Many people have expressed concerns to me over the state of food supply chains, the decrease in pollinators, and water availability. Because of this, I’m getting more questions than usual about what fruit and vegetable seeds I think they should plant.
If I only have 30 seconds to answer them, I tell them to plant what they like to eat. If I have more time, I share that I too have worries about the status of our food and the decline of pollinator species. Both concerns are huge topics — ones that would take a semester each to answer — but to the best of my ability, I’m going to answer some of those questions here.
What seeds do I need?
One thing I encourage most new growers to do is to stick with easy edibles that have proven track records for northern Arizona. These include beans, squash, and leafy greens. To choose just one, I can’t say enough about beans. There are many beautiful varieties that can be dried and eaten all year. They don’t need as much water as other foods, and they can be just as attractive as flowers used in landscaping!
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My other suggestion is to pick the right varieties, with short-season plants for colder areas and heat-tolerant varieties for those in hot spots. To check this information, look on the packets for a “days to maturity” value. This will give you an idea how long you’ll have to wait for ripened food. For example, Siberian tomato varieties are a good choice for gardeners and farmers in higher elevations because many of these will provide red fruit in less than 80 days. The same is true for some corn varieties. Always, always read the seed packets and follow the suggestions there. If they don’t provide enough information, perform an Internet search.
How do I care for them?
Some seeds are recommended to be started indoors. If so, provide plenty of full spectrum light and water from the bottom in a pan or on a capillary mat. This will cut down on disease and keep your seedlings watered more evenly. To speed up germination, a warming mat can be used underneath the seeds.
Should you choose to bypass starting seeds indoors, which is okay. Plant seeds out in the garden after all fear of freezing has passed, or plan on covering plants with some sort of insulating material until it is. Though I’m opposed to plastics in the garden as much as possible, plant insulators and frost cloths can be growers’ best friends in cooler climates.
How do I cut down on my water use?
Another plastic I still use in the garden is drip tape irrigation tubing. Using this to water rather than overhead watering has cut my water consumption down by half. Burying the tape just under the surface and near plant roots decreases water use even more, plus keeps the plastic from breaking down in the sunlight faster. I also remind myself that our food is often coming from far away, and at least I know how much water (and other resources) are going into their growing. Meaning, it takes a lot fewer resources than an industrial farm halfway around the nation or world.
How can I provide for the pollinators?
Please, please don’t forget to plant things that will help pollinator species. We have a symbiotic relationship with most bees, moths, and butterflies, and if you attract them to your garden, they can help pollinate your flowering foods like squashes, melons, tomatoes, beans, etc. Include in your garden plants like sunflowers, beeplant, borage, salvia, and poppies to keep habitat for our sensitive allies. My husband wasn’t sold on the value of flowers in the garden until I started a flower farm, and he saw the hordes of pollinators now visiting our whole garden. I assure you, build it, and they’ll come.
If you’re still nervous about starting your own garden, take a class online. Many are offered on seed starting and food growing. Another option is to volunteer for one of the amazing local farmers around our community to learn some growing skills. There are a few local (and free) seed libraries in our community where you can get seeds and learn how to use them. One to visit is the Grow Flagstaff! Seed Library. Check out the library’s booth in the Floriculture building at the Coconino County Fair for more information on how to use the seed library, how to save seeds, and how to start seeds.
Jackee Alston has been gardening and farming in the Flagstaff and Verde Valley since 2005 and 2015, respectively. In her past lives, she was a wildlife biologist, botanist, and backcountry ranger. Now she is the co-editor of the Gardening Etcetera column, owner of Nevermore Gardens, a Coconino Master Gardener, founder of the Grow Flagstaff! Seed Library, children’s author, and the mother of three remarkable humans.
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