximate seed count. Information on planting, growing and when to harvest will be included either in catalogues or on packages of reputable seed houses.

Seed prices also vary depending on how they are grown or classified. Organic seed has had to meet Canada’s stringent organic standards including been grown on land that has been declared organic and processed in in organic facilities.

Treated seed will be coated with a thin layer of fungicide which helps the seeds survive the cold wet soil in the spring.

Pelleted seed is covered in a layer of clay to make the seeds larger and easier to plant. Taped seed or seed on a tape takes the guess work out of spacing the seed as the seed is glued to a strip of paper which is then planted in the ground. For thee=se seeds to be successful, the soil must be wet enough to cause the paper to decompose quickly.

Heirloom seed is seed that has not been purposely pollinated with specific plants to produce a new variety. Seeds were produced through open pollination.

Originally, heirloom seeds were saved and passed down between families and friends. As the popularity and demand for heirloom seeds grew it became profitable for seed growers to plant fields of heirloom varieties. As a result the public has a better access to more seed varieties than ever before.

Lastly, the claim of “No GMO” seeds could be considered fear mongering. Ignore this slogan as it isn’t possible to purchase garden seeds that are genetically modified. Commercial growers that use GMO seed sign a contract with the supplier making sure the seed is not saved and reused.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at

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