In Troubling Times, Grow With Seeds

seeds and seedlings

Life might seem a bit empty right now, with limitations on our work, school and social activities. But an old Hawaiian proverb says, “When your hands are turned to the soil, you will be full.” So let us keep gardening, the healthy activity that can be done alone or with a loved one. May it fill our spirits as well as our bodies.

Growing edibles begins in earnest now as our soils warm up and the days become longer. Here are some ideas to get started.

Is your soil warm enough to plant?

  • Calculate the soil temperature. Find out the soil warmth by watching the daily highs/lows. Add the daily high and nightly low together, then divide by two. That’s the approximate temperature of open soil. (e.g.: 50+40=90/2=45) It’s more accurate if you do it over the course of a week and then average those, because the soil temp doesn’t move with just one warm day. A soil thermometer will tell you right away if the soil is warm enough to sprout seeds. Most seeds require soil warmed to a depth of 3” to germinate.
  • Temps needed to germinate. Our coolest vegetables (lettuce, peas, chard, parsley, mustard greens, beets, carrots) will sprout in soil as cool as 40 degrees F. Other crops (corn, tomatoes) need at least 50 degrees F, while others (beans, peppers, melons, squashes) need 60 degrees F minimum. Of course, all will sprout faster in soil a little warmer than the minimum.
  • Warm up your soil. You can cover the garden bed for a few days with plastic sheeting to warm it up—but remove the plastic when you begin to plant. That will increase the soil temperature a few degrees above an open garden bed.

“When your hands are turned to the soil, you will be full.”

Start earlier with season extension

  • Raised beds. Are you growing vegetables in a raised bed? If so, the soil may already be getting warmer and drying out, the two key indicators that it will be ready for seeds.
  • Cover the bed. If you have “season extension” covers for your bed, like a cloche or a cold frame, they will really help you get the soil ready. You can plant under season extension two to three weeks earlier than in an open garden bed. But remember to open the device regularly to water the bed so the seeds are kept moist (but not too wet) while sprouting, and so that it doesn’t get too hot under the device on sunny days to wilt the tiny plants.

Is your soil dry enough to plant?

  • Soil readiness test. Here’s an easy test to find out if your soil is ready: Dig up a scoop of soil and pack together a softball-size clump of it in your hands. Hold it in one hand and throw it up in the air about two feet, letting it fall back into your open hand. If it lands with a “splotch!” and water sprays everywhere, it’s still too wet for planting. If it breaks apart easily and crumbles in your hand, it’s dry enough.

If your outdoor garden is not yet ready, you can still start indoors. See our post on Starting Seeds Indoors that includes a list of bioregional seed companies.

First Seed Swap of 2020 Set for Jan. 25, Two More on Feb. 8

Sprout some new ideas for your edible garden! Come to the annual Great Seattle Seed Swap hosted at the Phinney Center by the King County Seed Lending Library.

Oregon Sugar Pod II peas

The Northwest Seattle swap will be Saturday, January 25, 2-4 p.m. in the Community Center of the PNA’s Brick Building (lower parking lot).

If you can’t make that one,two more swaps will be held on Saturday, February 8, one in northeast Seattle and the other in the Snoqualmie Valley town of Duvall. (See our Events page for details on these swaps.)

Along with seeds of favorite vegetables, you will find enthusiastic fellow gardeners eager to share their best varieties. Nearly half of the 100 attendees at last year’s Northwest Seattle swap brought their own seeds. But bringing seeds to swap is not required.

What’s more, generous seed organizations are sharing seed with us. Oregon’s Adaptive Seeds, Bellingham’s Resilient Seeds and the Organic Seed Alliance from the Olympic Peninsula are all contributing unique varieties for Seattle gardeners to try. (A huge note of thanks to them for their contributions!)

At the swap, stick around to learn about both ends of the gardening year, from sowing to harvest–and beyond. There will be short workshops on seed saving and other gardening topics. If you learn to save some of your own seeds at harvest time, you can make a deposit to the library’s seed supply at next year’s swap!

Tilth Alliance, Seattle Tree Fruit Society, Sustainable Ballard and the PNA Tool Lending Library will be on hand to share information and more gardening opportunities. Also, there will be a table of seed catalogs and books for research, and a table with supplies for cleaning and processing your seed.

Bring your edible garden seed to share if you have it. It can be commercial or home-grown seed, but please follow these guidelines:

  • Share only seeds of edible plants that your fellow gardeners would grow from seed, such as annual vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers.
  • If donating packaged seed, it should be organic or open-pollinated or heirloom.
  • If donating home-saved seed, please clean it off the stems or stalks and bring only the seed.
  • You can clean your seed at the swap. We will have screens, and buckets available.
  • All shared seed should be fresh, within three years of purchase or saving.
  • Please label all donations with seed type, variety if known, and year it was grown/saved.
Purple peas in flower

We hope you can join us to learn and share the joys of growing our own food from seed. The seed swaps are free and open to all.

