first garden & heirloom seeds

Posted by: handyman

first garden & heirloom seeds - 02/01/08 12:22 AM

I'm going to start my first garden this spring . I've been wanting to do it for a long time but I think , for many reasons ,I should definately start this year . I've been doing a bit of research . I have a lot to learn . I live in the Northeast , any tips on what is best to grow for a beginer would be appreciated .
Also ; I would like to order some heirloom seeds for the garden and to stockpile for long term preparedness . I googled heirloom seeds and they list many suppliers . Which one is best to order from .
Posted by: Blast

Re: first garden & heirloom seeds - 02/01/08 01:43 AM


A good source of gardening information should be your Ag. Extension Office. They should be able to get you information on what varieties of certain plants to plant and when to plant them, fertilize them and protect them from pests. Try and track down their "Master Gardener" program. This is a deal where people can take free classes in all sorts of gardening stuff and in return they have to volunteer a certian number of hours answering questions other people may have about gardening.

Another good resource is the book Joy of Gardening by Dick Raymond.

Hopefully Sue will chime in with her seed-seller reccomendations.

Posted by: NorCalDennis

Re: first garden & heirloom seeds - 02/01/08 02:29 AM

Oh this thread came just in time!

My DW is in my ear telling me I shouldn't be ordering heirloom seeds and such - that we need to go to the store and buy starts - They are easier to get going; and I have no idea how much work it takes to start a garden from seeds.

I have the space to develop a large vegatable garden and plan to start developing a weed infested field as soon as the rains/snow allows. Probably by the end of February/early March I will able to turn the soil over, get some ammendments in, build some raised beds with a gopher/mole barrier.

Any advice for starting from scratch would be great! And the assurance that starting with seeds - and developing stock piles of these seeds, is the best approach from the start.

I have some gardening experience, but not on this scale.

Thanks in advance for the insight!

Posted by: Blast

Re: first garden & heirloom seeds - 02/01/08 04:30 AM


Tips for a new gardener:

1. Accept that your first attempts will likely fail. The weather will not cooperate, pests will decimate your plants (bugs/deer/snails) or their produce (birds/squirrels/possums), your soil will be all wrong, your plants will get either too much or too little sun, and the plants/seeds you buy will not be optimized for your location. Anything more than handful of peas and an ear of corn means you've done real good.

2. Starter plants will give you much faster, more reliable results than planting seeds. It is also easier to get the spacing right with prestarted plants. However, prestarted plants purchased from "Big Box" stores probably aren't optimized for your specific location. You also don't get the thrill of seeing your plants burst out of the bare ground. Also with seeds you can order exactly the right versions of plants for you location.

3. Mulch. Mulch Mulch. Mulch. Mulch Mulch. Mulch. Mulch Mulch. Mulch. Mulch Mulch. Mulch. Mulch Mulch. Mulch. Mulch Mulch. Mulching traps in moisture and blocks weeds, two of the most important things you can do for your plants.

4. Your local extension office is your friend. Track it down and use it!

5. Know your land. Figure out how much sun each part of you yard/garden location gets. Learn where water collects. What other plants are in the area that may affect your garden? Some plants produce natural herbicides which will kill off other plants.

6. Know your plants. Which need lots of light, which need shade. Which will grow tall and shade other plants. What plants need acidic soil? Which need good drainage? When should each plant be fertilized and what is the right fertilizer to use? How long will it take them to produce? Which are susceptible to bugs/slugs? The "Joy of Gardening" book I mentioned in my previous response is an excellent resource for all this information. Learn this stuff before you plant! Planning prevents poor produce.

7. Know your USDA zone. What are your normal first/last frost dates? How much rain do you get on average? What plants are hardy in this zone?

8. Have the right tools. A spade/shovel, hoe, garden rake, wheelbarrow, garden hoses, sprinklers, watering can, kneeling cushion, some sort of weeding tool(s), supporting cages/trellis/poles, twine, gloves, chicken wire (to make protective enclosures) and a wide-brimmed hat.

