Getting Started

  • Storing Seeds

    QUESTION: What is the best way to store my seeds?
    - A gardener from Alabama

    ANSWER: That is a common question among gardeners everywhere, especially within the seed-saving circles. If seeds aren't stored properly, they will not germinate well in future years and all your hard work will be for nothing.

    Since seeds sprout when they’re introduced to moisture, warmth, and light, you want to keep them far from such influences while storing them. If stored at room temperature, seed will approximately last 2-3 years, more or less depending on the particular vegetable. The seed life doubles with every 10º the temperature is lowered.

    A dry, cool, and dark room is ideal. Store them in the refrigerator, basement, or cellar. You can use all sorts of containers – glass jars, Tupperware containers, buckets, cups, bags, etc. Sealed containers with lids are best, but we do not recommend vacuum-packing because seeds are living organisms that need oxygen to live. Without air to breathe, they're suffocated and you will notice a decrease in the germ rates.

    We also do not suggest freezing your seeds. There are a lot of varying opinions and stances on this matter. Let me explain why we don't recommend it. If seeds are placed in a freezer with more than 6% moisture content, they will inevitably crack and will not germinate. Sometimes the damage can be so small that the fractures in the seed are not easily visible. Don't store them in the freezer or else you risk losing seed that wasn't completely dry and ruining your hopes for future plantings.

    It's very easy to give your seeds the right environment and encourage them to live long lives in your garden. Take care of them and they will, in turn, take care of you.

    Here's a list of approximate years to expect from seed saved and stored properly:


    Vegetable Seed Longevity

    Beans----------------------- 2 – 4 years
    Beets------------------------ 3 – 6 years
    Broccoli--------------------- 3 – 5 years
    Cabbage--------------------- 4 years
    Carrots---------------------- 2 – 3 years
    Corn------------------------- 2 – 3 years
    Cowpeas--------------------- 3+ years
    Cucumbers------------------ 5 – 10 years
    Eggplants------------------- 2 – 5 years
    Lettuce---------------------- 2 – 6 years
    Melons---------------------- 5 – 10 years
    Okra------------------------- 2 – 5 years
    Onions---------------------- 1 – 2 years
    Peas------------------------- 2 – 3 years
    Peppers--------------------- 2 – 3 years
    Radishes-------------------- 3 – 5 years
    Spinach--------------------- 2 – 5 years
    Squash---------------------- 2 – 6 years
    Tomatoes------------------- 3 – 10 years
    Watermelon---------------- 4 – 5 years

    How do you store your seeds? Do you have any questions? Let us help!

  • Pollination & Isolation

    If saving seeds is your goal, then the process of plant pollination must not be overlooked.   Plants produce their fruits once their blooms have been fertilized by pollen.  While this is a desired result of seed-saving, if the plant has been pollinated by a different plant, their seed will be a cross between the two.

    You may not notice the alterations in that first year harvest.  The initial fruit should be fine.  However, if you save that seed and plant it next year, it will contain genes from both parent plants.  That's why pollination control is essential to saving pure seed.

    The way to control pollination is by isolation.  Protect the blooms and you protect the seeds.

    First get acquainted with the vegetables within each botanical family, as we mentioned in our previous post 5 Rules to Saving Seeds.  Remember, only plants within the same family will cross with each other.  The rest are fine and will not affect seed results.

    There are 3 main methods of plant isolation:

    1.  Time Isolation involves planting conflicting varieties at alternate times.  Either plant your second variety once your first has already begun to flower or separate their planting dates far enough apart to be safe.  It is important that the first sets its seed before the second variety flowers or there will be reason to be concerned that cross-pollination has occurred.

    If you want to grow two types of sweet corn and save seed from both, for example, plant varieties approximately 3 weeks apart.  Once the first is done tasseling and is ready to pick, the second variety should be starting to pollinate.  Maturity dates may vary with each variety, so the required time isolation may differ some.

    Lettuce, corn, and sunflowers are just a few of many crops that favor this method.