See event updates on our Facebook event page.

Share, Learn, Grow at Our Seed Swaps

Sprout some new ideas for your edible garden in January! Come to the annual Seed Swaps presented by our King County Seed Lending Library branches.

Along with seeds of favorite vegetables, you will find enthusiastic fellow gardeners to share their best varieties. Many attendees at last year’s swap brought their own seeds.

Seed Swaps will be Saturday, Feb. 2 in Northwest Seattle and Snoqualmie Valley, and Saturday, Feb. 9 in Northeast Seattle and Feb. 24 in West Seattle. (See details on our Events page.)

shoppers 2017 swap

At the swap, stick around to learn about both ends of the gardening year. There will be short workshops on seed starting and seed saving. If you save your own, you can make a deposit to the library’s seed bank at next year’s swap.

Bring your edible garden seed to share. It can be commercial or home-grown seed, but please follow these guidelines:

  • Share only seeds of edible plants that your fellow gardeners would grow from seed, such as annual vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.
  • If donating packaged seed, it should be organic or open-pollinated or heirloom.
  • If donating home-saved seed, please clean it off the stems or stalks and bring only the seed.
  • You can clean your seed at the swap. We will have screens and buckets available.
  • All shared seed should be fresh, within three years of purchase or saving.
  • Please label all donations with seed type, variety if known, and year it was grown/saved.

The Seed Swaps are free and open to all; bringing seed is not required.

The King County Seed Lending Library has five locations around the county, all operated by volunteers and supported solely by donations.

Seed donation

Give Back at Seed Homecoming Oct. 6

Are you saving seed from a crop you loved? Share it with us at our annual Seed Homecoming on Friday, October 6!

chard seed
Seed of Rainbow Chard being winnowed.

Perhaps you grew out a plant from a variety you got at our Seed Swap in January, or just have lots of leftover seed from your gardening purchases this year.

You can share seed and help others grow a garden by bringing your extra supply to our table at the Phinney Farmers Market in Northwest Seattle. The King County Seed Lending Library will be accepting seed from 4 to 7 p.m.

Our Seed Homecoming marks the end of the traditional growing season, when gardeners are getting ready to put their gardens to bed.

Seed sharing at the farmers market
KCSLL Coordinator Bill Thorness shares seeds with a farmers market attendee. Photo by Lee Harper.

Combat the Popularity Contest

Saving seed is a vital step in keeping alive our most-beloved or possibly rare varieties of edible plants.

In a marketplace ruled by popularity, where only the best-selling varieties are propogated, the future diversity of our gardens may depend on our tenacity in keeping alive a wide selection of cultivars.

What Seeds We’re Seeking

The King County Seed Lending Library, now with five branches, has the capacity to store and distribute a lot of seed, but we focus on particular types of seed.

  • Please donate only seeds of edible plants that your fellow gardeners would grow from seed, such as annual vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.seed in jars
  • If donating packaged seed, it should be organic or open-pollinated, plant types that will produce seed true to the stated variety.
  • If donating home-saved seed, please winnow and clean it off the stems or stalks as much as possible and bring only the seed.
  • If you can’t clean it in advance, plan to spend some time cleaning it at our booth. We will have screens and buckets available.
  • All donated seed should be fresh, within three years of purchase or saving.
  • Please label all donations with seed type, variety if known, and year it was grown/saved.

Bonus: This year, thanks to a donation from our friends at the Seattle Farm Co-op, we will be giving away a small amount of mixed cover crop seed to anyone who brings seed for donation (or to anyone who stops at the booth, if we have enough to share). This is the perfect time to plant a cover crop to help enrich your soil on empty garden beds over the winter.

Attend OSA’s Community Field Day on Sept. 25

The Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) will host its annual community field day  and variety tasting on September 25th from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Chimacum, Washington. All are invited to join in the celebration, taste new varieties of organic produce, and learn about OSA’s cutting-edge research in the field. In addition to the variety tasting, local chefs will serve appetizers that showcase the culinary potential of what’s growing in local trials. 

OSA is a local nonprofit with a national reach. It is known for its leadership in organic seed research, education, and advocacy, and participates in collaborative research with farmers, universities, and seed companies from coast to coast. The September gathering celebrates the third annual harvest at OSA’s Washington research farm, which serves as the hub of its Pacific Northwest organic plant breeding, seed education, and variety trial projects. The event also allows OSA to thank its strong and growing community of friends in the region and beyond.

The field tour will be held from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. with the variety tasting and chef showcase following from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. OSA’s research farm is part of the Chimacum Farm Collaborative located at the Finnriver Orchard and Cidery, which will be open for no-host tastings and purchases.

The event is free and open to the public. RSVPs are encouraged but not required. RSVP today at seedalliance.org/events.

The Finnriver Orchard and Cidery is located at 124 Center Road, Chimacum, Washington, 98325.