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Organizing seeds and planning planting

 
R Ranson
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Two interrelated questions for you:


How do you organize your seeds?
Do you sort them by category. All collards here, all beans there. Or perhaps you have a fancy file folder? How do you store them?


How do you organize your planting times? When you plan your planting schedule, do you follow the local seed catalogue? Or perhaps your family tradition? Or simply trial and error, record what works and do that in future years?

And two more questions, how do you choose which seeds you buy? Do you save your own seed, and if so, wanna tell us about how you store/organize them?

I know, I know, the questions are deliberately vague. I did that so that the conversation can develop organically (pun intended) and hopefully we can find inspiration in other peoples suggestions.


Our big challenge on the farm right now is that I've finally bulked up my seed saving so that many of the varieties don't fit in envelopes anymore. The last few years, I only saved enough seeds so that they could fill up two envelopes - one for next year and one as back up. But now, I decided that for the Staple Crops, I want to keep a lot more seeds for planting a lot more area. Especially because I want to do plant breeding, that makes more seed. Yet I still have a whole bunch of small amounts of seeds in envelopes. So how do I sort through so that the envelope seeds and the jars/big bag of seeds are sort of together?

And then there is the challenge of planing the planting schedule? The local seed catalogue, the most local planting data, is inaccurate for our location. I know some things can be started inside now. Some plants can even be started outside... maybe... it's worth trying them anyway. Like chickpeas and oats are known to grow well now, but also flax might do well.

Then we've decided to grow cabbage this year, but have no seed... so then we get to decide where to buy the seed from. Which variety is right for us? Which kind does well in our location? Who do we think worthy enough to support with our purchase? Or does the values of the company not matter if they are the only ones with the variety we want to buy?

Choices and decisions. I'm feeling overwhelmed. I would love some inspiration. What do you find works for you? What doesn't work for you?
 
Jennifer Smith
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I try to keep my seeds dorted by when to plant, peas and others first. My subcategories are zones, by house, in garden,in yard, orchard, mailbox, pastures...like that
 
Jennifer Smith
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Also some seeds will be in more than one place and that is good.
As for time start with catalog advise then jot down on folders which time/place did best with each kind of seed. I use sort of a shotgun effect. I throw a lot of seeds out and what grows well where.
 
John Polk
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Which kind does well in our location? Who do we think worthy enough to support with our purchase?


Given your location, I would consider Territorial Seed. They are based in Oregon (and have a Canadian division), They have a 44 acre Trial Garden in New London, OR where all seed varieties are trialed to make sure that they grow well 'West of the Cascades'.

The company was founded by Steve Solomon, and offers a wide variety of organic seed.
I have dealt with them for many years, and have never been disappointed.
 
R Ranson
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John Polk wrote:
Which kind does well in our location? Who do we think worthy enough to support with our purchase?


Given your location, I would consider Territorial Seed. They are based in Oregon (and have a Canadian division), They have a 44 acre Trial Garden in New London, OR where all seed varieties are trialed to make sure that they grow well 'West of the Cascades'.

The company was founded by Steve Solomon, and offers a wide variety of organic seed.
I have dealt with them for many years, and have never been disappointed.


Great recommendation. I ordered a seed catalogue (we are still very much old style and mostly decide our seed purchases based on paper catalogues). Can't wait to sit down next to the fire with a hot coco and read it.

Another seed company I adore on the West Coast here is Saltspring Island Seed. Dan has done a lot of work to promote and preserve open pollinated seeds. Also a lot of encouragement for people to save their own seeds. He also works closely with the Seed and plant sanctuary for Canada which I think is also a seed lending library.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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My organization method is akin to chaos theory, or successive approximation.

I save my own seeds from about 70 varieties of vegetables from around 55 species. So I have a lot of seeds. My seed 'packets' might consist of anything from a plastic bag containing a single super-special seed, to glass jars containing hundreds of thousands of seeds, to 5 gallon buckets full of seed.

For long term storage of bulky seeds like squash, beans, corn, or peas, they get stored in one or two quart jars on a shelf. Sometimes in one gallon jugs in the freezer.


For small seeds like tomatoes, peppers, etc, where there isn't much seed, and it isn't bulky, they get stored in plastic bags in trays. There are about 8 trays represented here. One contains only tomatoes, one contains okra, one contains seeds that people send me that I want to plant. One contains sibling-group packets of squash. Just enough for me to plant in the spring. The bulk squash seed is stored on the shelf. One contains odds and ends.