9. Rain water is much better for plants than treated city water.

10. Compost if you can. It's really easy though some will make it seem hard. All that sciencey googley-gok about composting just deals with making it turn to compost faster and kill weed seeds. Nature just lets stuff pile up and rot. You can do that too.

11. Check the garden every day to make sure the plants are healthy. It only takes a day or two for pests or dehydration to wipe out all your plants.

12. Companion planting works and it's easy.

13. Label the locations of your plants.

14. Beer kills slugs.

15. Nothing scares away birds/squirrels/possums/raccoons/etc. All you can do it try to put up barriers between them and the plants. Um, or shoot the creatures...

16. The food you grow will taste SOOO GOOOD! And the next crop will be even better.

Posted by: NorCalDennis

Re: first garden & heirloom seeds - 02/01/08 04:42 AM

Just like your triangle post earlier tonight - this too is great information. Thanks!

My wife has long used old beer to kill slugs. Then we began to notice that the beer was disappearing each night. It didn't take long to realize that our local racoons were catching quite a buzz at the expense of our slug killer. Turned into a party every night with those little rascals!
Posted by: Dan_McI

Re: first garden & heirloom seeds - 02/01/08 02:10 PM

I am not about to critique any of the above, except for the beer stuff. Beer to kills slugs? Sounds like someone wastes beer, imo.

My time for gardening is about nil. I have only the weekend to get anything done, and it's not enough time to keep the already planted ornamental beds from looking like jungles. I do nto want to create a garden that adds a lot more work for me to do. However, I do want to plant some things that are edible. Toward that end, I am trying to plant some things that will grow without much attention.

The first things that are going in are ramps. Small, wild leeks, native to the Northeastern U.S. I also think I am going to add some amaranth to my ornamental beds, raspberry and blackberry bushes (the birds will feast probably), and I am considering fruit and nut trees as well as strawberries.

Posted by: Blast

Re: first garden & heirloom seeds - 02/01/08 04:42 PM


Go to www.ediblelandscaping.comand order their free catalog.

Posted by: Dan_McI

Re: first garden & heirloom seeds - 02/01/08 05:24 PM

Posted by: wildman800

Re: first garden & heirloom seeds - 02/01/08 05:28 PM

Thanks Blast!!!!

I'll be ordering heirloom seeds in early March (when I get back home) Bo
Posted by: Susan

Re: first garden & heirloom seeds - 02/01/08 05:42 PM

Excellent advice, Blast!

One of the first things I would do is have a soil test, and see if your soil is seriously lacking something. Here in the Pacific NW, our soil is quite acidic, and all the rain we get washes out the calcium and magnesium, so we have to add dolomite lime. The test should show what is right and what is wrong, and offer suggestions for improvement. Your local Cooperative Extension Service can either do tests, or tell you who does. Here is western WA, they cost about $8. Ask for instructions on how to take the samples correctly.

Most vegetables prefer a soil pH of about 6 to 7, but are relatively tolerant except for extremes. Blueberries and potatoes prefer acid soils, cabbages and cucumbers prefer neutral to slightly alkaline soil.

You might consider growing organically. It's no more complicated than chemically-oriented gardening, but it is considered healthier (when eating AND dealing with the chemicals), it improves the soil, doesn't contaminate water sources, and if you have kids around you don't have to worry much about them getting into toxins. Plants that are growing well and have access to all the nutrients they need have far fewer problems with disease and insects.

Iron-phosphate-based snail and slug baits are non-toxic to kids, animals, and soil. They just break down into soil nutrients. Scatter thinly. It's the only way we can grow lettuce here.

The main three plant nutrients needed are Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potash, there are lesser minerals also needed, and a larger group of trace minerals that are only needed in tiny amounts.

Natural sources of nitrogen are rotted plant residue: grass, weeds, straw, hay, and plant waste from food production; manures, which are best composted to destroy pathogens and weed seeds (rabbit & llama manure can be used fresh and straight); and legumes (clovers, peas, beans, etc) and other select plants that draw nitrogen out of the air and "fix" it in their roots, usually acquired by planting cover crops.

