She who dies with the most seeds wins

Seed catalogs for 2010 start arriving in November

A recent blog post from Dee at Red Dirt Ramblings has reminded me that gardeners tend to be seed, bulb and plant hoarders. We buy more than we need. Well, who can say, really, what someone needs? What is a need? Maybe we need them for mysterious psychological reasons rather than for planting purposes.

Park and Burpee are major seed companies that offer many new hybrids each year

I think seed, bulb and plant hoarding comes from our Pleistocene roots. Ten thousand years ago, all humans were hunter/gatherers and had been for millenia before then. Having a full larder meant that we would eat over the winter. I think shopping for seeds, bulbs and plants somehow addresses that old genetic drive to collect and store food.

Cook's Garden and Territorial Seed Company are two of my favorites

Right now, my potting bench is full of 6-packs that I haven’t planted yet. I have two blueberry bushes in the yard still in their nursery pots. They’re going into their third spring at my house and they’re still not planted. And yet I will continue to buy more plants at the nursery.

Paperwhite narcissus bulbs await planting

I’ve practically filled my backyard with iris and narcissus bulbs in the past few weeks. I know that they will multiply and in a few years I’ll have more than I have room for. And yet I bought a couple more iris rhizomes the last time I was at Home Depot because they were cheaper than at Lowes. I have no idea where I’m going to put them.

Today Sylvana at Obsessive Gardener blogged about her uninventoried seed collection. When she did take stock, she discovered that she had seven packets of chives. And needed none since they’re perennial in her area (Wisconsin).

At least my seed packets are in one place. But organization? It crumbled long ago.

Oh, I’m guilty of seed-hoarding too. Big time. I save seeds from my heirloom vegetables. And I love to buy seeds. Can’t resist seeds. It’s those darn seed catalogs. They come in the dead of winter when most gardens and gardeners are dormant. We envision spring. We can picture how pretty those plants will look or how delicious those vegetables will taste. We’re seduced by the strange and exotic, and are just dying to try a new variety. And so we buy those pumpkin or corn seeds, knowing that we don’t really have room to grow them or that they generally don’t do well in our garden.

Crazy paperwhites blooming in our yard in November, one more sign of global weirding

Hope springs eternal in the breast of a gardener, especially in the dying days of autumn, and the cold dead of winter. And so it should. Give in to the urge. Buy more crocus bulbs. Place that seed catalog order. Damn the inventory.

(To read more of Lou Murray’s environmental writing, see her weekly column, Natural Perspectives, in the Huntington Beach Independent at www.hbindependent.com/blogs_and_columns/)

About Lou Murray, Ph.D.

I'm a professional writer/photographer, avid gardener, and active environmentalist living in southern California. I am retired from writing a weekly newspaper column on environmental topics in the Huntington Beach Independent, but I am still teaching at the Orange County Conservation Corps. This blog chronicles my efforts to live a green life growing as much food as possible for my husband and myself on a 4,500 sq ft yard that is covered mainly by house, garage, driveway, and sidewalks.
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15 Responses to She who dies with the most seeds wins

  1. Barbara says:

    You have spoken from my heart. My latest hoard is the kilogram of winter onion sets I bought and am desperately trying to give away to my allotment neighbors (there are at least a hundred sets in the net). And I have all kinds of seeds that I’m afraid will expire before I plant them. They are just simply such wonderful things to have, and to imagine a plant emerging from, and such pretty pictures on the packages! Interesting that you wrote “She”…

    • Hi Barbara. I’d plant all of those onion sets. We use 2-3 onions a week, so I hope to get all 120 of my onion sets into the ground soon. About 2/3 are in.

      I wrote “she” because I suspect that women tend to hoard plants and seeds more than men. I’m guessing that men are more likely to buy every garden tool that comes down the pike. And I also wrote “she” because I’m a “she.” Or a Sheila, as the Aussies would say.

  2. Randy says:

    Lou,
    Guess I’m guilty too. I have a day lily in a 3 gallon pot that I brought over from my last house 12 years ago. Never has it been watered or fertilized, yet it blooms in that pot. Maybe this year I’ll plant it (right).
    Shouldn’t your title have been he or she who dies with the most seeds wins?

    • Hi Randy. Well if it blooms where it sits, why mess with it? Amazing daylily. As for the “he/she” issue, I reallly thought it was mostly a female thing to collect or hoard seeds/bulbs/plants. And being politically correct messed up the title IMHO, so given that I’m female, I went with “she.” Thanks for stopping by. Beautiful camellia photos on your blog.