Because I am a plant breeder, I like to grow fresh seed every year, while maintaining an archive/backup copy of my garden. So packets of seed that have been to the field with me, and had some taken out for planting, and some left -over, get dumped into a bin. I may never look at those seeds again until I feed them to the chickens.


These are seeds that I'm working with today for germination testing... They can sit on the floor for a week while the test is in progress.


Bulk lots of beans and corn are stored in 5 gallon buckets with screw on lids.


I use lots of sizes of glass bottles in order to fit the amount of seeds being stored:


While it isn't obvious from the photos. I store seeds together by approximate planting date.. For example: The tomatoes, peppers, okra, tomatillos, and eggplant are stored together because I start them in the greenhouse some weeks before our last spring frosts.

The carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, chard, brassicas, spinach, and peas are stored together because I plant them in early spring.

The beans, squash, and melons are stored together because they are planted after all danger of frost.

I've been farming my whole life, so I wing it with planting dates based on experience and how the season is progressing.

My planting dates and crops are:

March 21st, or within a day or two of snow melt.
wheat/rye if I didn't already plant them in the fall.
Onion sets.
Direct seeded peas.
fava transplants, about 3 weeks old.
bok choi
spinach


mid-april
cold weather crops like
brassicas,
carrots,
parsnips,
small onion transplants and/or more sets
fennel,
beets,
chard,
Turnips
and perhaps frost tolerant trials of crops that are totally out of season like corn, tomatoes, etc.
Start the tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse.
Shortly before/after dig up the root pit and get the seed crops planted.


May 5th
Corn planting day, and potato tubers.
Also an early (possibly-sacrificial) crop of zucchini/crookneck.

June 5th, about 10 days after average last frost.
Day for planting squash, beans, melons, and a second crop of sweet corn.
Set tomato, okra, eggplant, and peppers transplants into the field.

Some years I plant a third crop of sweet corn about June 15th.

I don't have my planting dates for greenhouse things memorized since this is only my second year with an honest greenhouse. I end up calculating those. I hope that I can find last year's notes. I did a really good job of having things ready on time.

I grow my own seeds. If I don't currently have a species, or I want to add some diversity to it, I swap with someone. I attend local seeds swaps. I visit friends that grow seed. I swap with Internet pals. If I buy seeds, it's from a human being that grew the seeds on her own farm. I decided some years ago that I do not like the corporate model of commerce. So I don't buy seeds from big companies. I'm not going to throw away my line of open pollinated Sungold tomatoes just because it originated with The Corporation. The plant itself is pure regardless of it's origins.

I used to keep detailed records. Eventually I was spending more time keeping records than growing crops. I realized that I could grow twice as much food if I stopped keeping records. That was an easy choice to make and I haven't regretted it. I wasn't referring back to the records anyway. And if I did, there were too many records to sort through to find what I wanted. Photography of the garden has become my primary documentation method. I might write down something from time to time, but only the most critical things.

I save most seeds in bulk... For example, I grew about 300 varieties of beans this year. Most of the seed got saved into a single 5 gallon bucket. I saved perhaps 50 varieties into packets containing around 30 seeds each. That will let me plant them together next summer, so that I can explore the variety more fully next summer.

I grew about 200 varieties of tomatoes this year. I saved perhaps 30 varieties as sibling-groups, meaning that all the seed in a packet came from the same mother. The other 170 varieties got saved only as bulk seed.

Genetic diversity works for me. Inbreeding purity doesn't. First thing I do when I start growing a new species is induce a few different varieties to promiscuously pollinate. The variety that is 'right' for me is the one that grew well enough to produce seed in my garden last year.
 
Casie Becker
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I only garden on the home gardening level, but for store bought seeds I keep them in photo albums. Each picture slot can hold packet of seed and I can see the front and back of the package without removing them. I have them grouped roughly by family and cool or warm season crops (all warm season beans together, all squash and melons together, edible flowers, and so on)

I'm just getting started on saving my own seed, but for small amounts I can wrap them in a coffee filter, label the filter and then slip that into the photo sleeve.

I use a local nurseries planting calendar and recommendations from Central Texas Gardner (local PBS program) to decide my planting schedule. I choose varieties through a combination of checking for reviews from similar climates, getting recommendations from other local gardens, and the occasional item that I just have to try. (This is my third year attempting runner beans, maybe this time)
 
Kj Koch
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I grew up with my dad's buy new seed and plans every year theory and just recently started to get into saving my own seeds. I keep most of them in envelopes in the freezer or ziplocks. I have three glass jars with sunflower, pumpkin and a squash mixture that did very well last year. Seed that I buy comes from a variety of places such as catalogs, the local feed store and even Walmart. I've also been known to take leftover produce and fruit that might not be so fresh just for the seed. What few plants we still buy come from the Amish.