Natural sources of phosphorus are bonemeal and the rock phosphates.

Natural sources of potash are wood ashes, greensand, Sul-Po-Mag (sulfate of potash magnesia. Sul-Po-Mag is a rich source of potassium, sulfur, and magnesium). [Don't go crazy with the wood ashes.]

Natural sources of calcium are dolomite lime, or gypsum, a calcium/sulfur material. Ask which is best for your soil. Bone meal is also a good source.

If your soil is low in magnesium, a light application of plain old Epsom Salts will do fine, as long as you don't overdo it. A half-cup scattered over the entire root zone of a blueberry plant every two or three years is enough. MORE IS NOT BETTER!

Trace minerals, without getting into specific needs, can often be supplied by kelp meals and fish emulsions.

Most vegetables are annuals (you have to start fresh each year). Asparagus, artichokes and rhubarb are about the only perennial vegetables (grow for several or many years). Tree and bush fruits tend to last for quite a few years, strawberries tend to produce well for only 2 or 3 years, but will sometimes survive for longer. Tomatoes and peppers are really perennials, but we treat them as annuals because they are tropicals and don't tolerate cold at all.

Pre-started plants can be easier for beginners, as you have to start many popular things like tomatoes, peppers, leeks and melons indoors (or in a greenhouse) from two to eight weeks ahead of actual outdoor planting, and without good light they just won't do well inside. You can buy just as many plants as you need. Look around for local small nurseries, as they tend to grow more varieties than the big-box stores, and they can answer many more questions.

Save money by buying seeds of beans, peas, corn, radishes and salad plants, which are pretty easy. Carrots can't be transplanted, need a good, deep non-rocky seed bed and have to be kept moist for 2-3 wks for germination, but if you get it right, they're a very good crop for growing at home.

Potatoes are excellent for planting in new ground (not previously planted to crops; turned over sod, rototilled weeds, etc). Get egg-sized 'seed potatoes' from a nursery.

Peas & beans: Pay attention to whether you're buying BUSH peas and beans or POLE varities, which need something to climb on and can grow ten feet tall. Put your supports for pole types in before or at the same time as planting. Bush varieties are usually planted about 2" apart and they all hold onto each other for support.

Peas, spinach and lettuce can be planted as soon as the soil is thawed. Here in the PNW, peas should be planted in the first two weeks of February. SNOW is okay as long as the soil isn't frozen.

Lettuce: don't make the mistake of planting it all at once. How many plants can you eat a week? Plant just a few every week.

Spinach likes short, cool days, and goes to seed in long, warm ones.

Corn: always plant in blocks (5x5 plants) instead of long single rows. If you've got the space, plant an early variety, a mid-season variety, and a late-season variety. As soon as the oak leaves are the size of a squirrel's ear, the soil is warm enough to plant the early corn. Ten days later, plant the mid-season corn, and ten days after that plant the late-season corn. Corn is a food-hog, so you'll need fairly good soil, plus manure, compost or side-dressing with diluted fish emulsion.

Plants grow, flower, grow fruit, then go to seed and die. You MUST keep harvesting to keep the plants producing, ven if you just compost the harvest; if you don't, they will think the season is over, go to seed and croak.

Once plants are up and growing, mulch heavily, gradually building up the mulch layer to eight or even twelve inches deep, depending on the plant. Ignore everyone who says tomatoes and peppers (etc) need bare soil for heat from the sun. The constant stress of dry/wet/dry/wet bothers them more than shaded soil.

