When do we start these seeds anyway (#2)?

We are spending some time with students these days exploring fairly inscrutable language on seed packs discussing when to plant the seeds and whether in containers indoors or in the garden soil. We do this each year partly because the information the exercise reveals useful information. The grower who puts tomato seeds in the soil in April or who sows onion seeds in July will be disappointed.

But we also like that this is a great way to start conversations about biodiversity, the amazing adaptations that evolution makes possible and the havoc that climate change might cause. The activity is also a bit of a reading lesson. Depending on the particular seed, for example, the student gardener might question his or her own grasp of the English language when encountering the phrase “as soon as the soil can be worked.”

Maybe you have been stumped by that. John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds kindly explains in a pitch the other day to buy its seeds:

“You might think this means as soon as the ground has thawed and you can push a shovel into the soil, usually when the soil has warmed to about 45°F. But it’s not quite that simple.

“A long, rainy or snowy winter will leave most garden beds quite soggy as they warm up. So even though your garden soil may be thawed, you’ll want to wait until the soil has had time to drain away all of that extra moisture so that it’s not a muddy mess when you start digging and raking to prepare your beds. Seeds planted in soil that is too wet will rot. When you push your shovel into the soil to see if it’s time to plant, it should not pull up clumps of wet soil. It should emerge relatively clean.

“Once you’ve determined that your soil has thawed, warmed and drained, it’s time to rake out those beds, add any needed amendments and get sowing!”

We can hardly wait.

–Bill Stoneman

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