Some of my seeds saved to plant in 2023. (Mary Lowther photo)

Some of my seeds saved to plant in 2023. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Something to think about when snow too deep to find the wheelbarrow

New seed catalogues will be available soon and I’ll have to contain myself to stay within my budget

By Mary Lowther

The last column of 2022 means Hogmanay approaches, the day when our Scotch ancestry leaps to the fore as we celebrate the New Year.

My hieland mother remembered Hogmanay beating Christmas hands down during her childhood in Perth. The young folk, called “First Footers” on that night, staggered from door to door, filling up on shortbread and wee tots of whiskey from each family in exchange for blessings of continued good health in the new year. Mom and her siblings were allowed to stay up and watch the parade and hopefully participate in some of the shortbread eating, a far cry from the meagre pickings at Christmas.

Every culture has its own new year’s customs, most implying the new year provides a clean slate on which we can create a better year than the last one. I’m not sure what the customs are for east Asian Tet celebrations, but Judaism reserves Yom Kippur, the last day of its calendar, for reflection and atonement to clear the way for Rosh Hashana. Even our ancient bureaucracies have been observing April first as fiscal year end since Gaius Julius Caesar created the Julian calendar.

Our culture found repentance, atonement and/or paying our taxes unhelpful when it came to creating a party atmosphere, so we decided to settle for resolutions. Resolutions are like throne speeches, full of big promises and good intentions that we know are unlikely to be kept. I make the same three resolutions every year, although I know I will inevitably backslide: eat sensibly, exercise regularly and be nice to David. Gardening satisfies the first two resolutions, and though I’m not as agile as I used to be I’m determined to make an even better garden this year. Growing tasty crops also supports the third resolution because David gets to eat them; besides, I want him to live as long as possible because he knows how to run the tractor and can open jars with his bare hands. Also, it would take years to train a replacement.

New Year’s really means we have once more survived the shortest days, and with warm weather on the horizon we can put our garden planning to use. New seed catalogues will be available soon and I’ll have to contain myself to stay within my budget, saving some money to spend on Seedy Saturday. Cross contamination can produce unpredictable offspring so a smart shopper asks for the seed’s provenance and how it was protected from cross contamination. Since most gardens are too small to keep unwanted pollen from fertilizing seed we’re trying to save, savvy seed seekers select only one crop at a time in the same family that can cross pollinate.

For example, biennials like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts and kale all belong to the cruciferae family and will happily cross-pollinate and probably won’t produce true the second year. If I wanted to save their seeds, I’d start with one variety of, say, cauliflower, pick out the best two plants and allow them to go to seed the following year. All the rest of the cruciferous vegetables would be harvested before going to seed. When the chosen cauliflowers go to seed I would next save a different crop from that family, perhaps broccoli, and follow the same seed saving routine, harvesting its seed the following year.

According to gardening author Marc Rogers’s seed viability table, all these cruciferous crops’ seeds are good for five years, but I grow six kinds of them so I can plan on saving only one type of seed per year for six years, hoping that good storage methods assist the seeds to last the six years until their next rotation.

Seeds from plants in other families should be saved in a similar way so it’s essential to keep notes. The accumulated data will give you something to think about when the snow it too deep to find your wheelbarrow.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.