Realy liking this topic!
 
R Ranson
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Late night seed sorting. Had a bit more wine than is wise to be on the internet, so I'll keep this short and write more tomorrow.

Here's a picture of how my brain works for planning the garden/farm.
IMG_20160117_203710.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20160117_203710.jpg]
 
Thelma Mc Gowan
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I purchase seeds from Pinetree seeds...they are on the east coast. I like them because they sell smaller pkgs for a cheaper price.....territorial seeds add up too quick for my budget.
But i save many seeds and i am very lazy at it.....most jars sit on the back counter all winter, then i toss them out in the dirt in the spring. I am always surpirised at the vitality of the seeds....they want to grow, and they don't really care how I store them.

I use an old eight track cassette box to store my seed envelopes in. it is the perfect size

several bean variety
mustard
kale
boc choy
cilantro
spinach
swiss chard
corn
peas
broccoli raab
parseley



IMG_20160117_211110.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20160117_211110.jpg]
 
Jackie Sawicky
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We've been saving our seed packets & plastic baggies in an old floppy disc holder, but just grew out of it. Now, we keep all our seeds in a draw in my office (the whole drawer is seeds)
I sort seeds by family, height, days to maturity, etc.

Working on putting all of the info into an excel spreadsheet, so I can have a greater ability to plan the next seasons & successive plantings. This is a major undertaking, but I'll have a database of all the seeds I use and when I save & sell them, it's easier to populate the seed labels if everything's already typed out! Hopefully, this will give me a really easy way to pull up what I should be planting at any given time. We'll see!

Here in North Texas, Zone 8, we can grow almost all year long. I am DETERMINED to figure out a solid planting schedule to adopt & go by, always having many things ready to harvest & eat at all times. Planning is the hardest thing for me! I've ready The Market Gardener & am now reading the Urban Farmer and there's a lot of great info, BUT, the regions are totally off...

Good luck! Will be watching this thread for other peoples' processes!
seedbank.jpg
[Thumbnail for seedbank.jpg]
Seed bank we just grew out of
MotherwortSeeds.jpg
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Motherwort seeds saved from the fall
blackbeanseeds.jpg
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Cherokee Trail of Tears Black Beans
 
R Ranson
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That was a good night. I got everything but the legumes inventoried.

I started by getting some small boxes and filling each with different categories of seeds. For example, I have one box for cold weather peas and beans, another for warm weather beans, one for tomatoes and nightshade family, one for things I eat as green leaves... &c.

The next job is to write down what I actually have and compare it to the list of what I want to grow this year.

One of my major goals is to find or create delicious varieties of staple crops and then bulk up the seeds so that I could plant a quarter acre (for a future farm) and have enough reserve seed for back up and eating. Starting with one or two seed packets, or as few as four seeds (from the Seed Zoo) and then growing and growing until I have enough for a whole field. This is taking a while. For the first few years, I can use paper envelopes to store the seeds. But now some of the seed collections are getting a bit big, so I am using glass jars.



I'm also trying to decide on planting timing. This year is showing all the signs of being a mild spring... so far. I think it's worth trying a few plantings early, maybe even a month early. Keeping back up seed in case of disaster.

What I have here is a chart for planting dates in Vancouver, put out by one of our local seed companies. Also a few books like Seed to Seed. The blue journal is last year's planting dates and (when I remembered to record it) harvest dates. There is also a pile of different seed catalogues for thoughts on when other parts of North America plant their crops.

The next job is to record the planting dates on a calender. To make a plan, and for once in my life, follow the plan. We can write on the calender when we harvest as well. The theory is by having a dedicated calender instead of random scraps stuffed in a journal, we can make better guesses on when to plant in future years.


I'm really enjoying reading your guyses methods. Thanks for sharing.
 
John Polk
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I think it's worth trying a few plantings early, maybe even a month early.

If you are west of the Cascades, a variation on this is a late planting, which becomes an early planting next spring:

SNOW PEAS: Snow pea plants can overwinter in your climate. Plant your last crop of them about 4-5 weeks before your expected first frost. They will put on some good vegetation, and a nice root system. The frost will put them into dormancy. Next spring, when the soil warms up enough, they will break dormancy, and resume growing where they left off last autumn. Watch carefully for this break in dormancy, as it is also the signal to plant your first spring crop of snow peas. Last years planting will give you a harvest about a month before this years first planting.
 
R Ranson
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Mmmm... overwintering peas. I like it.