    2.  Bagging is your second option for isolation.  This process requires you to cover the flower heads to keep unwanted pollen out.  Whatever you use for protection, it must allow air in and keep insects out.  Nylon mesh bags, lightweight fabric, or bridal tulle secured around the entire plant or individual blossoms will work well.  Once the variety has finished flowering, mark the fruit with a string and uncover barrier.

    (If you don't bag the entire plant, make sure to protect multiple blooms in case something happens to one of the fruits later.  You wouldn't want to put all your seed saving hopes on one tomato, let's say.  If that tomato ended up getting chewed on by bugs later in the season, you will have lost your only chance.)

    This method does take some extra work and attention to detail, but it also gives you a little more freedom with what you can grow where.  Tomatoes, which are mostly self-pollinating, are often saved this way. However, others like spinach, beets, and corn are pollinated by wind and should not be isolated through bagging.

    Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

    3. The other main choice you have is Distance Isolation, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Plant space in between family members to prevent pollination.  If you have ideal growing space, this may be your solution.  Follow our chart below for recommended and required distances for proper seed saving.  (And don't forget about any nearby neighbors who might be growing conflicting varieties adjacent to yours.)

    Smaller gardens may have a problem providing enough distance, however.  If so, they should try one of the methods already mentioned.  Everyone can save seed.  They just have to figure out what works best for them.


    Plant Isolation Distances
    every Seed-Saving Gardener needs to know:


    Plant Isolation Distance
    Bean--------------------- 25 – 100 feet
    Beet--------------------- 1/2 mile
    Broccoli------------------ 1/2 mile
    Cabbage----------------- 1 mile
    Carrot------------------- 1500 feet
    Corn--------------------- 1/2 mile
    Cucumber--------------- 1/2 mile
    Lettuce------------------ 25 – 50 feet
    Melon-------------------- 1500 feet
    Okra--------------------- 1/2 mile
    Onion------------------- 1500 feet
    Pea---------------------- 50 feet
    Pepper------------------- 500 feet
    Radish------------------- 1500 feet
    Squash------------------ 1/2 mile
    Tomato------------------ 25 – 100 feet
    Watermelon------------ 1/2 mile



    Do you save your own seed?
    If so, what method do you use to control pollination in your garden?

  • 5 Rules to Saving Seeds

    Saving your own seeds does not have to be as complicated and impossible as people believe at first.  With just a few supplies and a little preparation, anyone can do it!

    There is certainly a world of information out there on this popular subject among gardeners and survivalists alike.  We will tell you about some books we recommend which offer great, in-depth information in just a bit, but first we'd like to go over the basics of seed saving.


    1.  First, you need to know the difference between Hybrids and Open-Pollinated varieties.

    Open-Pollinated — These varieties, so long as they are properly isolated from other plants of their species, will produce “true to type” seed with the same traits as that of their parent plant. That is why gardeners everywhere consider OP seed to be irreplaceably important, for it allows them to produce their own seed supply.

    Hybrid — The result of deliberate crossing of two distinct parent varieties from the same species, for the purpose of combining the ideal characteristics of separate varieties into one. While at first this may sound appealing, any seed saved from an F1 hybrid will not grow the same “true to type” traits a second time. Plant breeders must deliberately cross the parent varieties every time to obtain new hybrid seed.


    2.  Familiarize yourself with the different botanical families and vegetable groups.

    Varieties of the same botanical family can cross-pollinate each other and produce altered seed as a result.  However, different varieties of vegetables can be grown together unprotected and will not cross.  It's essential to securing a pure seed supply that you are familiar with each botanical family member you're growing and prevent unwanted pollination.

    For example, a tomato will not cross with a bean, but it will cross with a different tomato. That is because tomatoes and beans come from different botanical families.  They can be grown side by side without any worries.  Just learn your vegetable groups.

    Certain vegetables are grouped together in one family.  The Brassica family, for example, includes cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. So in this case, a cabbage plant could cross with a broccoli plant.  Again, learn your vegetable groups.

