Welcome to the March newsletter. To grow a sustainable garden, we need to make thoughtful informed choices in tune with our values, time, resources and energy. If we can’t sustain our garden, it won’t sustain us!
Sustainable Gardening Tips for March
This month I’m sharing ways to garden more sustainably with seeds. Within a seed is the gift of life. Every tiny seed gives birth to a new plant. Amazing! Food crop seeds have an especially high value. Every gardener has a role to play in preserving the biodiversity of their own home seed bank. If we are to have a resilient, healthy garden with plants that have the characteristics to survive climate challenges, it’s vital to select and save seeds wisely. What we sow, we reap!
“The seeds that bring forth life and food for our planet and its people are indispensable for the continuity of all living things. Thus our care for seeds is one of the most vital things we can do amid our many challenges of the present.” — Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-director, Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University and Emerging Earth Community
How to Choose Seeds for Sowing and Saving
One of the vital steps in growing a sustainable garden is choosing the types of seeds to plant. Biodiversity builds resilience. Certified organic, open-pollinated, heirloom seeds and these types that are grown in home gardens without chemicals are safe to grow and save seeds from. They will grow ‘true-to-type’, like their parent plants. Safe seeds have inbuilt DNA from generations past.
The seed banks we have today are the result of dedicated gardeners who carefully selected their best crops to save seeds from. The tallest. Strongest. Those that had superior size or flavour. I’m grateful to these past gardeners and farmers for the work they did on our behalf. What we eat today is a result of their efforts. Food for thought! Farmers and gardeners a hundred years ago had a significantly greater diversity of plant varieties than we do today. Sadly, we are losing vast numbers of crop varieties to genetically modified industrial monocultures. Every seed we save makes a difference.
Safe seeds are not the only options in the market. When I first started saving seeds in 2009, I had a LOT to learn! Hybrid, genetically modified (GMO) and chemically treated seeds have no place in my organic garden. Watching Genetic Roulette is a great summary of information. Whilst hybrids have their place, especially in ornamental gardens, they are not suitable for home gardeners to save seeds from. That’s because they have been bred from different plant parents so you won’t know what you’re getting.
Before purchasing seeds, if you want to be able to save them and avoid varieties that can be harmful to health, read the description carefully. Visit the ‘About Us’ or ‘About our Seed’ page to find out more about the philosophy and source of the seeds you intend to purchase. We can support seed sustainability by buying from companies that help preserve seed diversity. Look for those selling traditional varieties that have been handed down for generations. These heirloom open-pollinated seeds help to sustain our seed diversity and food security. Small decisions with a big impact. Here’s a list of companies around the world with heirloom, open-pollinated and organic seed production.
My goal as a seed steward is to source and save seed varieties that have robust flavours, aromas and colours, pest and disease resistance, high yields and are drought-hardy. I also look for varieties that are compact for small gardens, mature earlier or later to extend the harvest and those well adapted to my region. Why? So my garden is resilient, productive, easy to maintain and I have fewer problem plants.
Positive Seed Saving Steps
1. I encourage you to start saving seeds from your garden and swap them with other local gardeners. These varieties will adapt well to your local conditions. An easy-to-save crop like lettuce is an ideal variety to start with. At least you’ll be sustainable in one food crop! If you want to upskill with an easy-to-follow guide, check out the Seed Saving & Collecting Guide.
2. Contribute your seeds to a local seed saving group or seed bank.
Download your FREE printable Seed Packet Template.
3. Join a seed library. Seed ‘libraries’ have recently started up in our local community. These are a great initiative. Library members can not only borrow books but also take locally grown seeds home to sow and save. At the end of the season, they return them to their library to share with others in the community. If you haven’t got a seed library in your community, why not get one started? From little things, BIG things grow!
Learn more about rekindling the lost art of seed saving.
“There is no more beautiful gift from nature than the seed — and its protection is vital to our survival.” – Vandana Shiva
Annual crops may ‘bolt to seed’ or progress to the flowering stage of maturity, in hot or dry weather, or just at the end of their natural life. If you don’t get a chance to collect the seed, the plant may naturally disperse them by wind, animals or birds. When you move your compost into the garden, there may still be viable seeds in it with the perfect growing environment.
You may see seedlings popping up in places you never sowed them! These ‘volunteer’ seedlings often make the best plants. They have saved you the time and effort of seed raising. The resulting seedlings are often strong and healthy. What do you do with them?
- Let the plant grow where it is. The soil and conditions were right at the time, so it is likely to survive there. Tomatoes and pumpkins are common volunteers from compost.
- If it’s not in a convenient spot, transplant it to another position in your garden. I often find lettuce seedlings blown by the wind in the middle of the lawn where they will get mown over. I gently lift them out with a kitchen fork and tuck them into a pot instead.
- If the seedling really is unwanted, you can remove it. But instead of throwing it away, sustainable options are to compost it; add to a liquid fertiliser bucket; or use it as mulch. Recycle the nutrients and the plant will still be of value in your garden.
- If you have a thick cover of self-sown seedlings like the rocket in my garden below, you can use them as a short-term living mulch or cover crop. If they are growing closely together, you can:
- Thin them out and use as compost ingredients;
- Cut the seedlings back to soil level and turn them in to add nitrogen and nutrients like a cover crop;
- Just ‘chop and drop’ as mulch.
Resources to Help you Grow Food from Seed
These are a few articles to dig into:
- Growing Your Own Food from Seed
- Seed Starting Guide: Quick Tips for Starting Seeds Successfully
- 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Raising Seeds
- How to Prevent and Fix Leggy Seedlings
- Can You Sow Out of Date Seeds?
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What to Plant Now in Subtropical SE QLD
It’s the last month of summer! Heat, humidity, dry spells, storms + rain, sometimes! A challenging growing season in our climate. Time to protect your crops from pests and a wide variety of weather conditions. Download your March Gardening Tips PDF.
The Vegetables Growing Guide is a reference chart to help you grow 68 of the most popular vegetables in Australia and New Zealand climate zones. Includes information on companion planting, making compost, soil and moon planting.
What to Plant Now in other Locations
Click here for what to plant and when. Or visit Gardenate.com (USA, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa)
NUTRIENT PROFILE: Nitrogen
Nitrogen (N) is one of the macronutrients or key elements needed for healthy green vegetative growth. Nitrogen is in all plant cells and chlorophyll. All leafy green vegetables need a higher proportion of nitrogen in the soil to support their leaf growth. However, too much nitrogen (especially when applied as a fertiliser) can cause sappy, leggy growth. This often quickly attracts sapsucking insects like aphids. Insufficient nitrogen in the soil often shows up in the colour of the leaf. Leaves gradually lose their deep green and become pale or yellow. The older leaves may start to turn brown or the plant might have stunted growth. As nitrogen is a water-soluble mineral, long periods of rain or overwatering can cause a deficiency as it leaches quickly.
Ways to add nitrogen to your soil include adding aged manure, compost, fresh leafy organic matter or blood and bone (from animal by-products that have been broken down). Another option is to grow a legume cover crop (e.g. clover, peas or beans). These cover crops contain carbon and other vital nutrients in their leaves and nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the root zone help convert nitrogen into a form plants can take up. Take a look at your plants this week to see if they might be needing nitrogen.
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If you are still taking potluck and sowing at any time, your results will likely vary! Some plants might thrive while others fail, bolt to seed, wither or seeds never germinate. Adjusting the timing can make the difference between a productive garden and a frustrating one. It may help to learn more about the benefits of moon gardening. You’ll wish you’d done it sooner!
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I look forward to sharing more news and ways to grow good health next month.
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