Part of the planning for my garden is that I have to plan now for growing winter. I need to have the space to start and grow the winter crops before the frosts hit. Most people around here don't seem to realize this but next winters harvest starts this winter's January.

For winter I grow (so far):
  • Kale (plant Mar through Aug)
  • Leeks (plant Jan-Feb)
  • Fava beans (plant Oct-Feb / harvest in summer)
  • Cabbage (start July-Aug)
  • Chard (start April-July)
  • Rye (plant Sep)
  • Barley (plant Sep)
  • Garlic - plant Sep-Oct / Feb-Mar


  • This year I hope to try chickpeas, flax, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, and now snow peas next year. This year, I just ran out of room.

    If I want to grow my cauliflower overwinter, I need to make certain I have enough room in Aug to plant out my starts AND that this space be far away from other plants that attract the same bugs. Year 'round gardening takes a bit of planning. It's very different from my Grandfather's method of planting everything out on April 20th and wait to harvest.

    An excellent book for planning your winter garden if you live on the coast is Year-Around Garvest: winter gardening on the Coast by Linda Gilkeson
     
    Su Ba
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    1) How do you organize your seeds?
    I sort them by type....beans, corn, peas, etc. Beans is such a big category for me that I break that group down into bush snap, pole snap, dry, Lima, misc. Each type group gets stored in a ziplock gallon baggies. Each variety gets stored in their own sealed 4 oz. coffee bags (I sell coffee thus have access to retail coffee bags of various sizes). Seeds are stored in my refrigerator. But they are starting to hog my refrigerator space, so I'm planning on dedicating a frig just for the seed storage. I save seeds from many varieties, but still buy seed as needed. Purchased seed stays in their own pouches if moisture proof. If in paper envelops, I transfer the seeds to the mylar coffee bags and seal them.

    2) How do you organize your planting times?

    I'm fortunate to be able to grow most things year around. But some crops are seasonal when it comes to planting. In some cases it has to do with the length of day, such as with yacon and bulbing onions. Sometimes it's temperature, for example soybeans grow better if I wait until the day temperatures warm up and stabilize. I've tried planting according to moon charts, Hawaiian traditions, local lore, but the best results I discovered by trial and error.

    3) how do you choose which seeds you buy?

    I like to experiment, so I try different new ones every year. But I look for traits that I've learned preform better for me, such as "germinates in cool soil", or "resistant to powdery mildew". Even if they don't feature the preferred traits, I still try them, but instead of ordering a big packet I'll try a small one and see what happens. For example, this year I'm trying Oregon Giant snow pea. I ordered a pound of seed instead of a small packet. I also am trying a new tomato, but only ordered a small packet since it didn't feature lots of disease resistance.

    While I do keep records, I don't go crazy about it. I'd rather be working out on the homestead than working at a desk. So I just keep short notes on the few details that are important to me. The rest of the time I go with what is stored in my head (and at my age, that's not much!), and gut feeling. As long as I have plenty of food to eat, trade, sell, and feed my livestock....that's good enough.
     
    Ann Torrence
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    I organize my seeds by planting week. I cut up some old file folders into cards just slightly taller than the seed packets, and wrote the number of weeks before the spring frost on them. Celery and leeks are rubber-banded to the -12 card, tomatoes to the -8 card, etc. The cards and packets are stored in a plastic box for photos I found at the craft store. The card-seed packet assemblies stand upright in the box.

    For succession planting, which I try to do for greens, beets, cilantro, etc., I dump the packets into a bead organizer I found at the craft store. I can carry the little vials in my pocket and shake out a few here or there, but just the ones I need. The most laborious was labeling each vial with a pencil and lab tape so I know what's in each vial in the case. Looks like blogged about it once upon a time. And we had a similar thread last year with even more ideas.
     
    Grace Gierucki
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    Quick question, I no longer have room to store my seeds in the fridge or freezer, would my canning pantry be acceptable? It's dark and coolish. I will be storing in glass jars. Also, are there any garden seeds that MUST be stored in the fridge/freezer to maintain viability for 2 years? I seed save but some stuff only gets saved every other season. Thanks
     
    R Ranson
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    Great question. I bet there will be several different answers to this question. I can tell you my thoughts, and I'm looking forward to what others have to say.

    I haven't tried storing my seeds in the fridge or freezer yet. My rationale was that my ancestors didn't, so I don't need to. But now I'm reconsidering. These days I have some seeds that I would like to store for more than a few years, maybe even a decade, so I might take a few of my best seeds, dry them extra well, put them in an airtight container in the freezer.

    So far, and I'm relatively new to this compared to some of the others around here, but so far, most of my seeds keep over a 90% germination rate for at least five years.

