It’s not over, not by any means. There is still plenty of time left to garden even though we just past the summer solstice on June 21st. There are many different kinds of plants that can go in as seeds right now and still produce a bountiful harvest before the end of the growing season. With oil prices up, food prices are up as well. Remember, it takes a lot of oil to grow, harvest, and transport our food. A good home garden is the most environmentally friendly way to deal with this, and you will save yourself a bundle in the process. Besides, you also cannot beat the fresh taste of home-grown food!

This weed filled garden bed can be turned into a nice, productive vegetable plot with a little effort. Photo by mrl2022.

The only problem with all I have said is that unplanted garden beds can look rather intimidating right now. My unplanted garden beds are filled with weeds that are almost as tall as I am – but I am not scared by this! Any area can easily be converted to planting beds in a few steps. For me, that means mowing down the high grass with either a push mower or a trimmer, and then tilling up the remaining vegetation. I then rake out the big clumps and shake all the dirt off before removal. Now it is time to limestone or add fertilizer, if need be, based on soil tests conducted earlier. If you do not have a tiller, you could pull out or dig out the roots with a shovel, spade or fork. With a bit of hard work, the beds will be all ready to go. Although gardening bed preparation may be a chore, seed planting is quick and easy.

Green beans are probably one of the easiest crops to plant. There are two basic types which have different growth requirements. The first is the pole-type. These will need some type of structure to climb up. It does not have to be pretty, however. Go grab a fallen tree limb and stick that in the ground and it will happily climb up that. In the olden times, people would take three large branches, tie them together at the top, and plant the seeds around the base of each. Cattle panels can work as well either bent over to form an arch, or two on their long side stuck together at the top with worm-gear clamps. Much easier are the bush-type beans as they do not need any support. With either type, keep them picked for two reasons. First, they will continue to produce more beans if you pick them regularly. Also, if the beans are left on the plant too long, they become woody, stringy, and generally unpleasant to eat. Other types of beans can also be planted now as well (Lima, Runner, etc.). All beans will benefit from an inoculation with beneficial bacteria. It is not essential but can help them grow larger and produce more. These inoculants are many times sold near the seed packets. 

Pole-type green beans that will grow up these cattle panels. Photo by mrl2022.

Summer squash is another favorite with plenty of time to produce. Examples include various zucchini types, crookneck, yellow, and pan types. These plants have a nice bush growth habit. I usually mulch the area before planting the seeds so there is no competition from weeds. By the time any weeds would get going, the plants are so large they shade them out. Planting summer squash later sometimes helps avoid the squash vine borers that usually finish egg laying by July 4th. If pests still are a problem in your area, floating row covers will work. These consist of thin fabric that essentially screens in the plants. Be sure to tuck the edges into the soil all around the bottom of the covers. Take the covers off once the plants start flowering so they can be pollinated by beneficial insects. Plant varieties resistant to diseases if you have had trouble in the past. Amend the soil with compost before planting and these veggies will thrive. Keep the plants well watered. It is best to water in the morning, especially when plants are setting fruit. Watering in the evening may encourage powdery mildew and similar diseases.      

Zucchini seedlings just sprouting through the layer of mulch. Photo by mrl2022.

Winter squashes like butternut, acorn, decorative gourds, and pumpkins all can go in now too.  You probably will probably not win the biggest pumpkin contest at the fair, but you can still produce plenty of fruit. These are generally vining types that require an ample amount of space to spread out. Some winter squash are available as a bush or semi-bush type if your space is limited. Read the back of the seed packets and pick the variety best suited for your situation.  These also benefit from incorporation of compost into the soil at planting time. Keep the area weed-free while they are establishing, and their large leaves will do the rest once they get going. 

Another plant that is commonly planted in succession to ensure continual harvest is corn. Now you could do one of the sweetcorn varieties, or you could do ornamental corn. Many people I know, myself included, like the variety of colors produced by the ornamental types. Just be sure to separate corn varieties by the distance recommended on the seed packages to avoid unintended cross pollination, which can have detrimental effects on the edibility of harvested sweet corn. Alternatively, you could plant them at different times to ensure they are out-of-sync at pollination time. 

I am planning on putting in many varieties of sunflowers in during the next week. For continual flowers, plant these at two-week intervals. There are many styles and varieties so you will have to do a little research. They literally come in all shapes and sizes. Plants may be a few feet to more than twelve feet tall. There are ones with a large flower at the top of the stem, or multiple flowers on each plant. If you are planning to use them as cut flowers, try some of the pollenless varieties as they will not release pollen on to your table. There are some kinds that are nice for bird food, and others that are nice for people food. Follow package directions and make sure you are purchasing the correct type for your planned use. Regardless, they all look beautiful in the garden.   

My last suggestion is somewhat of a generic category. Try putting in some flowers. Cosmos are great and quick to grow. Sprinkle a few seeds now and they will be flowering in no time!  Dahlias are also another possibility with their large tuberous roots. The plants may even be starting to sprout in the bag. You could even think about planting seeds of some perennial flowers like Shasta daisies or Echinacea cone flowers. They will not flower this year, but will look great next year. 