Mulch is nearly anything that is plant material: straw (shredded dry straw is wonderful), hay, weeds, grain husks, coffee grounds, cut grass (applied in thin layers or it rots too fast and stinks), leaves, pine straw, fir needles. Sawdust and wood chips are mulches too, but they require nitrogen to break down, and will take it from the soil (where the plants need it). They are best used as pathway materials (on top of a thick layer of newspaper or some cardboard to smother the weeds), or put just on top of the soil in a thick layer around shrubs and trees. The nitrogen-robbing only applies to these last where the wood product actually touches the soil, and shrubs don't usually have the high nitrogen requirements that vegetables need for their short growing season. Pine and fir needles, and oak leaves, are quite acidic, and do very well for mulching blueberries and potatoes, but also do well mixed with other mulches.

Mulches can be all one material if you are limited in what you can get, or they can be mixed, or they can be layered. Pull up a stray weed and lay it on top of the mulch, and it has become mulch. Mulch breaks down and feeds the soil, fast or slow, depending on the weather, so you have to add more to keep up the depth. Thin mulch allows sunlight to hit the soil and allows weeds to sprout, and also allows the soil to dry out, so keep it as deep as you can. Mulches aren't rocket science: keep it deep, keep applying it.

Compost isn't rocket science, either, it's just decomposed plant waste. Mother Nature has been doing it for millennia with her eyes closed. Shredded materials compost more quickly than large lumps, so it's best to put branches in a separate pile. Compost can be made from all one material like livestock manure or weeds, or from an extremely wide range of materials such as weeds, straw, moldy hay, grass clippings (again, keep them in thin layers), moldy alfalfa from your rabbits, poopy straw from your chickens, leaves, vegetable trimmings and parings, coffee grounds and tea bags, some paper (newspaper, office paper, cardboard egg cartons, but not to excess), pine needles, old fruit, more weeds, chopped up natural-fiber cloth (cotton, linen, wool), egg shells. With the exceptions in the following paragraph, if it came from the soil, it can usually be returned to the soil. When you think of it, scatter a shovel-load of soil over the compost pile, to add microbes, grit and minerals. If you know your soil is short in something, toss a handful of it into the compost occasionally.

Killing manure pathogens: Complete pathogen destruction is guaranteed by arriving at a temperature of 62C (143.6F) for one hour, 50C (122F) for one day, 46C (114.8F) for one week or 43C (109.4F) for one month. To heat up all parts of a compost pile (which will be hot in the center and cool on the outside), scrape off the outside materials and put them on the ground beside the original pile, then fork the rest of the contents on top. Doing this a few times will kill pathogens and most weed seeds.

Meat, fats and bones should be kept out of the compost pile if you will get all upset when a raccoon or opossum or neighbor's dog gets into the pile and spreads everything everywhere to get to them. They WILL compost, but they are best put into a covered, actively-working pile just to keep the work and frustration to the minimum. Treated wood/sawdust has no place in the vegetable garden. No toys, cans, glass, asphalt roofing, polyester hats, rubber boots, elastic, etc.

Like Blast said, the perfect garden doesn't exist. I can grow asparagus, but radishes, commonly known as the easiest veg to grow, seems to be beyond my capabilities.

How to Grow Vegetables, just click on your veggie of choice:

Improve pollination with wild bees:

Remineralizing the soil:

Harvesting rainwater (which is 20 times as pure as any groundwater)
(Note: if your area has acid rain, don't worry about it,
just hang a net bag of cheap limestone chips in your
collection container)

Permaculture (permanent agriculture)

Drip irrigation

Garden Web Seed Exchange, no money involved, if you say you're new to growing, many generous souls there will send you free seed, esp if you send them a stamped, self-addressed, PADDED envelope (you have to sign up, but it's free; if you pay, they say you don't get the annoying popup ads). Registering gives you access to all the forums.

Plants for a Future

And for cooking all your crops, make yourself a cheap solar cooker:

Posted by: wildman800

Re: first garden & heirloom seeds - 02/01/08 05:49 PM

Thanks for this info Susan,,,,This is why when you type, I read. Bo
Posted by: Loganenator

Re: first garden & heirloom seeds - 02/01/08 06:55 PM

Thanks Blast and Sue!