    One odd exception to the family rule is the matter of squash.  Take a deep breath!  You can get this!  Squash are divided into four different family groups and must be protected from their members within those individual groups only.

    CUCURBITA PEPO
    (Includes Crooknecks, Zucchini, Scallops, Straightnecks, Spaghetti, and some pumpkins)

    CUCURBITA MOSCHATA
    (Includes Butternuts)

    CUCURBITA MAXIMA
    (Includes Bananas, Hubbards, & Marrows)

    CUCURBITA MIXTA
    (Includes Cushaws)

    This means, i.e. that “Moschatas” only need to be protected from other “Moschata” siblings.  They'll be fine next to the “Maxima family”.


    3. Control pollination to maintain pure seed.

    The process of cross-pollination consists of pollen being transferred from one plant to another and where fertilization occurs as a result.  Now that you see the influence of the families on each other, another question arises.  How do I prevent unwanted cross-pollination then?

    There are various ways to prevent this and protect your plants.  Here's a few:

    -Plant only single varieties in your garden. One variety of watermelon, one variety of beans, etc.

    -Organize successive or alternating plantings, where one variety finishes blooming before another one begins.

    -Isolate plant blooms, either by “bagging” or distance.

    (We will talk more about this in-depth in our next blog post, so stay tuned!)


    4.  Allow fruit to fully mature before harvesting for seed.

    Each vegetable has its own maturity date.  It's important you let it finish growing or the seeds you save may be underdeveloped.  Tomatoes are one that you must pick ripe from the vine and scoop the seed out.  Beans, on the other hand, should be allowed to dry completely on the vine right up to the first frost and then shelled.


    5.  Seed must be stored properly to preserve a high germination rate in following years.

    Again, we will be touching on this more in a couple weeks on our blog, but as a general rule keep all seeds in a cool, dark, and dry environment.  We recommend in a refrigerator or in the basement.

    So there you have it.  5 rules to save seeds by.  For more information and instructions, check out any – or all – of these great resources:


    Seed to Seed
    by Suzanne Ashworth

    The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds
    by Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough

    Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's & Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding & Seed Saving
    by Carol Deppe


    What seeds have you saved?  If you haven't ever tried it, what's holding you back?  We're all still learning here, so feel free to share your thoughts and ask questions.

  • 10 Fall Crops

    There's no need to say goodbye to your garden just yet!  You can extend your growing season by putting in a fall garden.  Our summer here in Missouri has been a blessed one with perfect temperatures and much needed rainfall. (Way different than what we got last year, that's for sure!) We hope you're in the midst of a plentiful season too.  Together, let's keep those gardens flourishing and the canner running "full steam ahead"!

    Many vegetables can be planted right now for a fall crop.  Here's our list of ten great varieties we recommend:

    1. Bush BeansPlant these 12 weeks before your first frost.

    Suggested varieties: Contender, Blue Lake Bush, Provider, or Jade. Each of these are heavy producers and make beautiful green beans.

    2. BeetsPlant these 10-12 weeks before your first frost.

    Suggested varieties: Detroit Dark Red, Bull's Blood, or Chioggia. If you prefer a yellow beet, try the Golden Detroit Beet. Don't forget to save those leaves to be used in salads!

    3. Broccoli Plant these seeds 12-14 weeks before your first frost.

    Suggested varieties: Waltham 29 has a 90-day maturity date. If you need a variety that matures a little sooner, consider the Green Sprouting Calabrese which takes 70-80 days to mature. Both love the cooler temperatures and will do well in those fall gardens.

    4. CarrotsPlant these seeds about 12 weeks before last frost.

    Suggested varieties: Scarlet Nantes (my personal favorite) has an earlier maturity date of 65-70 days.  The Imperator 158 is another excellent carrot, great for adding to those soups and stews you'll be making once the weather gets colder. If you plant late and need something with a shorter maturity before the first frost hits, consider the Little Finger baby carrot which matures at 55-65 days.

