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The seeds of sensibility

September 18, 2016


Ripe sunflower seeds
Ripe sunflower seeds

‘The seeds of today are the flowers of tomorrow’ is a Native American proverb to which — as home-grown, preferably organic, food is increasingly essential — let’s add wheelbarrows full of vegetable, herb and fruit seeds too.

The problem, however, with seeds is that some of us simply do not know when to stop buying and hoarding them. I am 100 per cent guilty of this. It means that this week’s column is blatantly hypocritical but I am going to write it anyway!

The majority of gardeners switch to ‘seed mode’ at every single opportunity, be this opportunity real, perceived or specifically created and all of us so afflicted find it almost impossible to stop: seeds are addictive and we are delighted to be addicts.

If you are a compulsive seed hoarder you may need to rethink your practice

The thing is that we rarely have enough space — let alone energy — to sow all the seeds in our collections, so we always have ‘extra’ seeds in stock and, in the case of ‘low cost’ or self collected ones, we probably amass far more than we can plant even if given 10 lifetimes over.

A seemingly tiny amount of seeds can seem so small and almost invisible to the naked eye but a pinch of them if correctly sown can result in literally hundreds and hundreds of plants and can go a very long way. It is far too easy to get carried away and enthusiastically sow the lot, so you have to face the ‘cruel’ fact that seedlings must be thinned out, drastically, if they are to stand a chance of surviving and having enough ‘elbow room’ to flourish as nature intended.

With the cost of seeds increasing, it seems that each time you surrender to the magnetic lure of seed stores — and now online seed stores as well — you must spend and even sometimes tragically waste a huge amount of money each year. Therefore, it’s time to get realistic and give serious consideration to our ‘necessary’ purchases by injecting a major shot of ‘sensibility’ into our seed-shopping splurges.

How not to buy seeds:

  1. Colourful, often ridiculously enhanced or even photo-shopped pictures of stunning flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruit, artfully emblazoned on the front of seed packets, encourage gardeners to buy, buy and buy ... don’t!

  2. Unusual seed varieties are tempting to try out in the hope of growing something astounding.Despite them often being expensive, the lure of the unknown can be so overwhelming that before you know it, half a dozen packets are bought and paid for as ‘Surely something will grow.’

  3. ‘Oh! These are cheap, I’ll buy lots and as they are locally packed, they are sure to do well’ and another dozen packets are happily added to your collection as, surely, you will find a space/pot to put them in.

  4. ‘How wonderful to find seeds for all of those gorgeous English country garden type flowers with which to create your dreamscape for real. Primrose seeds, seeds for massive, perennial, oriental poppies and magical, sky blue, Himalayan poppies for the patio or for in-between the roses and suddenly it seems, your hands are overflowing with the excitement to come. Furthermore, instructions on the packets say to sow them right now so you can rush home and do it.

Irresistible seeds
Irresistible seeds

Sensible seed buying:

  1. Ignore attractive pictures on seed packets and carefully read the details on the back. Pay special attention to both packaging and expiry dates. Some varieties of seeds, if foil packed, will keep and retain their viability for years. Others do not. If you are not sure how desired seeds are, go home and check your books or do an internet search.

  2. Do not buy fancy ‘new’ species without checking if they have a chance of surviving in our climatic and soil conditions.

  3. Buy just a few good quality, preferably foil-packed, seeds which have full information about their origin, type, cultivation requirements in preference to lower cost seeds packed in uninformative paper envelopes. The latter may have expired, may not be Pakistan ‘friendly’ and may even be — horror of horrors — GMOs (Genetically modified organisms) in disguise and we all know, or should know by now, that these are best avoided.

  4. Sowing times on packets of imported seeds, especially if they originated in Europe or America/Canada are rarely, if ever, applicable to Pakistan as our weather conditions are very different. It can be that seeds for spring sowing in their country of origin, may be suitable for autumn sowing in plains and coastal areas, including Karachi, but this is not always the case. Research should be done before sowing anything as you do not want to waste precious seed.

Storing seeds:

Seeds should, ideally, be stored in airtight containers, in a cool, preferably dark, place. The salad drawer of the fridge is perfect if you have room and some, not all, varieties of seeds can be kept in the freezer. Check up on how best to store individual species and, if you are saving your own self-harvested seeds please remember to label them with labels which firmly stick! n

Please continue sending your gardening queries to Remember to include your location. The writer does not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 18th, 2016