by Peter Coppola – March 2022
The traditional growing season for most gardeners in Massachusetts begins Memorial Day weekend. Garden centers sell out of seedlings and everyone returns to work with blistered hands and sore muscles. Proud of their efforts, they are also months behind those of us who start our plants indoors from seed. Who cares if there is a blanket of snow outside? It will reflect the sunlight–and that bright light will stream through the window onto seedlings and warm the sunroom. Then all will be good.
The Magic Inside a Seed. Inside every fertilized seed is a seedling waiting for the ideal germination conditions to begin growing. The cotyledons (the seed leaves) nourish the seedling until it breaks the soil surface and can begin manufacturing its own food. Sowing seed against a clear cup is a great learning tool that we can take to the library and classrooms. Children will see the radicle root growing downward and the seedling pushing the cotyledons to the soil surface. Then the cotyledons will fold back as the true leaves take over. Similar to all of us gardeners over the last two years. We sustained ourselves with our inner strength and now we can emerge with our true leaves.
Some American Seed History. Founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew seed stock in their nurseries. Jefferson was all about experimentation and creating new varieties.. Washington was all about lowering the price of seeds for farmers. Their goal was the same: provide better and cheaper seed stock to help farmers sustain higher yields from crops needed for their survival. The botanist and horticulturalist Luther Burbank, born in Lancaster, MA, in 1849, is famous for developing the blight resistant Burbank potato, invented to help with the Irish potato famine. He sold the rights to the potato for $150; enough to move to California where he developed over 800 varieties of plants and trees, including the Shasta Daisy. The Burbank potato is the most widely cultivated in the U.S. Also originating in Massachusetts, Joseph Breck and Sons, now Breck’s, operated a large retail operation in Boston and grew their seed stock in Lexington. Recently, the catalog industry has responded to gardeners’ increased demand for non-GMO or hybrid seed, by reintroducing open-pollinated “heirloom” seeds: varieties that our parents and grandparents grew, seeds that we can save and share with our gardening friends.
Super- Hyper- Locavorism. Fifty years ago the Hippie movement motivated the Baby Boomer Flower Children to channel our ancestors by returning to the soil to garden organically. Today the Millennial Hippie has taken up the baton and added their own twist. They call their movement Locavorism, the practice of eating food that is produced within a one-hundred mile radius of where you live. If you have a home vegetable garden you are a Super-Locavorist. Super, hyper, locavorist. All those years growing vegetables at home and I finally have a descriptor name. I call myself a “gardener” and you can be one too starting with seeds.