  3. jp says:

    Lou,
    I am a seed hoarder, true (just bought a ridiculously unnecessary amount today) BUT, I have finally stopped buying plants & trees unless I have already dug the hole – It’s done wonders for my budget!

  4. Sylvana says:

    Thanks for the props!
    I agree with your theory on the instincts to hoard food-like items. Look at those packets of seeds! They LOOK like food! Also, what gardener doesn’t want to try out new plants?
    One of my problems is forgetting what I already have. I suffer from “just in case” and “besides, they’re on sale”.
    But really, who are we kidding? We are as bad as kids with Pokemon cards – gotta catch em all!

  5. Matron says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head! Matron’s dirty secret is that she is definitely a seed hoarder! I just can’t say no! Perhaps when there is some world crisis and we all have to grow our own food.. I will have to keep them in a safe.. and gloat!

    • Hi Matron. I suspect that a genetically ingrained fear of starvation is what drives us to collect seeds. We all have 10,000 years of farming genes within us. Food security is actually one of the reasons why I garden. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Hi Sylvana. I really do need a seed inventory. I think I last did it in 2008. I think I’ll be embarassed by how many packets of snow peas I have. The more I like the vegetable, the more seeds I buy of it, whether they get planted or not.

  7. vrtlaricaana says:

    I love buying seeds – this is definitely true. But I also use it all as soon as I get the chance, as I’m afraid that it will not be good next season. Then I end up with vegetables that need thinning, or too many vegetables… And I’m never sure if I have bought this and this variety, so I will buy it now, just to be sure… yes… that’s all true.

    And not to forget, thank you for the Honest Scrap Award, I appreciate it very much! As you have already noticed, I have done my round few weeks ago, so I will not be posting on the Award again… I hope that’s OK?

    • Ah-ha, now we know who to send our excess seeds to! I don’t know if you’ve read Mel Bartholmew’s Square Foot Gardening, but he comments on the habit of sowing ALL of the seeds in a row, and then having to thin and throw away. His technique is to put a specific number of seeds into each square foot in a raised bed, not in rows, to take advantage of every square inch of space. Since I’ve starting planting his way, I have a lot of seeds left over in each packet. I’m going to try Pinetree Garden Seeds in Maine for my next order. They are the least expensive seed company I’ve found, which I suspect means very few seeds per packet. Given that I have only three 6’x3′ raised beds (plus the sidewalk garden in front and the Garden of Perpetual Responsibility at the side of the driveway), I don’t need many seeds. As for the Honest Scrap Award, of course there is no need to post again about it. I just wanted to give it to you because I enjoy your blog in Croatia.

  8. Janie says:

    I did an inventory, spread sheet and all. The only problem is that those seeds were all flowers, and that was 2 years ago, and now I have a bunch to add. I do not have a spread sheet on my vegetable seeds, yet. I need one.

    I think I would win. People are always giving me seeds. I am always buying seeds. I probably never walk out of a store that I don’t bring home something to plant. There is something wrong with me. I have a big chest of drawers full of seeds, and I swear…..I SWEAR that I give seeds away every chance I get. I think they are breeding and multiplying behind my back. It isn’t that I don’t share. I DO! I DO!

    I need help. I have plants in the pot ghetto too. And bulbs that are going into the ground, but not soon enough. If they would just plant themselves…..I have 200 daylilies heeled in, until I can decide where I want them.

    Luckily, winter is on us. I use winter (which is very mild in our area) to catch up on things like this. I will pot all those daylilies up and grow them out in the greenhouse. I will plant trays of seeds, and bulbs in 1 gallon pots, and in spring, I will have things to use in my garden, or to share with friends.

    And for the record, most seeds are viable for quite awhile. Herb seeds and onions are probably the most short lived of all the seeds, I think. But you can always do a germination test on your seeds. I usually start seeds in wet paper towels, so I know the seed is good before I put it in my valuable potting soil or in the ground.

    Thank you for understanding. It always helps to talk to people who know just how you feel. :0)

  9. Kim says:

    Yip, I’ve been known to hoard.. Cuttings, divisions, seeds… And… I live in an apartment… Often I have to slide into my front door, hardly letting the door open, in case anything escapes!! Or my neighbours catch a glimpse and confirm their suspicions that I am crazy. I work the street gardens.. so there is always somewhere to plant all this stuff… It’s just that I usually get more before I plant the last batch. Also because I plant on th street, whenever I get something really nice/exotic I tend to hold onto it for a bit longer because people do actually steal/vomit/step on my gardens. It’s depressing but I never let it get to me!!

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