    Beans and peas seem to store just fine at room temp, or a bit colder.

    Lettice I'm having trouble with, but I'm new to saving lettuce seeds. It seems to loose it's potency very early, only after a couple of years.

    Flax is another one I'm struggling with. There is a lot of different information as to how long it will keep. Some say 2 years at best, yet others say 10. I've observed after about four years, the germination rate plummets... but I didn't gather that seed, so I don't know how it was kept before I got my hands on it. So it might have been something in the harvest, or the storage, or the fact that I plant it much earlier in the year than they did, and the plant isn't adapted for my growing methods.

    I think this year, I'll be putting a bunch of flax and lettuce in the freezer. Also, I want to get some foundation grade seed for pop-chickpeas, if I can find it, which I'll probably put the bulk of it in the freezer.

    Looking forward to reading how others use the freezer/fridge to store their seeds.
     
    Larry Noel
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    Thanks for creating this thread. I am an extreme newbee (hands not even dirty yet but this spring will be the test) and a New Orleans city boy transplanted to the hills of NE Tennessee. I have been preparing for this transition for a couple of years and have been busy collecting lots of varieties of seeds. Every time I read an article about a special plant, I would search and get some seeds for it, prepare a document about how to grow, use, save, and process it, and then save that document for future use. I am now printing out all of those documents and organizing them (two 4" binders full and printing) and sorting the seeds, but now comes the task of making sense of and sorting all of that bulk. The seeds had all been thrown into an insulated soft ice chest for all of that time (a two six pack size now bursting at the seams) as they were collected and now I am actually going through that mess and trying to sort it out, and trying to figure out how to correlate it with the documents, and then sort out some sort of planting order. I agree with the statement on this thread (sorry I don't remember who said it) but I don't believe that seeds need to be refrigerated or frozen because our ancestors stored seeds forever without those at their disposal. I think that the main thing is to keep them dry and out of the light and air, and to know which ones needs special scarification or handling before planting. You may pay with a diminished germination rate, but just a few successful plants and there will be a copious amount of seed for the next generation.

    Like I said, I am a city boy, and I am very inexperienced with the whole "gardening" concept (but very well researched) but I am ready for the challenge and about to give it a go. I am 60 years old, with a lot of bad habits but general good health and stamina, but I am sitting on 100 acres (mostly steep slope deep woods - great "perimeter defense") and I have about 1 acre that is a south facing gentle slope on which to build swales on contour with hugle beds following on contour. This area is protected on the north by a higher steep hill full of trees and additionally water fed by the roofs of the house and the work shop (I make hand carved wood signs and it is heated by a rocket mass heater) as well as the drive on the west and the barn on the east, so water is naturally conserved and concentrated just where I want it, I just need to create the swales and hugles to fully utilize it. This garden area has been neglected for about 6 years (but is very fertile and once very productive) and is severely overgrown, and my father in law (whom I inherited this property from) had the bright idea several years ago to carpet the garden in several areas to keep the weeds down, so I basically have a nightmare on my hands, but I am up to the task. I only wish I had a Bobcat or tractor, a shovel and pick along with a scythe are now my best friends). There are several old dead fallen apple trees, one dead peach tree, and a huge pussy willow in the center of the garden that shades a lot of it, but to me that is all prime hugle bed fixins pretty much where I will need them. I have an extensive land surveying background and while the weeds are down from winter I am surveying the contours and designing the swales and water flows. A nice laser would be nice, but I am doing it with a grid system and an "A" frame level with a 10' spread, solo.

    I have been researching for about four years or more now, and now it is time for the rubber to meet the road. I am grateful for having found this site, grateful to Paul for having the vision and fortitude to see it go live, and to all of you for all of the great info that is so freely shared. I have been lurking for a wile now and the amount of information that is here is mind blowing, but I felt that I wanted to post on this thread that is so relevant to my situation. I plan on sharing pictures and stories of my "adventures on the hill" (AKA "The Hermitage") as time goes on.

    Right now I have my seeds sorted into 5"x 9"manila envelopes and I have them sorted into "beans" (getting quite full); "corn" (also overflowing); carrots; tomatoes (it is a good thing these are small because I have many different kinds); etc, and I have gone through a 100 count pack of envelopes and still need a few more. As of right now, the seeds are in their envelopes and they are alphabetically sorted, and the documents have also been alphabetically sorted, and it is time to correlate. This thread has given me insight as to how many seeds will be forthcoming from the garden in the future and the extreme need to get a system together ASAP and then stick to it. Thanks for all of the suggestions from the experienced ones and I will take them all into consideration.
     
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