    5. CauliflowerPlant these seeds 16 weeks before first frost.

    Suggested variety: Snowball Y Improved. A seasoned gardener recommended to us to grow cauliflower only in the fall. They do better as a fall crop and planting them this time of the year eliminates any bug problems.

    6. CucumbersPlant these seeds 12-14 weeks before first frost.

    Suggested varieties: Marketmore 76, Homemade Pickles (if space is limited), or for something different, try the Lemon Cucumber which is a great fresh eater!

    7. PumpkinsPlant 14-15 weeks before first frost.

    Suggested varieties: Connecticut Field (makes great canned pumpkin!), Small Sugar Squash (which is a smaller version of the Connecticut Field), Howden Pumpkin, or the Rouge Vif D'Entampes (Cinderella Squash).

    8. SpinachPlant 8 weeks before the first frost.

    Suggested variety: Bloomsdale Long Standing. With all of the healthy benefits that spinach provides, no garden should be without it.

    9.SquashPlant 12-14 weeks before first frost.

    Suggested Varieties: Butternut-Waltham, Vegetable Spaghetti Squash (did you know you can grow spaghetti in your garden?), or Delicata Winter Squash.

    10. TurnipsPlant 8-10 weeks before first frost.

    Suggested variety: Purple Top White Globe. (Turnips are a staple at all of our Thanksgiving Dinners.)

    Hope these give you some ideas and inspiration to keep the gardens growing. Wishing you a bountiful fall harvest!

  • Soaking Seeds for Faster Germination

    Are you having problems getting those seeds to sprout?  Here's an easy way to speed the germination process along and get planting sooner!

    Image Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

    Image Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

    WHY? It's simple.  Seeds need water to sprout.  When planted without being soaked first, seeds have to wait until enough water is obtained through the soil.  If soil stays dry, seeds take longer to get their "thirst" quenched, resulting in slower germination rates and impatient gardeners.  Pre-soaking tricks them into thinking they've been planted for a while and encourages them to get growing.

    WHEN? It all depends upon the variety and vegetable.  Some seeds require just a few hours to absorb their limit, while others need up to 48 hours.  On average, 12-24 hours is the most common.

    HOW? Soak seeds in warm - NOT hot - water (120 degrees or less comfortable to the touch). At least 3 inches of water. Hydrogen peroxide or kelp tea will boost germination as well.

    Image Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

    Image Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

    HERE ARE SOME EXAMPLES:

    Tomatoes/Peppers/Eggplants: Soak seeds 4-6 hours in warm water with hydrogen peroxide (1 oz/pt), changed twice.

    Beets: Soak seeds 6-10 hours in warm water with hydrogen peroxide.

    Cucumbers/Squash/Melons: Soak seeds 2-4 hours in warm water with hydrogen peroxide.

    Spinach: Soak seeds 2-6 hours with hydrogen peroxide.

    Okra: Soak seeds 24-48 hours in warm water with hydrogen peroxide, change twice if possible.

    WHAT'S NEXT? If done correctly, the seed should be swollen, a lighter color, and the hull should be softer.  Dab them with a paper towel and plant immediately. Your garden will thank you.

  • Starting Seeds Indoors

    Only a few short weeks to go here before the grow lights resume their place of honor and we sow our first tomato and pepper seeds of the season with great hope.  Just a few short weeks!

    If you're like us, we scribble on our calender little reminders such as, "Start Cucumber Seeds" on this day or "Transplant Eggplants" tomorrow. Otherwise, our garden would be empty. Sure, it's easy to think of sweet corn when you drive by an Amish Produce Auction selling it by the wagon load in July, but not in April. Our notes save lives - the lives of our plants!

    Here's our Recommended Planting Dates for Starting Seeds Indoors. (This list does not include the planting dates for direct sowing seeds outdoors. Look for that information in a future post.)


