Welcome to the Extraordinary Times Gardening Blog

The seed for the Extraordinary Times Gardening Blog was planted, appropriately enough, this year during my spring seedling sale.

For the six years prior, the sale was a low-key but enjoyable excuse to mess around in the dirt and meet fellow gardeners and neighborhood plant enthusiasts.

This year, it took on an entirely different shape.

The people who came to buy seedlings from me in the spring of 2020 were often in the process of starting their very first gardens. Quarantined and locked down, they needed a way to ground their uncertainty and nervous energy, and gardening provided the perfect outlet. Many of them arrived in face masks. And they brought loads of questions. So many questions that some didn’t even know what question to ask first.

Being a teacher and a helping type, naturally I wanted to help them. But where to start? They needed information on every single gardening topic, from water and light and soil requirements to variety selection to pest management to deciding between raised beds, pots, or tilling to ….. everything. But that information is available in abundance. Books and websites and online courses and Facebook groups — and these same folks’ gardening grandmas — were just waiting their chance to share their wisdom.

So I decided to offer something different.

A glimpse into some of the deeper philosophical aspects of gardening.

And the worldwide shift in how we think about food production.

And the people in fields, factories and grocery stores who are now risking their lives to ensure our food supply.

And the essential questions about what it means to grow food, at a micro or macro scale.

Enjoy, and thanks for taking this journey with me. i hope it sparks some questions for you as well.

Why I didn’t Marie Kondo my seed collection and why I am now feeling righteous about it

Let’s get something straight.

I am not a hoarder.

Honestly.

I do not have boxes filled with old lamp parts, expired calendars, and fabric scraps stuffed into all my closets. (Not all of them.)

And I definitely do not have a spare bedroom full of plastic bins whose contents I rarely inspect, let alone use. Ahem.

But when it comes to my seed collection, I am unapologetic.

If you were to poke through my freezer, you would find a clutch of plastic bags containing fistfuls of loosely organized seed packets. Wrinkled, dog-eared, rain-streaked, mud-splattered seed packets. They date back years.

To wit:

Green Glaze Collard, 10/2010.

Rainbow Blend Chard, packed for 2016.

Beet root seeds in a hand-labeled packet, date unknown.

Mesclun Gourmet Baby Greens (sell by 12/09).

One packet of turnip seeds, a “Tom Turnipseed for Attorney General” 1999 campaign promotion.

You get the picture.

But unlike many of the afore-mentioned items, these seeds came into their own this spring of 2020.

My side gardening gig is a spring seedling sale. I start seeds in my spare bedroom sometime in January, where they are gently nurtured on a heat mat, under grow lights, until the weather warms enough to move them outside. The sale starts as soon as folks start getting itchy to get into their gardens (any time from early March to mid-April, depending). I do a fairly brisk business until about Memorial Day, when things start to slack off.

It’s an enjoyable project. I get to engage in one of my favorite occupations — messing around with dirt and green growing things — while meeting fellow plant lovers from the neighborhood and putting a bit of extra cash in my pocket.

This year was different.

I posted the first notice for the sale on a few neighborhood Facebook pages in early March. One lonely “like” popped up, and languished there for several hours. I wondered if I had jumped the gun and posted too early. I needn’t have worried.

A few more desultory “likes” later, inquiries started flowing in. Then pouring in. Then escalated to a full-blown panic. People started stampeding to my Facebook page and my door to buy up every seedling I had. Within days I had sold out of everything and taken advance orders for other plants that wouldn’t be ready for weeks. I planted another round of seeds. Then another. Then I ran out of seeds and had to order more.

That’s when it hit me.

Every seed company was sold out of most everything, wasn’t taking orders, and/or had pushed back shipping dates amid posted notices about COVID-19 and wanting to keep their employees safe.

The reason?

Everyone wanted to start a garden.

It was apparent that this was part of the new zeitgeist.

I totally support people starting gardens, pandemic or not. But if I was going to have a seedling sale, I needed to have seedlings.

And frankly, I needed to shift my focus to something other than the anxiety and uncertainty that we were all swimming in at the time. So, apparently, did the people who were buying seedlings from me.

So I started digging in the freezer archive. And in that mess of packets, found a treasure trove of seeds that I had not planted before. Or had planted only part of the packet and stashed the rest away. This seemed like an ideal time to plant those seeds out and see what germinated.

It turns out that all kinds of seeds can germinate even after being stored for years. Keeping them under the proper conditions in cold storage is important, and it was to my (slightly smug) advantage that I had that factor covered. Those 10-year-old collard seeds? Germinated. Acorn squash, carrots and cucumbers from 2012? Ditto. Along with chard, dill, mustard, chrysanthemums, summer squash, lettuce, peas, watermelons, beans, and tomatillos of varying or unknown vintages, plus a couple of herbal oddities like licorice, holy basil, and soapwort.

And since local gardeners were having no more luck than I was in finding what they needed, either from plant nurseries or online stores, they also were beating a path to my door.

At the same time, a small economy of seed and plant exchange sprang up in our neighborhood Facebook gardening group. For a short while we were walking in the footsteps of our agrarian ancestors. Bartering cayenne peppers for red noodle beans. Tomatillos for sunflower seeds. Basil seed for shishito pepper. Borage seeds for mint. All that was needed to complete the picture were a few goats and some earthen pots.

And I was making discoveries in my own garden in the process. Those licorice seeds that had never touched previously touched earth sprouted beautifully, sending up rounded grayish-green leaves on a slender stem. Brilliant orange flowers tinged with bronze emerge from a compact marigold, a French type I hadn’t grown before, boasting lacy, fragrant foliage. The jagged peppery-tasting leaves of Shungiku chrysanthemums proliferate in a small patch at the bottom of the garden. A landrace cucumber variety is growing at lightning speed again, as though its seeds had not spent eight years in a brown envelope.

We are fascinated by these tiny germs of life, these small packages of power and magic that we can hold in our palm and that literally propagate the world.

I think about those seeds, biding their time in my freezer until their moment came — whether that was a year or ten in the future — when something nourishing or beautiful or simply spectacular will burst forth. At this time, perhaps more than any other in living memory, we need these reminders of the persistence of life.

Marie Kondo my seed collection? And miss out on all that?

No way.