12 Seeds to Start Now for Your Survival Garden
Happy World Health Day. The coronavirus outbreak has inspired many gardeners, new and seasoned, to sustain their food supply. Want a basket of produce like this by summer? This was one of my harvests in 2019. My advice on starting seeds in the Lehigh Valley or elsewhere is to make the most of local resources. Every survival garden starts with a seed. To help you begin, here are the answers to 3 questions commonly asked by my friends and family:
‘When should I plant seeds and which ones are easy to germinate?’
You’ll see on packets how many weeks before the last frost that seed should be planted indoors or outdoors. In climates like ours, the general rule of thumb is to plant seedlings outside in mid-May. But in Zone 6b, our last spring frost dates are coming early this year – April 24 in Easton, April 30 in Bethlehem and Allentown. Let’s meet Mother Nature ready, with open arms.
Start these spring-loving seeds indoors or directly sow outdoors:
- Radishes (in a window box 6 inches deep)
- Carrots (in a pot 6-15 inches deep depending on the variety)
- Snow and snap peas (sprout in a wet paper towel, then plant outdoors)
Start these seeds too and transplant after the last frost:
- Peppers and Parsley (cover with plastic wrap)
Keep these seeds in your figurative back pocket because they do best directly sown outside in warmer temperatures:
- Summer yellow squash
- Fall squashes like butternut, acorn, and pumpkin
‘How do I care for the seeds and seedlings?’
Germinate seeds in an atmosphere that is damp, not soaked. Spray, drip, or slowly pour water into the soil. If you get excited and “water happy” (like I sometimes do), then there’s probably no need to water the seed for a couple days or until the soil dries a bit.
Grow lights are ideal for germination. If a seedling gets leggy, it’s reaching too hard for the light. Lower the light to make the sprout’s life a little easier. If the seedlings are in a window, they are reaching for the sun. Turn the container around every few days so that the stem stays strong and upright.
In the photo above on the left, the seed coat has gotten stuck. I’ll mist it with my spray bottle. This will soften it so that I can remove it gently with my fingers or tweezers. The more effective technique, according to Gardening Know How, is to spit on the seed coat! Enzymes in your saliva are apparently more effective than water.
See that modest bush bean seedling? It will need a lot of space to eventually produce beans. Around the rim of its large pot, lettuce will grow beneath the shade of the mature bean plant.
As for the tomato seeds, I like to sow two together in case one doesn’t sprout. If both seeds sprout as pictured above, snip the one that has fewer leaves or looks less healthy. Use scissors because pulling it could disrupt the other’s roots.
The first time I saw scissors taken to a seedling, I winced! Trust that sacrificing one seedling will allow the other one to grow to its full potential.
‘I’m worried it’s too late for starting seeds in the Lehigh Valley. So many stores are closed because of the coronavirus. Where can I find seeds, soil, and containers?’
When Governor Wolf announced which Pennsylvania businesses are considered “life-sustaining,” garden centers didn’t make the cut.
Fortunately, gardening is not canceled. Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association “has submitted a request to the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) and the Department of Agriculture to allow all garden centers to be reopened under the Governor’s COViD-19 shutdown order.”
Lehigh Valley businesses are re-opening as a result of this request. Pharo Garden Center and Dan Schantz Greenhouse, among others, are open and practicing social distancing. Order a bag of soil online from Dan Schantz, drive to their greenhouse in Allentown, and they will put it in the trunk of your car. Twenty minutes away in Bethlehem, Ray and Victoria at Pharo sell seeds and will be stocking their store with more materials. When starting seeds in the Lehigh Valley, we can buy local and we can grow local.
Once you have the seeds and soil, get creative with containers. You can plant in anything with drainage. Buckets, put a hole in them. Baby pools, put a hole in them. Egg cartons, rinsed cans, newspaper origami, that cracked pot you made in preschool, these all could be the foundation for your food in 2020.
Right now, we are presented with many challenges and many unknowns. But one means of survival we can count on – gardening. Amid the quiet of our quaint Pennsylvanian towns, you can still flourish from your window, balcony, or yard. To sustain ourselves, we just need seeds, soil, and sun.
As of April 10, 2020: Dan Schantz Greenhouse in Allentown is open today and tomorrow. Pharos Garden Center in Bethlehem is open today, tomorrow, closed on Sunday, and plans to be open throughout the week of the 13th-18th. Lehigh Valley Home & Garden and Neighbor’s Garden Center are open, too. Buy your seeds, seedlings, and soil local if you can!
To have fresh food at home within weeks, sign up for this free guide: “The Secret to Growing These 3 Superfoods in Your Window.”
Need more advice? Let’s talk one-on-one. Sign up for a Custom Victory Garden Layout or reach out for another kind of consultation.