Excellent advice for turning sunshine into calories! smile

Posted by: Susan

Re: first garden & heirloom seeds - 02/01/08 07:05 PM

Thank you, Bo!

I forgot the bit about heirloom seeds. (oh, blab, blab, blab...)

Heirloom seeds are ALWAYS 'open-pollinated' seeds, called OP for short.

OP seeds are from plants that will make plants (mostly) like themselves IF they are not crossed with other varieties of the same type. An OP bean (for instance) can be crossed (accidentally or deliberately) with other beans of any kind, via insects, wind, birds, or pollen transfer from your clothes or tools. There will always be some variations within the same variety.

Heirloom seeds are those that the grower has been very careful not to cross with other varieties. Some heirlooms of the same kind have been taken to different parts of the country and maintained. Heirloom growers/savers keep an eye on their plants, and mark the best, earliest, biggest, sweetest, hottest or plain tastiest plant, and then save that seed and grow it again next year, again applying the grower's taste for what he considers 'best'. In this way, growers/savers have created sub-varieties of the same plant that are best suited for their particular climate. It is perfectly reasonable that a grower of 'Golden Bantam' corn in Michigan has created a slightly different variety of that particular corn, better suited to his climate, from a grower/saver who lives in Arizona, who has done the same for his climate.

Many heirloom plants have been carefully netted to prevent access by insects, and have been hand-pollinated by the growers.

The seed is the 'child', and it will grow as the breeding determines. If the pure-seed plant is crossed with another variety (desirable or not), this only affects the NEXT generation of seed, NOT the currently-growing fruit. The pure squash seed that I bought and planted last spring turned into exactly the squash that was advertised. But I am not saving the seeds because I had some gourd plants in the same yard, and I took no precautions against the pollen of the gourd crossing with the squash. If I did save the squash seed that was produced, it would be likely to produce a fruit that was nothing like what I planted and ate last year.

Heirloom and OP seeds both help to guarantee a wider genetic diversity, a 'bank account' of seed genes. Mankind can't know which genes are most likely to be beneficial in the future, so a wide genetic seed base can help to insure the continuation of as many genes as possible.*

OP seeds can be crossed to make new varieties or to create hybrids.

Hybrids are the results of crossing two or more varieties to create specific characteristics. In seed catalogs, hybrids are often referred to as "F-1 hybrids". The problem with creating hybrids is that you always need the same sequence/parents to produce the hybrid child. And there are several kinds of hybrids. Seeds from hybrid plants almost never 'breed true' to produce the same kind of plant as the hybrid parent, so are rarely worth saving.

Some people think hybrids are in the same class as genetically-modified plants. This isn't true. Hybrids, good, bad or indifferent are all created by simply crossing the pollen of one plant with the stigma of another. Insects and birds have been creating hybrids for millions of years. People have been doing the same for somewhat less time.

Genetic modification as defined by three sources on the Web:

"The alteration to an organism's genome by any number of methods, including inserting, transferring, or deleting genes or other DNA sequences." (

"Genetic modification shall mean modern biotechnology used to alter genetic material of living cells or organisms in order to make them capable of producing new substances or performing new functions." (

"... the process whereby a genetically modified organism is made in the laboratory. This involves making artificial or modified genetic material (GM constructs) which are inserted into the genomes of cells or embryos. ...

There are certain 'parties' who appear to be attempting to control the world food supply by forcing GM plants, animals and products onto people who don't want them, people who think that a severely limited world seedbase is a recipe for disaster (mass starvation), that GM creations are causing more problems than they are likely to ever solve, are far more expensive than advertised, and their pollen is spreading farther than the scientists promised they would, and are already contaminating related plants and varieties via worldwide wind pollination.

Posted by: UTAlumnus

Re: first garden & heirloom seeds - 02/02/08 06:26 AM

raspberry and blackberry bushes (the birds will feast probably)

Put a layer of netting over the bushes & let it drape to the ground. Depending on the size & placement of the bushes this will be a multiple person job but it's only once in the spring & fall. The birds will stay away after the first few times they land in it.