Grant Smith, below, shows off his seed packets culled from dozens of choices at Saturday's seed swap in Cooper Young.
Fuzzy Brew’s Grant Smith already has vegetable starts growing on his kitchen counter so the seedlings can soak up the under-cabinet lights.
But his jump-start on spring didn’t keep him away from the first annual seed swap Saturday at Cooper Young Community Farmers Market, where he happily culled through dozens of seed packets contributed by local growers.
“He can’t help himself,” explained spouse Carrie Brown, smiling at his excitement. “He absolutely loves seeds.”
So do plenty of others who traded or purchased herb, flower and vegetable seeds such as red cypress vine, petit Provencal peas, Freckles romaine lettuce, Calypso cucumbers, purple okra and Heart Pimento red peppers. Many of the seeds were heirloom varieties well-suited to Mid-South weather.
For $3, participants selected 20 seed packets, which is about the cost of a single seed package at retail stores.
“We were swamped the first hour or so, even though it’s a little cold to think about getting your hands in the dirt,” said organizer Josephine Alexander of Tubby Creek Farm in Ashland, Mississippi.
Before Saturday’s event, I asked Alexander about the seed swap and growing vegetables in the Mid-South. Here’s what she had to say:
Why did you decide to do a seed swap?
Alexander: I came up with the idea of a seed swap because, as a farmer, I always have extra seed. I figured other farmers would have extra seed, too. I always get excited about trying new varieties, and I hate the idea of throwing extra seed away.
For vegetables, what's the turnaround time from planting seeds to putting seedlings in the ground?
Alexander: Some vegetables do better started indoors or in a greenhouse and then transplanted once the soil warms up. Typically, peppers, tomatoes and eggplant are started indoors and transplanted out after six or eight weeks. Cabbage and broccoli are also typically started in the greenhouse where they grow for about four weeks before transplanting.
When starting plants indoors, it is important that they get enough light or the plants will get leggy (too tall and thin,) which will make them weak and prone to wind damage when planted. Beginning gardeners may want to stick to varieties that can be direct seeded. A common mistake when direct seeding is planting warm season crops too early. It is best to wait until the soil is warm. Our growing season is long, so there is no reason to rush.
The UT Extension has a great publication with planting dates. Keep in mind that the greater Memphis area is a little warmer than the state average.
Are any types of vegetables easier than others to start from seed?
Alexander: The easiest are probably vegetables that have large seeds and can be planted directly out into the garden. These include okra, beans and peas, and anything in the squash family (like melons and cucumbers). Plants in the mustard and cabbage family are also easy to grow from seed because they germinate very quickly. Arugula is easy to grow for the same reason.
Radish is the number one vegetable for beginners. Carrots are notoriously hard to grow because it can take them up to three weeks to sprout, they grow slowly allowing weeds to get a head start, and the tiny seeds are hard to plant uniformly.