The lima beans are sprouting, but the bed needs some quick attention to prevent the weeds from overtaking them. Photo by mrl2022.

So, there you have some easy suggestions for quick, easy plants that can go in the ground now.  The warm soil temperature will help them germinate quickly provided you water them well every few days. Try and disrupt the weed growth with a hoe until crops get going. Most of the plants discussed here will shade the weeds out after that. Now I am going to go take my own advice and get more planting done!

Happy Gardening!

Dr. Matthew Lisy, UConn Adjunct Faculty

Starting your own seeds is one of the most rewarding things a gardener can do. When everything outside looks cold, dead, and dreary, we can have some bit of life right inside our homes.  Although it sounds easy, starting seeds inside can be challenging for a number of reasons. Our winter homes are not really ideal for plants that have certain environmental requirements not easily met. 

The first mistake many of us make is not giving our plants enough light. It is tempting to think that a table set by a window should be more than enough, but it won’t be! Seeds need a lot of light to get going. Remember the new plant only has a small amount of energy stored in the seed to get started. It needs to photosynthesize to make more food for itself.  This can only be done when there is adequate light for leaf growth and development. Too little light will force the plant to stretch in an attempt to reach a brighter location. This is called etiolation. As a plant stretches toward the light, the elongated stems are weaker and often your seedlings will end up flopping over. When transplanted outdoors as weather permits later in the season, the plants will be half laying on the ground and looking sad. This may also lead to disease problems. Fortunately, there are many light fixtures readily available to help seedlings grow. You can easily find one that will fit a plant stand or shelf in your house. There are even free-standing units available. Growing seedlings (or plants) near windows can set us up for a second problem – cold drafts. There is nothing worse for a plant than a cold drafty environment, which can lead to diseases or cold injury. Plant growth may be stunted. Seeds also need proper temperatures to germinate, and the microclimate near the window may be 10 degrees F cooler than the rest of your house (more on this in a minute). 

Fluorescent lights hung with chains allow the grower to adjust to the height of the lights to a few inches above the plants. Photo by mrl2022.

Seeds need two basic things to sprout – water and temperature. If the temperature in the house is too low, the seeds might take much longer than anticipated to sprout, or they may not sprout at all. Many times when this happens, the gardener thinks there must have been something wrong with the seeds, when in fact it was the environment. So this leaves the gardener with three options, each of which has costs and benefits. Pick the one that is most favorable to your situation.

The first and easiest is to turn up your thermostat. This will make the overall house temperature warmer with the obvious disadvantage that heating the entire house could substantially increase your utility costs. Another disadvantage is that the heat may not be where you need it, heating the upstairs more than you would like, when you are starting seeds downstairs, for example. A better approach is to use a heat mat under the seed starting trays. These can be a bit expensive as you need both a mat and controller, but once you buy them, they should last many years. A single controller can sometimes operate multiple heat mats, so this may save you money in the future if your hobby expands. The disadvantage to heat mats is that they can only raise the temperature to about 10 degrees above ambient. So, if you start seeds in a 50 degrees F basement, the seed starting medium could only be heated to about 60 degrees F.

A heat mat used for raising the temperature of the medium is limited to about ten degrees above ambient. Photo by mrl2022.
The controller for the heat mats. This one can operate up to four mats. Photo by mrl2022.

The best option in this case, would be to heat an individual room or space. If your home heating system does not allow you to do this, you could purchase an oil-filled electric radiator to bring up the temperature in your seed starting room.

An oil filled electric radiator can help raise the room temperature for seed starting. Photo by mrl2022.

The biggest mistake people make with any type of plant (houseplants, outdoor garden, seeds, etc.) is overwatering. People generally do not intend to overwater, but worry the plants will dry out. Wet, soggy soil, however, makes conditions ripe for disease. With seed starting, our biggest enemies are the fungal diseases known as damping off and botrytis. Both can wipe out a whole tray of seedlings in a few days. By the time you see it, it is usually too late to do anything.  Letting the soil dry out between waterings is the best way to prevent these diseases. On the flip side, avoid placing plants right above a radiator or near a wood/pellet stove as these dry the air and may dry the medium too quickly. Humidity domes are useful when getting seeds to sprout as they keep hold the moisture in, but should be removed a few days after the plants are up to increase air circulation and avoid diseases. 

Humidity domes can keep media moist for optimal germination, but should be taken off after sprouting to avoid fungal diseases. Photo by mrl2022.

The last problem has to do with timing. If plants are started too late, one could end up with tiny plants that will not fare well when placed in the ground. Plants should be tall enough to allow for planting and mulching, with a well-developed root system. Too little of a root system may cause the plant to wilt quicker and potentially become stunted or die if the gardener is not monitoring soil moisture. Also, the plant should be tall enough to have a thick layer of mulch placed around them. If the plants are too short, you may not be able to mulch properly and the plant could suffer from excessive weed pressure in the long-term, and drying out in the short-term. 