    • VEGETABLE SEED          START INDOORS BEFORE LAST FROST          SEED DEPTH
    • Beets                                                                     4 to 6 weeks before                                        1/2 inch
    • Broccoli                                                               4 to 6 weeks before                                        1/4 - 1/2 inch
    • Cabbage                                                              4 to 6 weeks before                                        1/2 inch
    • Cauliflower                                                        4 to 6 weeks before                                        1/4 - 1/2 inch
    • Celery                                                                  10 weeks before                                              1/4 inch
    • Chard                                                                  2 to 4 weeks before                                        1/2 inch
    • Collards                                                             4 to 6 weeks before                                        1/4 to 1/2 inch
    • Cucumbers                                                       3 weeks before                                                1 inch
    • Eggplants                                                         8 to 12 weeks before                                      1/4 inch
    • Gourds                                                             2 to 3 weeks before                                        1/2 to 1 inch
    • Kale                                                                  4 to 6 weeks before                                        1/4 to 1/2 inch
    • Lettuce                                                            2 to 6 weeks before                                        barely cover
    • Melons                                                            3 weeks before                                                1/2 to 1 inch
    • Onions                                                            10 to 12 weeks before                                     1/4 inch
    • Parsnip                                                           2 to 4 weeks before                                         1/2 inch
    • Peppers                                                          8 weeks before                                                 1/4 to 1/2 inch
    • Pumpkins                                                      2 to 3 weeks                                                     1/2 to 1 inch
    • Squash                                                           3 to 4 weeks                                                     1/2 to 1 inch
    • Tomatoes                                                      6 to 8 weeks                                                     1/4 inch
    • Watermelon                                                 4 to 6 weeks                                                     1/2 to 1 inch


    For help on how to start those seeds, check out our previous post - Start Your Seeds Right. Visit the National Gardening Association's website here to find your local planting zone and learn when to expect your last spring frost date. Depending on where you live, you may be able to start your seeds a lot sooner than we can here in the Missouri Ozarks.  If you have a greenhouse, you can definitely get a head start.  Either way, if you're one of these lucky ones, be willing to share a tomato or two!

  • Garden Blueprints

    Every gardener dreams of a bountiful harvest, but not every garden grows according to plan. It takes a lot of resources, time and knowledge to successfully grow your own food and sometimes these resources are hard to come by. Sowing seeds may be an early step in this very long, yet rewarding process, but it is not the first. Every gardener should start with a plan.

    Highly underestimated alongside the daily chores of the season, a garden's design is an essential ingredient to a healthy harvest. It's important to know which plants will grow well in your area, what their characteristics and requirements are, and what their benefits will be for your family. If you want your kids to eat more vegetables, a proper garden layout will promote healthier plants and children. Those who ignore this valuable step pay a price. Overly-crowded crops, stunted plants, and disappointing yields are the guaranteed results of this unfortunate oversight. Not to mention the lost opportunities for saving seed. There's no reason to garden like this. As we've come to learn – prepare first, then plant!

    Creating some garden blueprints just takes a bit of attention to detail. With designing comes decisions, so any preferences must be settled on in the beginning. A gardener hoping to preserve and save seed for his family's future must be familiar with harvesting and seed saving methods. To accomplish this goal, it must coincide with what types of seed are sown and the space allowed in the garden.  A proper layout will help you look at the big picture beforehand and keep all such factors in harmony.

    Every garden design will undoubtedly have its share of variables, though. What if your garden space becomes exhausted? If trellises are penciled in on the layout, they will fix that problem before it even arises. We love training my plants to climb up –  instead of out – saving both the garden and our backs from stress. Such vegetables including pole beans, small gourds, melons, and cucumbers will all flourish when grown this way. Trellises can be easily made from anything sturdy enough to offer support. Fence posts, cattle panels, bamboo, re-mesh wire, or even discarded volleyball nets will work for certain varieties.

