Moldy Seeds and other Lessons Learned

Seeds expire? What?  You can’t just leave them in any old container in a damp and cold space all winter and expect to use them the following year?  Who knew?

Clearly you can tell I’m new to starting plants from seed.  Upon opening up my trusty seed box (Kermit the frog metal lunch box), which I kept outside all winter on my potting bench in our cold and wet NW climate, I was almost knocked over by the smell, and sight, of some very moldy seeds.

Even though that was a disappointing shock, it also presented an opporunity to start over this year (recurring theme in my life) with a new batch of seeds and little more experience.  To that end, let’s start with a review and update of the original plan set forth last year as outlined in my Mini-Project:  Learning from Seed post.

Mini-Project Name:  Learning from Seed

Project Start:  April 2012

Goal (RESULT):  Grow 90% of the veggies this season from seeds (MET – Thanks only to my prolific Sun Gold tomatoess, they completely skewed the numbers.)

Objectives (RESULTS):

  1. Have more appreciation for what happens before I buy my plants “ready to go” (OBJECTIVE MET – I now totally and completely appreciate the ability to buy healthy starts at my local garden center.)
  2. Grow plants I can’t typically find at the local garden store (NOT SO MUCH – Unfortunately my more exotic veggies did not survive my neglect – turns out they are harder to grow – who knew?)
  3. Practice Patience (UMMM)
  4. Save Money (COMPLETE FAILURE – Besides my 4 awesome Sun Gold tomato plants, some radish and beets that were started outside, and my herbs and flowers, I had to buy veggie starts for everything else.  And to compound the failure I didn’t care for my leftover seeds and had to throw them all out this year!)

The “Insiders”

OK…so perhaps starting 247 plants indoors is a bit ambitious…here are the results.

  • Marigold & Alyssum (SUCCESS – These fall into the “Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy” category.)
  • Basil & Sage (FAILURE – They Started out great in the grow pods but then stunted in the ground.)
  • Thyme & Oregano (JURY STILL OUT – They disliked their 1st location so I moved these from pots into the ground and they finally took hold.  They wintered over so I will watch them this year.)
  • Chives (SUCCESS – These are a fantastic herb, they wintered over and grow great in pots, although I really don’t need many so a package of seeds was overkill.)
  • Oak Leaf Lettuce (COMPLETE FAILURE – I moved these outside too early.)
  • Spacemaster Cucumber (COMPLETE FAILURE –  These started out fine in the pods but then stunted in ground.  Although the one I gave to my Mom grew great…operator error?)
  • Onions and Leeks (PARTIAL SUCCESS – I used these as companion plants. They fulfilled that part of their mission but they never did mature into something worth eating.  I think they were crowded out.)
  • Black Tula & Tumbling Juniper Tomato (PARTIAL SUCCESS – These never really did mature, I think I put them out too early and they got “stressed” but I did get some decent fruit that made a yummy sauce  – see Saucy!)
  • Sun gold Tomato (MY SHINNING STARS – although I only grew four and these are VERY easy to find as starts…not really worth starting from seed.)

The “Outsiders”

My outdoor seed starting results were much more impressive.  I attribute this to not needing to transplant the pods, which didn’t work so well once in the ground, and that I used a square foot gardening template to place my seeds.  I also believe that the type of template I used encouraged me to the use the right amount of seed starter soil and easily plant the seeds at the correct depth.

  • Beets (OK – Only about 25% matured, this could have been due to the location and planting too deep)
  • Carrots  (FAILED – These didn’t mature , my lack of patience may have played a role here.  Plus I planted these prior to learning about the square foot gardening technique so I may have planted them too close together.)
  • Mesclun Mix (FAILED – I started these outside too early.)
  • Plum & Red Radishes (SUCCESS – Plus I learned hot to make awesome tarragon pickled radishes!)
  • Snap Peas (SUCCESS – freshly picked and steamed peas is hard to beat!)

Seed Plan 2013 – Guiding Principles:

  • I will only grow lettuce from starts
  • I will resist the urge to buy 20 different types of tomato seeds when I can only realistically fit 8 mature plants in my yard
  • I will focus ONLY on those special plants I can’t buy as starts
  • I will be patient and let my slower growing root vegetables fully mature before picking
  • I will share seeds
  • I will store any important, left over seeds, properly…sorry Kermit


Gratitude Moment: A Child’s First Seed

Just when I thought gardening could not bring me more pleasure…insert child!  Ok, maybe not ANY child, but it’s certainly true of gardening with my niece.  I had a little taste of this last year when my neighbor’s little girl “helped me” with the bamboo extraction project….which elevated the experience from pure drudgery to something more as she laughed with joy as she repeatedly climbed and slipped down a pile of dirt.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to introduce my niece to gardening.  I’m not sure how much she really understood but you could see the wonder and excitement in her eyes as we gathered our tools, seed packets, and pots and started playing the dirt.

SFS1The first project was to fill her pot with dirt. After she chose her seeds she soon realized she needed a bigger pot, which was even more exiting because she got to select another pot and move more dirt!


Then she used her brownie pan as her square foot garden guide.  Given the size of the seeds she was actually placing 1 or 2 seeds per slot was impossible…which really wasn’t the point…it was fun just trying ( a perfect lesson of enjoying the process over results).


With the seeds placed and the pot watered she chose the perfect spot and placed her label.  Then we put away our tools and started our clean-up (of course while singing the “clean-up” song).


I can’t tell you how good it felt to introduce my niece to gardening and to show her how to plant her first seeds.  The gift for me was seeing life revealed through her new eyes.  Everything became magical…from picking the tools from the wonderous array of options hanging in the potting bench area, picking the seeds from the pile of colorful options in the seed box, to the amazement of just moving gravel with Aunt Cathy’s rake.

It can’t be said enough how much we can learn from children.  I am so lucky to be exposed to these lessons through my nieces.  When life becomes overwhelming, when work becomes stressful, when I start to “worry” about the future instead of “experiencing” the present moment – all I need to do is visit my nieces –  and pay attention.  If I do this with the open heart and mind of a child, I always come away with a different perspective and a renewed love of life.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

– Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki

Square Foot Gardening Templates

I ran across a blog the other day that was touting the benefits of making your own square foot gardening template out of left over plywood.  Great idea I thought…but somehow, between the piles and piles of wood I have, I didn’t have any random pieces of plywood.

by Chiots Run

I really didn’t have anything that would work.   I gave up on the idea for a bit and then ran across a comment on that same blog that suggested using a muffin tin for a template.  Brilliant!  I love it when I can use kitchen type things for multiple purposes.  The result?  Perfection!

In the photos above, I used the standard muffin tin for beets and the brownie pan (in this case it’s silicon) for radishes.   I just depressed the pan into the soil the desired depth, dropped in my seed and put a handful of seed starting mix on top.  Done!

I haven’t tried square foot gardening before so I’m excited to see how it works.  The OCD part of me LOVES the “order” inherent in the system!  Let me know what creative templates you’ve come up with and/or your experience with square foot gardening!

Also, if you are interested in building raised beds, you find find the design I used (bed partly shown above)  here!