If you start your plants too early, they will be gigantic and falling over by the time they are ready to be transplanted into the garden. Many times, there is mechanical damage to the plant from the resulting flopping over in their plant trays. Although this is less of a problem with tomatoes that can be planted deep, other plants do not benefit from that and will look unsightly. Overgrown plants not only out grow their pots and flop over, but they may run out of nutrients too. This results in the yellowing and possible loss of the lower leaves (in favor of the new growth at the tip). The solution is to fertilize your plants to correct the nutritional deficiencies, but then this exacerbates the over-growth problem.

The final mistake is not fertilizing. Our little seedlings are growing in very small amounts of soil.  Although our “soilless mixes” often have some nutrients added in, they are only meant to help the plants get started. Once you have two sets of true leaves, it is a good idea to start fertilizing.  Follow package directions as too much is just as harmful as not enough. There are some mixes that have fertilizer built in for feeding the plants a longer period of time, so know your medium and adjust accordingly. You really want to avoid getting to the point of a nutritional deficiency.  This can stunt growth, affect the quality of plants, and alter the timing of moving outside due to inadequate height. 

So, if you plan on starting some seeds (and I hope you will), there are a number of things to keep in mind. You want bright light hung near the seedlings, proper room and soil temperatures, and watering only after the soil dries out. Figure out when you plan to put your plants in the ground and count back the number of days needed to germinate your seeds (this is temperature dependent).

Instructions on the backs of seed packets describe how early to start seeds indoors. Photo by mrl2022.

Also, do not forget the time it will take to move your seeds outside and gradually get them used to the sun and wind. This hardening off period takes about a week or two. A general rule is to start thinking about starting seeds around Saint Patrick’s Day, but this varies by plant species. The seed packets will tell you how early to start your seeds from your planned plant-out date. Fertilize your plants according to package directions when the second set of true leaves appear. And remember, no matter what methods you use to start seeds, keep a record of what worked and didn’t and adjust accordingly the following year.

Happy planting!

Matt Lisy

Germination of seeds is one of life’s most beautiful phenomena. You take this dead, rock looking thing, put it in some soil, water it, and a beautiful, living, green plant begins to grow. This was always a fascination for me as a kid, and even now as a well-seasoned adult, it is still like watching a bit of magic. Seeds truly are one of nature’s evolutionary breakthroughs. When the plant is near the end of its life cycle (annuals), or is approaching a harsh season (perennials), they go to seed and thus carry on the species by giving rise to the next generation. The seeds then just sit there dormant, waiting for environmental conditions to improve, biding their time patiently. 

Seemingly lifeless tomato seeds waiting for environmental conditions to be right so they can germinate. Photo by mrl2021.

When the time is right, and all the abiotic (non-living) parameters line up correctly, the seeds will germinate. Seeds are a bit like Goldilocks and the porridge in that respect. Too hot or too cold and it is a no go. However, when seeds find themselves in the correct temperature range with the right amount of moisture, they spring into action. It is important to note that there is a range at which seeds can germinate. The trade off, though, is that it generally takes longer to germinate at cooler temperatures. That being said, if we increase the temperature, germination will be sped up considerably. There is an upper end to this range, however, and if it gets too warm they will not germinate either. 

Note that each plant has its own optimal germination temperatures. It truly is not one size fits all, so it behooves the gardener to research the proper germination temperatures for the vegetables you are trying to grow. The nice part is that we can manipulate the process to occur much faster than it would have normally. Many vegetables take seven to fourteen days to germinate, assuming you are using room temperature. Any colder than that will either lengthen the germination time, or inhibit germination all together. 

The best way to speed up the germination process is by adding bottom heat. This is accomplished by using a heat mat. These can be really pricey, but once purchased can be reused year after year. Unfortunately that is not all you will need. These heat mats need to be controlled by a thermostat (control box). Do not attempt to use them without one as it will ensure disaster.  These are many times just as pricey as the heat mat itself. There are a number of different heat mat companies out there. There are some differences so do your research and find the one that matches what you are trying to accomplish. Heat mats come in many different sizes to accommodate the needs of the grower. There are mats suited to one standard 10×20 plant tray, or mats that can hold up to ten of those plant trays. Of course there are many sizes in between those extremes, so you should be able to find one that can fit your space. If you are trying to decide between two sizes, I always recommend going bigger if you can as with any hobby or endeavor humans generally like to expand.  