    Location can be another varying factor that might try a gardener's patience.  One solution for our dilemma here with our rocky soil is container and raised bed gardening.  Whatever your difficulty may be, raised beds and containers will certainly improve matters. They are a great addition to any garden grown in a "less-than-ideal" location.  Using concrete blocks, untreated wood, decorative rock, or even old tires, anyone can build their own bed. It's easy enough for anyone to do!  Look around your farm to find old flower pots, wagons, boxes, buckets, or even an old boot and have fun sowing your seeds! Just make sure that the container has drainage holes and plenty of depth for roots to spread.

    Vegetables like radishes, beets, and carrots, thrive in these convenient beds, where the soil is loose and rich. When the dirt is too solid and compact, root crops are not allowed to grow and expand into the tasty veggies we all love. Thanks to our handmade raised beds and containers, even Southern Missourians like ourselves can enjoy such harvests. Construct these into your blueprints and they'll also improve the surroundings with unique style and color.

    As for the question of where to plant what – a common headache for gardeners – it requires organization in and out of the garden. The art of companion planting is essential to remember for truly sustainable living. Our plants can be very demanding at times. It is our job as the gardener to know each one's needs and tend to them accordingly. For example, tomatoes – a front runner in almost every garden – will thrive beside carrots and basil. Plant these three together to improve growth and flavor as well as for protection from harmful insects. This is companion planting at its best. However, if you grow corn or broccoli near tomatoes, your garden could be introduced to disease and crop failure. Learn which plants like each other and which ones don't when designing your garden or else disappointment may be inevitable.

    When putting ideas to paper, don't forget the garden's visitors – namely butterflies, bees, and other helpful insects – that are drawn to your flowers and veggies. Your garden needs them as much as it needs you. Send out an invitation by growing marigolds, nasturtiums, zinnias, and herbs. This is another form of companion planting.

    There is no question that a well-designed garden speaks for itself.  The rewards from living off your land are unmistakable.  However, don't feel bad if you're overwhelmed at the daunting task that lies before you.  That's where we come in.  We too love carrying our harvests indoors with warm reception and we're dedicated to helping other gardeners do the same.

    There are many steps to success – each significant in their own way.  Through our free Designing Gardens program, we're dedicated to showing folks how to grow more efficiently.  Just tell us a little bit about your garden, i.e. what you want to grow, specifications like your location and garden dimensions, and we will design your garden for you!

    With your package, we will include planting instructions, seed saving guidelines, suggested companion plants, and a full customized garden layout - everything you need to jump start your season!   Remember this, sowing with unanswered questions will not get a gardener anywhere, but sowing with a plan does.

  • Start Your Seeds Right

    For those of us here in the Missouri Ozarks, winter time offers a great opportunity to make our plans for the upcoming gardening season. Deciding on what to plant, when to plant and where to plant is a vital part of a successful gardening experience. And as January is now upon us, we would like to offer you some considerations for starting those seeds indoors.

    While many varieties can be seeded directly into your garden, others require a sooner start inside. Some of the easiest to try are tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, okra, and onions.

    Choosing the right container is important. While biodegradable pots are extremely convenient, there are many other affordable options that will work just as well. Look around the house for any extra cups or flowerpots. Whatever you choose, the container should be no less than 3” deep. The seedlings' first roots will need proper space to grow, so you don't want anything too shallow. Your containers must also have good drainage holes in the bottom in order to save your seeds from getting waterlogged. If you secure this, your seeds will find themselves in a home away from home.

    Soil is an underestimated key element to bedding your seeds properly, particularly your indoor seedlings. One visit to your local garden center will provide you with multiple choices of already-mixed soil-less combinations. A good soil-less mix can be made from 50% peat moss and 50% vermiculite. Potting soil mixed with 50% peat moss will also do the trick. Basically you don't want a texture too heavy or compact. The seeds won't have the strength to sprout within such an environment. Because of this, garden dirt is not recommended.

    For ideal germination, the temperature of your soil must be noticeably warm. A propagation mat or hot pad provide nice consistent heat. A very warm spot, such as the top of the refrigerator, may suffice.

