In The Garden — January 2021


The gardening year 2021 is going to be different from previous years by virtue of following 2020. When lockdowns started, many people wary of supply chain disruptions and brick-and-mortar shopping turned to food gardening as a way of ensuring fresh vegetables.

In addition, many people out of work or working from home took the opportunity to start or intensify their home gardening as a relatively affordable way to spend time in an enjoyable fashion.

Unfortunately, the surge in garden interest caused quite a few disruptions. In Point Roberts, we were suddenly cut off from physical retail outlets like Ladner’s West Coast Seeds (WCS).

Throughout the world, seed retailers and garden supply businesses sold out their stock early. Those of us who normally use the winter months to organize our garden planning and purchasing suddenly had an edge on others who do not. As we move into the second year of the pandemic, it is time to follow the model of the habitual early bird gardener.

So what do we early birds do? The first thing we do is pour over paper seed catalogs, savoring thoughts of summer gardening. It’s one of my favorite winter pastimes with the luscious photographs eliciting the tastes of fresh beets and tomatoes, the aroma of parsley and marigolds, and the sound of bees on savory and thyme.

After my catalogue indulgence, the next thing I do is hold a family discussion about which edibles we want to grow the coming summer. Because we have limited space and sunlight, we give priority to relatively compact vegetables that the marketplace doesn’t sell and those that do well in part sun. (We use the advantage of belonging to the Benson Road Garden aka Co-op for full-sun, space-hogging plants and you might have a similar freedom.)

Before drawing up my seed wish list, I check for seeds that I have saved from last year. Seeds like peas, broccoli and flowers that I harvested and dried last summer and autumn will still be good. Purchased seed packages often have the average seed life printed on them; if not, I assume that one-year-old seeds will still be viable, but possibly at a reduced rate.

Then I go on a seed-ordering hunt. In a normal year, I buy most seeds at WCS in person, and then turn to online ordering for seeds that WCS does not sell. In all likelihood, in-store purchases at WCS will not be an option this year.

However, I can’t fault my two favorite online seed vendors – Territorial and Johnny’s. All three seed vendors offer a broad selection of organic non-GMO seeds. If I were to need fruit or berries, then I would turn to Raintree Nursery.

If I forget to order something or change my mind too late, I know that Nielson’s will be selling a variety of seeds later, and Ladybug Nursery will be offering plant starts once the weather warms.

Since a good growing season at our latitude depends on starting many seeds in a protected environment as early as March, I also check to see if I need to replenish any supplies. For outdoors, that might mean row covers and the means to anchor them, and a working soil thermometer.

For indoors, that means sterile seed starting mix, small-cell seed starting trays, drip trays, plastic domes (preferably vented) to go over the trays, seedling heating mats, full-spectrum T5 fluorescent grow lights and a way to suspend the lights a few inches above the seedlings.

With the unavailability of WCS’s amazing seed starting equipment last year, I was able to buy some supplies at Nielson’s, and ordered others from Gardener’s Supply Company and AgFabric.

All are expensive investments, but all except the starter mix can be reused for many years. In addition to checking for needed replenishments, I also make sure that all my seed starting supplies have been sterilized.

For later in the growing season, I also check for irrigation supplies. I might order more shade netting or small mesh plastic netting to protect crops from sun, birds, deer and other animal pests with the same tastes as me. I recommend AgFabric’s 30 percent shade cloth for the former and Nielson’s for the latter.

Remember that if Nielson’s doesn’t have something in stock, you might be able to order it from and have it delivered free of shipping charge to Nielson’s.

Of course, we are all hoping for a more normal year coming up. Still, I suspect that many people who turned to or returned to gardening in 2020 will throw themselves into the activity once again because it can be so much fun and so rewarding.

So follow the model of experienced gardeners and you won’t be caught by surprise when companies sell out or announce shipping delays. Happy dreaming and shopping!


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