A heat mat. Photo by mrl2021

You have to choose your seed starting location carefully. First of all, you will need access to an electrical outlet. Extension cords may be okay to use, but make sure they are sized to handle the electrical needs of your mats. The more mats you have, the more amps you will be pulling. Read the information on the electrical cord packaging to determine the proper gauge and buy the shortest cord possible. I always go with a bigger gauge just to be safe. You will plug the mat or mats into the thermostat, and the thermostat into the wall outlet. The thermostat will have some type of mechanism which allows you to set the temperature so read the instructions on how to adjust it and set to the proper temperature for your plants. Don’t forget to change the temperature once you switch crops, if needed. These seed mats work great, but they do have their limitations.  They generally cannot raise the temperature more than twenty degrees above ambient. So while the basement may seem like a great place to start your seeds, it may end up being a little too cool if unheated in the late winter or early spring. The heat mats should be left on for twenty four hours a day until the seedlings are up and well on their way.    

A thermostat used to control the temperature of the heat mats. They will not function properly without one. Photo by mrl2021

The thermostat will have a probe on it to sense temperature. This can only be inserted into one tray, so it is assumed all the trays that fit on that mat will be the same temperature. You want to make sure that the probe has good contact with the soil, and is neither too deep nor too shallow.  One word of caution – the seed starting medium must be kept moist for two reasons. First, if the soil dries out then the seeds won’t germinate. Second, if the soil gets too dry, the probe will not be able to sense the temperature properly and your thermostat will not function properly. This could end up cooking your seeds or not working at all. At the very least, it is best to check the moisture levels twice a day, but three times is even better. I like to water my plant trays with a spray bottle. You have to be very careful not to disturb the soil too much as this may dislodge some sprouting seeds. 

The probe attached to the thermostat senses the heat in the seed trays. Make sure to keep the growing medium moist to ensure proper function. Photo by mrl2021

To help prevent the drying out of the growing medium, you can use plastic wrap over the top of the trays. There are also commercially available clear plastic domes made to fit over the 10×20 standard trays. They are fairly reasonable in price so I just use those, but the plastic wrap will work just as well. Once the seeds are up, it is best to take off the domes in order to prevent an overly humid environment which can support the growth of some harmful fungi.  ‘Damping off’ is a common fungal disease that causes the death of many seedlings. It looks like the plant rots right where the little sprout goes into the soil. Once the plants have started to grow you can remove them from the heat mats. Leaving them on too long can be detrimental and cause them to get tall and leggy, and even flop over. Remember that the heat mats are only for speeding up germination time. At this point you can move your seed trays to an area with really bright light.  Avoid window sills as these are usually cold and drafty. If needed, supplement with overhead lighting set a few inches above the plants. Adjust the lights as the plants grow. Soon it will be time to harden off your transplants and set them out for a bountiful harvest.

The heat mat, probe and thermostat in action warming the soil to speed germination of some vegetable seeds. Note the clear dome to retain moisture. Photo by mrl2021.

by Matt Lisy, UConn 2021

Backyard gardeners have had a long love affair with growing the perfect tomato. Some folks look for the biggest fruit, best flavor or earliest ripening. Whatever your idea of perfection for the perfect plant, save the seeds to grow it again.

Heirloom tomato

Heirloom, open-pollinated plants will produce the same fruit next year from seeds inside the tomato which were produced this year. Heirlooms have been consistently grown long enough to be stabilized.  Seeds saved from hybrid tomatoes, most often with the designation F1, will not produce the same plant or fruit next year. F1 hybrids will produce fruit, just not the same as they are first generation crosses that have not had time to stabilize. Plants grown from their seeds will most likely have different characteristics than the parent plant.

Saving tomato seeds is an easy task taking a few moments over several days depending on the method. There are three basic ways to save and preserve tomato seeds:  fermenting, drying, and planted directly. All three need the seeds removed from a ripe tomato, and then the seeds are treated differently depending on the method. First collect the seeds. Choose a large, very ripe tomato without spots or blemishes where disease may have entered. Cut it into slices to access the seeds surrounding the protective layer of gel. Scoop out the gel and seed mixture into a strainer.

Tomato seed rinsing

Fermentation method removes the gel which contains germination inhibiting chemicals that protect the seeds in natural environment while in the soil after a fruit dropped to the ground. When saving seeds inside and out of the soil, the gel can harbor disease that would normally die off.  

Fermentation cleans the seeds to ready them for storage.  Place the seeds and gel mixture in a fine, wire mesh colander and rinse well with cold water. Stir around the seeds with your finger to remove as much pulp as possible. Place seeds into a small dish and fill half way with room temperature water. Leave open container out of the way, at room temperature for a day or two. Swirl the mixture a couple of times during the day. Viable seeds will sink to the bottom, dead seeds will float. Remove any floating seeds to the trash or compost.  After no more than two days, strain the seed and water mixture through the wire mesh colander again. Rinse well to remove any remaining pulp and gel. Dump seeds onto a paper plate or paper towel, spreading them out to dry. Place them in an out of the way place until fully dry. Label paper plate or towel. After several days, the seed will be completely dry. Place in an airtight container or Ziploc plastic bag, label and store in a cool dry place out of light. Seeds cleaned with fermentation method should last five years.

Freshly rinsed tomato seeds drying.