    Moisture is also important from the get-go. When planting, first moisten your soil with water, enough that a small drop of water could be squeezed out of it. Once the seeds are sown, cover immediately with plastic to keep in the moisture. At this stage we usually spray ours with a soft mist from a water bottle. Once they sprout, set them in a tray with “room-temp” water and water them from the bottom. This method puts less stress on the plants and keeps you from drowning your seed or causing them to rot. The line between excessive and lean watering is very thin and often will decipher your plants longevity, so take your time here.

    Lighting is another factor that is essential for your plants once germination has begun. Light from the nearest window can offer a decent amount. However, the seedlings will likely gravitate towards the light, so be sure to turn your trays around every day or so. We recommend a fluorescent light, suspended in the air 3-4” directly above the plants. Sixteen hours of light is recommended followed by 8 hours of darkness.

    And finally, after your last frost, your young plants can be transplanted into your garden. However, allow a transition period beforehand for your plants to gradually adjust to their new environment -  process gardeners call “hardening off.” Set your trays outdoors in indirect sunlight during the day. Make sure they are protected against strong wind and heavy rain and bring them inside at night. After a week of this practice, your plants should be officially ready to transplant.

    Most of all, remember to have fun! All the hard work will be worth it once you reap your harvest! Happy Planting!

  • Growing Your Plans

    Don't worry, the title is not misspelled. Garden plans – not plants – are our focus this week. It's time to get organized!

    We're a few short weeks from starting our seed indoors. And we're only a few short months from transplanting those same seedlings outside. We'll all be out in our gardens before we know it, so we mustn't let the time slip away from us now.

    Utilize these snowy days for something worthwhile. Grab your books, your dream list of seeds, and a reliable pen – the rest will follow. I did just that yesterday myself. The afternoon seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye. In my head, I was picturing lush pepper plants, crispy lettuce, and flowers all the colors of the rainbow. It would have been lovely to linger in such thoughts had that been possible. However, the “small print” details couldn't be neglected.

    I started with the easy part. I drew up a rough list of the seeds we wanted to grow – considering what we'd eat fresh, what we'd need to can and freeze, what we'd save for seed, and what I'd like to get pictures from. Some varieties hold multiple purposes, while others specialize in one field, so to speak. From my experience, it's best to consider all this beforehand. Plan ahead to stock that pantry full.

    Then came the more tedious part – deciding what to put where. Our particular gardens include not only wide open spaces, but also raised beds, containers, and even tires. We must think what varieties need more sunlight than others, which plants will require proper separation to save seed from, which demand extra space, and so forth. This is the point when extra resources, such as an experienced friend or gardening book, comes in handy.

    Seed by seed, I penciled in every variety accordingly. Of course, some of this is destined to be erased at some point – probably more than once, but it's a step in the right direction at the very least. Next on the agenda comes checking the companion planting list. No reason to make an avoidable mistake. Then, I must look to our planting guidelines. See what needs started first and make a flow chart from there until my last seed is in the ground. Piece by piece, you'll see your dream getting clearer. Just like I did.

    The work can still get overwhelming at times, though, despite its great incentives. In case of weak enthusiasm or plum confusion, the remedy you seek is simple. Ask for advice. Anyone who's spent a day in the dirt will help you. Ask them if they've tried the Federle tomato. See where they think you should plant your Blue Hubbard squash. Who knows, they might even know how to fight those pesky cucumber beetles.

    We created the Designing Gardens Program with the same sole reason in mind – to help. We all need it at some point along the way. It's better to seek it first rather than later run after it in despair. We want to encourage those who need a second opinion or a tried recommendation. We want to offer what information we can to help you prevent – or, in some cases, endure – what disappointments and failures might arise. It's a team effort, right?

    Speaking of which, don't think it will be entirely my plans that make our final 2011 garden blueprints. I'm definitely not the only one tending the garden and neither will my ideas stand alone. Some evening here soon, my family will be sitting down to talk it all over and together form a game plan. If every previous season is any indication, I know we'll have many more ideas than we have the space for. I'm sure you're familiar with that.

    Happy harvests, everyone. May all your plans grow!

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