Cambrian: Opinion

Plant those seeds now: You’ve got nothing to lose

Cool-season crops can be planted now. Use leftover seeds and enjoy winter and early-spring crops.
Cool-season crops can be planted now. Use leftover seeds and enjoy winter and early-spring crops. Special to The Cambrian

I’ve accomplished more gardening this fall than I have all the rest of the year. The moist, naked earth beckons. As winter approaches, Nature modestly covers herself with green sprouts of grasses and seedlings.

By purposefully planting seeds of cool-weather plants this time of year, you’ll add beauty to your garden, keep soil from compacting, have young, tender greens to eat and reduce erosion. If you’ve got seeds lying around, plant them now: You’ve got nothing to lose.

I want to get some “cover” growing in the bare places in the garden and take advantage of the lovely, light rain. I cleaned out my seed storage box where I’d been collecting and saving seeds for many years and got rid of the older packets. No, I didn’t send them to a landfill. I waited until rain was forecast and planted them.

Commercial seeds are collected, dried and packaged after a plant has “gone to seed” and dated to be planted the upcoming year only. But this is somewhat misleading. If seeds are stored in a cool, dry place, they can be good (viable) for many years. Some wild plants, like “broom” stay viable for up to 25 years.

Saved seeds lose their sprouting ability at about 10 percent a year, so if you plant 100 poppy seeds that are 3 years old, it’s logical to believe you’ll get 70 plants! Right?

I planted flower seeds by scratching up the soil, scattering the seeds, then gently raking them in. It helps to keep them moist until the next rain, but hopefully, Mother Nature will take it from there. I planted calendula for winter color, and California poppies, red poppies, hollyhock, foxglove and nasturtium.

Snapdragon, Sweet William and Verbena can also be planted this time of year.

Rather than letting vegetable beds sit empty all winter, I sprinkled herb seeds of dill, parsley and cilantro over the enriched soil. Borage, chervil and chives can also be planted in the fall.

Digging deeper into my seed box, I found arugula, beets, carrots, chard, kale, mustard and lettuce and threw those about.

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, cauliflower, celery, fennel, kohlrabi, mizuna (Japanese Mustard), mustard green, radishes, spinach, onions, bok choy, peas and potatoes can also be planted in the autumn.

Of course, growing depends on upcoming rains. Gardeners are extreme optimists. They have to be. Growing things depends on understanding soil and plant needs. But it also depends on Mother Nature’s cooperation.

The Farmer’s Almanac predicts less than normal rainfall this winter, but it does not reveal how it determines its weather predictions. So, I checked out predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and found: “Wetter-than-average conditions most likely in the southern tier of the United States, from central and southern California, across Texas, to Florida, and up the East Coast to southern New England.”

I’ll go with that prediction and get on with my fall gardening. I’ve got nothing to lose but clutter in my seed box.

Lee Oliphant’s column is special to The Cambrian. Email her at cambria

Tip of the month

If you want to experiment with seeds you have on hand, you really have nothing to lose by planting them now before the rains come. Planting seeds like poppies, calendula and sweetpea will give you some late-winter/early-summer color and give summer flowers like hollyhock and foxglove a head start. You’ll lose some of your seeds to birds, but you’ll be surprised how many will survive.

Prepare the area by pulling weeds and turning over the soil, or at least, roughing it up with a garden fork. Smooth with a rake. Sprinkle tiny seeds and plant larger seeds individually. Sprinkle fine dirt over the seeds or use potting soil to cover them. Water lightly and pray for rain.