Simply drying the seeds without fermentation to remove the gel will result in seed with less storage life. They will still germinate for the next season and possibly one more year, but over a longer period their viability is reduced quickly. To simply dry tomato seeds, wash the seeds in the wire colander. Place seeds separated apart onto a paper plate, towel or coffee filter. Let dry completely for several weeks. Label variety and store in airtight container or bag.  

Direct soil storage happens naturally all the time. Fruit containing seed drops to the soil and grows the next year once soil temperatures and moisture are adequate enough to germinate the seed. Each year I have several volunteer plants that sprout up and produce fruit. Direct soil storage just lets me plant the seeds in the fall where I would like them to grow the following spring. Either place an entire desirable tomato or just the harvested seed and gel, into the top two inches of soil and cover over. Mark the spot with the name of the plant. In the spring, gently rake through the soil where you planted them last fall. Cover the area with heat cap, cloche or empty gallon milk just with bottom cut out to heat the soil. Watch for germinating tomato seedlings, keeping the strongest one to grow and remove the weaker plants.

Many other plants provide seed which can be saved from mature fruits. Save pepper seeds from fruits that have turned red, orange or whatever color the variety produces. Green peppers are immature, therefore will contain unripe seeds. After collecting seeds from mature peppers, let them dry out on paper plates for a week or so until thoroughly dry. Store in air tight, labeled containers or bags. Summer and winter squash, as well as melons and cucumbers are great candidates for seed saving as there is no gel around these seeds.  Just be sure to take from large, ripe fruits. Harvest seed before cooking, rinse well and dry on paper plates or towel. There is no gel on these seeds.

Spaghetti squash on the vine.

Squash and other fruits stored too long can sometimes provide a surprise inside as the seeds will germinate in the stored fruits. The squash can still be eaten and the germinated seed can be potted up to grow a new plant.

Seeds sprouting inside a squash stored too long.

Gather seeds herbs and flowers as they go to seed, too, for planting in future years or swapping with friends. Dill reseeds freely and will even become weedy, delightfully providing new plants that are easily pulled out for use.

Dill gone to seed. Cut the entire head and place in a paper bag to dry completely.

Cleome flowers open as they climb up the stem. Seed pods are left to ripen below. Gather seeds every few days as the pods ripen.

Orange cosmos flowers ripen to seed pods easily snipped off of the stems.

by Carol Quish

January always finds me a bit restless. The holidays are over and it is time to dedecorate the house, the weather may or may not support outdoor activities like walks or cross-country skiing, and that New Year’s resolution of cleaning up the attic seems more daunting with every passing week. So to find some peace of mind, I reach for a hot cup of herbal tea and my stack of seed and plant catalogs that has been climbing higher each day the mail comes.

Like many gardeners, I start off with a wish list. Fanciful, curious, gorgeous or productive new, or previously unknown to me, selections are listed in my seed notebook to be later pared down to what I actually have room in the garden for. The eyes are always bigger than the garden!

I thought I would share some selections in the first few catalogs that I have received which caught my eye. Several new selections from the Park Seed catalog ( got my attention. Since I am always looking for cut flower selections, cosmos ‘Cupcakes Mixed’ looked interesting with its fused petals resembling a cup, hence the name. It is supposed to grow 4 feet tall and stand up to heat, rain and drought.

Multi-colored marigolds may work well as bedding plants. ‘Strawberry Blonde’ has double pompom blossoms with petals of coral, peach, gold and orange. I am seriously considering it for lining the front walkway this year. ‘Fireball’ also offers big double flowers that are open red and then turn orange, bronze or gold. Both are compact plants reaching about 10 inches high.


Strawberry Blonde Marigold from

Parks also offers a blueberry that fruits twice in one year. ‘Bushel and Berry™ Blueberry Perpetua’ not only fruits in midsummer and again in fall but the leaves change to red in the fall and the yellow stems turn red in the winter making this 4 to 5 foot high plant productive and attractive year round.

Pinetree Garden Seeds ( is offering two new kales. ‘Siberfrill’ is quite decorative with its frilly edged leaves while ‘Dazzling Blue’ is just that with bluish-tinged leaves and pinkish-purple midribs. Enjoy them for their decorative as well as eating qualities. ‘Edox’ lettuce is a disease-resistant, butterhead type with attractive burgundy edged leaves that reputedly grows well spring through fall.

Two snap peas will also likely end up in my garden. ‘Sugar Magnolia’ has pretty pink bicolored flowers that turn into deep purple edible podded peas and plants are said to beat the mid-July heat. ‘Opal Creek’ sports white flowers and pastel lemon pods on 6 foot vines and also holds up well to summer heat. ‘Corbaci’ is a sweet pepper with super long, thin fruits that bears heavy and early. This Turkish heirloom can be eaten at any stage and can be used fresh, dried, for pickling or frying.


Sugar Magnolia Pea from Pinetree Seeds

It is hard to choose tomatoes or peppers from Totally Tomatoes ( as there are just too many choices. Usually I just grow sweet peppers but may try ‘Sriracha’ this year. The chili-type fruits are supposed to be mildly hot but not overpowering. The thick-walled, early maturing fruits are good for roasting and pickling. Another interesting pepper is ‘Jupiter’ which is an open-pollinated reintroduction. Blocky fruits ripen to red on 30 inch, tobacco mosaic resistant plants.

‘Sunrise Sauce’ is a hybrid, determinant tomato that is resistant to fusarium and verticillium. Three to 4 ounce orange fruits taste like the traditional red Romas. High yielding fruits ripen all at once which is convenient for sauce making. ‘Tasmanian Chocolate’ is in a unique dwarf class of tomatoes. Three foot tall plants produce large 8 to 12 ounce mahogany red, beefsteak tomatoes delicious fresh or cooked.


Tasmanian Chocolate tomato. Photo from

Johnny’s Selected Seeds ( is offering All America Selections Regional Winner, eggplant ‘Patio Baby’. This compact mini eggplant would work well in small gardens and containers. Purple flowers are followed by purple, 2 to 3 inch, spineless fruits.

‘Xtra-Tender’ is an early bicolor sweet corn and the first supersweet variety available as organic seed. Supposedly it germinates well in cool soils, is of excellent eating quality and matures in 71 days.

New to me are some mini romaine lettuces. Too often too many lettuces mature all at once and there is just so much salad a person can eat. ‘Dragoon’ is a green, mini romaine that is slow to bolt. ‘Breen’ is a medium bronze mini only 8 inches tall and ‘Trunchas’ is a dark red. All mature in less than 50 days and show some disease resistance.

Sunflower ‘Florenza’ has dark centers ringed with a deep burgundy and tipped with gold. Plants grow about 4 ½ feet tall and flowers have a mild chocolate fragrance.


Sunflower Florenza from

The last couple of years I lost my basil plants to a disease known as basil downy mildew. New from Burpee ( is ‘Pesto Party’, a late-flowering basil with tolerance to downy mildew. Coleus ‘Pineapple Surprise’ sounds like a container hit with its chartreuse and burgundy leaves swirled with chocolate brown.


Basil Pesto Party from

A definite addition to the cutting garden is celosia ‘Red Velvet Cake’. Three to 4 foot plants have strong stems that do not require staking. The vibrant crimson heads look like they will make great fresh and dried flowers.


Celosia Red Velvet Cake from

Territorial Seed Company ( has a uniquely colored butternut squash, ‘Autumn Choice’. Classic butternut-shaped fruit have attractive orange and green speckled bands. Not only is butternut a great tasting squash but because of its solid stems, members of this species, Cucurbita moschata, are not attacked by squash vine borers.


Autumn Choice Winter Squash from

Another fun squash is offered by Henry Fields ( ‘Dinosaur Eggs’ is a hybrid summer squash with round fruit in three colors – pale green, dark green and yellow. It is listed as disease resistant and productive.

These are just some offerings that piqued my interest and I have yet a dozen or more catalogs to go through. It is fun to try new vegetables and flowers while growing some old favorites. The hard part is whittling down the list to ones you can afford – both space and time wise.

Happy Horticultural New Year!


About now, many of us gardeners have a stack of seed catalogs several inches high and have started combing through them acquiring all kinds of ideas and a long wish list. Before finalizing you orders, spend a bit of time going through any leftover seeds from the previous year. Many seeds, including tomatoes, peppers and zinnia remain viable for several years. So if you are just starting 2 ‘Sungold’ tomatoes each year, you might just need to purchase seeds every third or fourth year. On the other side of the spectrum are short-lived seeds whose germination declines with every passing year. They include vegetables such as onions, leeks, parsley, parsnips and sweet corn. It is best to purchase new seeds for these crops every year for best results.

How older seeds are stored will also affect viability. They can be kept in their individual seed packets, small coin envelops, or in plastic or glass containers. Wondering what to do with the envelops your bank teller or ATM hands you? Give them a second life storing seed collected from the garden. The key to seed saving is to keep them dry, not exposed to very hot or cold temperatures, and away from heat sources. I use a photograph box and organize my seeds into two rows – flowers and vegetables. Plastic bins are used by others while another option is putting them in photograph albums with pocketed sleeves. Any extra seeds which you won’t be using this year could be traded with friends, donated to community or school gardens or offered to local garden clubs.

A photo box holds the authors seed collection. Photo by DMP

A photo box holds the authors seed collection. Photo by DMP

I’m not sure how many local readers have signed up for the CT 10% Campaign ( but purchasing seeds from Connecticut seed companies is just one more way to spend 10% of your food and gardening money locally. Connecticut has at least 6 seed companies with numerous offerings.

The oldest is Comstock, Ferre & Co. which was founded in 1811 by Joseph Belden who advertised his first seed variety and price list in the Hartford Courant. His brother later took over the business selling seeds out of the 1767 home their father built which still stands in Wethersfield today. In 2010, the company was purchased by Jere and Emilee Gettle with the intention of returning it to its heirloom roots. One of their goals is to search and preserve the seed varieties listed in old catalogs and seed lists. They also are working on the restoration of the buildings and grounds on the historic site eventually creating a living history museum depicting the importance of agriculture and heirloom varieties.

Now known as Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds/Comstock, Ferre & Co. and still located in Wethersfield, CT, the company offers vegetable, flower and herb seeds at their company store as well as online. Check out  to view their offerings, business hours and family friendly events.

The Chas. C. Hart Seed Company, after being founded in 1892, is still being run 5 generations later by Charles C. Hart’s great-great grandsons. Beginning as a small, home-based, consignment seed package business, it slowly grew purchasing other seed businesses in Connecticut and neighboring states. Although the original wood building housing the Chas. C. Hart Seed Company burned in 1943, a new office/warehouse building was constructed on the historic Wethersfield site.

Hart Seed is GE (genetically engineered) free and is typically sold online in bulk. While one may not need 1000 or more seeds which might be a catalog minimum, individual packets can be found at many Connecticut locations including garden centers, agricultural supply shops and hardware stores throughout the state. For a list of locations, visit

Although not as old as the previous two seed houses, NE Seed was founded in 1987 by two longtime friends with the purpose of creating a line of ‘high quality, chemical-free seed products’ reasonably priced and consisting of conventional, organic, heirloom and hybrid vegetable, flower and herb varieties. Seeds from their catalog are generally ordered in bulk but like Hart Seed, their smaller seed packets are available at a variety of local venues.

NE Seed also offers bulk seeds of native forbs and grasses which would work well when establishing a wildflower meadow or wildlife habitat plot. They are located in Hartford and at

Seed packets from some CT seed companies. Photo by DMP

Seed packets from some CT seed companies. Photo by DMP

Select Seeds – Antique Flowers is a unique seed company located in Union, CT specializing in old-fashioned flowers but offering a limited number of vegetables and herbs, all non GE seeds, as well as annual transplants and perennials. What is unique about antique flowers, as well as heirloom vegetables, is that they are open pollinated which means that if the seed produced by the parent plant is saved and replanted, an identical plant or one very similar to the parent plant will grow. Seeds can be saved from year to year. With many of us New Englanders residing in older homes, the flower varieties offered by Select Seeds may well be the same ones our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were growing and also, quite compatible with the historic and architectural elements comprising our homes . See their complete listings at

Select Seeds new catalog. Photo by DMP

Select Seeds new catalog. Photo by DMP

If one is focused on cooking what one grows, Kitchen Garden Seeds in Bantam, CT may have some attractive offerings.  Scroll through their seed offerings to find a variety of vegetables, herbs, flowers and specialty collections. There is a relatively large selection of Asian vegetables and even the telephone number of their seed specialist who will take your calls during the week. Request their print catalog or order on-line. This company offers numerous recipes using their herbs and vegetables and a nice assortment of horticultural tips.

Lastly, while not typically for the general public, Colonial Seed of Windsor should be mentioned. They specialize in native grasses, sedges, legumes and other native plants that are needed for habitat restoration plantings, native wildflower meadows , forage fields and other challenging sites. Some of their seed is available through other commercial outlets like Hart Seeds but contact this company directly at for more offerings.

Connecticut residents are lucky as it is not that difficult to live and buy local in many areas of our state. Support local businesses, including seed houses and local garden centers as a way of supporting the businesses employing your neighbors and keeping local dollars in the local economy.

Dawn P.


Silene stenophylla, regenerated from a 32,000-year-old seed.
(Photograph: National Academy of Sciences)

The dry little speck that develops into a magnificent plant is one of those miracles that happens so often that it’s easy to take it for granted. But, if we stop and consider the way plants guarantee that a new generation will carry on their genes, we have to marvel at the elegance of nature’s design. Protected by a tough coat, seed can tolerate conditions much harsher than its living parent could ever survive, and it can wait years for the proper conditions to germinate. In the case of Silene stenophylla, proper conditions were scientists removing its seed from a 32,000 year-old squirrel burrow in the Siberian permafrost and growing it. This “delicate” arctic campion grew, bloomed and set seed after millennia of patient dormancy. Other reports of Jerusalem date palm and lotus seed remaining viable for a mere thousand years is testament to the phenomenal adaptation and resilience of plants. (At the other end of the spectrum, some tropical seed remains viable only briefly, and must be sown fresh for good results.)  In order to make management of a crop easier, agricultural seed has been selected to germinate all at the same time, a characteristic that would be disastrous for wild species. Ordinary garden seed, collected the previous year and packed and stored in dry conditions, is a valuable resource for gardeners.

Growing plants from seed allows the gardener a much broader range of plant choices than you’ll find at your local garden centers. With all the offerings online, in seed catalogs or on the racks in the big-box stores, the choices can be overwhelming. When selecting varieties, consider not only appearance, but yield, disease resistance and flavor. Gardeners’ reviews in internet forums can be useful in making a decision.

Tomato seedling 'High Tower' (Photo: Rutgers)

As the time for starting seeds for the vegetable garden approaches, a few pointers may be helpful:

  • Start tomatoes on St. Patrick’s Day, or thereabouts (Eight weeks is standard lead time before planting in the garden, but if mid-May is still too chilly, plants can always be held a couple more weeks.) The majority of garden vegetables can be started from seed at this time. Cabbage can wait a few weeks, and for the vines, (cucumber, melon, squash, etc.) delay indoor planting until the last week of April, because setting out these heat-loving plants too early will only retard their growth.
  • Root crops should be sown directly in the garden.
  • Growing annual and perennial flowers from seed is an economical way to grow large numbers of plants and also to try unusual varieties. Be aware that some perennials require stratification (periods of cold that break dormancy) before they will germinate.
  • Seed saved by friends and neighbors in your area are often a good bet. They’ve been tested by others who have about the same conditions as yours.
  • Start small seeds in flats and larger seeds in cell packs, using commercial potting soil. (The garden books advise sterilizing the cell packs if they’ve been used before, and also using sterilized growing medium; I do neither and have never had a problem.) Garden soil can contain weed seeds and pathogens; potting mix is the safer choice.
  • Don’t trust your memory; identify flats with popsicle sticks labeled with indelible marker.
  • Germinate seeds in a warm room. Bottom heat aids germination; a table over a baseboard or radiator is excellent, as long as it’s not too hot.
  • Cover germinating seeds with a sheet of plastic to retain moisture. (Dry cleaner’s bags work well, held in place with something light – I use chopsticks.) Monitor closely to be sure soil is damp, not wet. Remove plastic as soon as seeds break the surface. Allow one week beyond the germination times stated on the seed packet. If germination is disappointing or absent, resort to Plan B.
  • The humidity that is conducive to seed germination is also the perfect environment for the growth of fungi and bacteria that can attack seeds or seedlings in a condition called damping off. Keep soil moist, but not wet; excessive moisture is the primary culprit of this disease. A small fan running on slow speed (placed well away from the seedlings) or a slightly open window on warm days will help by circulating air and keeping surfaces dry.
  • Move sprouted seeds immediately to the brightest light available. A sunny window is good; or artificial lights (fluorescent or LED) hung on a chain can be positioned a few inches from the growing plants and moved as necessary.
  • After sprouted seeds have their first set of true leaves, they may require thinning. Plants that are too crowded will compete with each other and none will flourish, so don’t skip this step. Cutting off unwanted plants with small scissors is preferable to pulling because it won’t disturb delicate roots.
  • When plants outgrow their cells or small pots, move up to a 2.5-3” pot, using a plant stake or plastic spoon to separate and lift the seedlings. Water thoroughly with a dilute water-soluble fertilizer.
  • Vine crops (cucumbers, melons, squash, etc.) are best started in peat pots because they can be transplanted without disturbing their temperamental roots. Peat pots are mushy when wet, so at planting time, soak them well, tear them gently open and plant directly into the ground. Trim off any pot that will protrude above the soil; this will cause wicking action that can rapidly rob moisture from the plant.
  • Harden off plants before planting out in the garden, gradually exposing plants, over the course of a couple of weeks, to increasing sunlight and cool weather.

For those who haven’t tried it, growing your own plants from seed is a gratifying experience – there’s no better way to tune in to a plant’s requirements and hone your horticultural instincts, and it’s an economical way to try new varieties and keep your garden interesting.

J. McInnis

Knowledge To Grow On……..Ladyblog – 2009 Week One


Every New Year brings with it new possibilities and new challenges. Just as we can’t predict how well our gardens will do this next growing season, we venture into the coming year not knowing what we might behold. Events over the last few years, especially over this last one, have many seeking a simpler, more responsible and sustainable path.  As educators, we want to provide you with research-based, unbiased information so that you can make informed choices. Our focus, obviously, is horticulture. But, when you think about it, all life begins with the soil. A plant’s health and well-being is essential for our health and well-being. As more and more details are discovered about global climate change, it becomes clearer that every part of the global ecosystem is connected. Chemicals we use or have used in our daily lives, residences, offices, factories and so forth are found in the bodies of polar bears inhabiting the Arctic! 


We, as gardeners, have the ability to transform the world. Bit by bit, slowly but surely, row by row. Not only can we put food on the table (often having enough left over to share) but we can become good stewards of our little patch of land. We have many opportunities to spread the word about gardening practices that tread lightly on the landscape. Our goal is to provide you with the information necessary to do so. Check out our blog each week for thoughtful conversation, tips, helpful information, resources, rants and raves, and what the scientists in our College of Agriculture and Natural Resources are working on. We welcome your comments and suggestions. DP


Happy Horticultural New Year!


UConn Home & Garden Education Center Staff

Dawn Pettinelli, Leslie Alexander, Carol Quish and Joan Allen