By Jenevra Wetmore
This time of year, people are either anxious for spring to arrive or praying for more snow–the latter tend to be skiers. I have never been an avid skier but I am an avid gardener, so I’m in the camp that’s ready for spring. If you are a gardener, now is the time to take inventory of your seeds and plan your 2023 vegetable garden. If you don’t consider yourself to be a gardener, think of 2023 as the year to start. There are great local resources to begin gardening at a very low cost, or for free, and there are many good reasons to grow your own food.
We all lived through empty shelves in grocery stores during the COVID-19 pandemic. Items are mostly back in stock now, but we have seen rising prices for many of the items we typically buy, such as eggs. According to the USDA, food prices were 10.1 percent higher in January 2023 than in January 2022. Growing your own food provides a source of inflation-proof food throughout the growing season and into winter, if you preserve what you grow. You will also know exactly where your food comes from and what went into growing it, which puts you in control of what you eat. This helps you avoid pesticides and chemicals.
Eating local is also a great way to reduce carbon emissions. Eating local reduces mileage associated with transporting food and helps eliminate plastic packaging. Growing your own garden also allows you to care for your soil, which is vital in the face of climate change. By practicing no till gardening, you can increase biological diversity, water retention and soil health. Even in a conventional tilled garden, you can take measures such as mulching and cover cropping to keep your soil healthy. Using local compost instead of manufactured fertilizers will also reduce carbon emissions and benefit your soil.
You will want to choose a well-drained, relatively flat spot that receives ample sunlight for your garden. Don’t have the space for a garden? You can grow in containers, or look elsewhere for garden space. Sustainable Woodstock offers plots to local gardeners in our two community garden locations: Billings Farm and the King Farm. Gardeners pay a small sliding-scale fee to cover garden preparation and maintenance costs. Our gardens are organic and observe “no-till” or “minimal disturbance” gardening principles. For more information or to check plot availability, contact us at email@example.com. Other local towns offer garden plots; you can visit vtgardens.org/garden-directory to find a community garden near you.
Once you have a garden location, you will need seeds and/or seedlings. Seeds cost less than seedlings, and planting directly into your garden in the spring will be the least expensive way to grow vegetables like peas, squash, cucumbers, spinach, beans… the list goes on. In our climate, seeding directly won’t work for veggies like tomatoes or peppers, since they need a long growing season to reach maturity. You can start your own seeds indoors by using a regular LED shop light–choose a full spectrum or broad spectrum light, and hang from a wire rack or shelving unit for a cheap and easy way to get started (avoid custom grow systems that cost hundreds of dollars unless you are seriously ready to invest in seed starting and indoor growing).
Are you looking for help accessing seeds? The Upper Valley Seed Savers (UVSS) began providing local seeds for neighbors in need in 2020, when the pandemic caused a seed shortage and financial hardship. The Seed Savers are a group of gardeners and farmers who meet monthly in an effort to increase seed saving knowledge and create a local collection of seeds that would support a year-round food supply. UVSS can donate a limited quantity of seeds to families in need– visit http://uppervalleyseedsavers.pbworks.com/ to see their 2023 seed catalogue. Each family can order up to 10 packets of seeds. Some local libraries also offer seed libraries, including Hartland and Windsor. Lastly, if you receive EBT, commonly known as food stamps, you can use your benefits to buy fruit, vegetable, and herb seeds and starter plants at any retailer or farmers market that accepts EBT cards!
Sustainable Woodstock also offers gardening resources. Since 2020 we have been distributing beginner Grow Your Own Garden Kits free of charge to individuals and families who want to produce their own food and increase long-term food security. Each free kit includes a complete set of seeds, seedlings and a beginner’s book on organic gardening. This program is open to families who would not otherwise be able to afford to garden. We encourage you to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on this program.
Grow Your Own Garden seedling sets from Sherburne Farm (North Pomfret). Photo: Michael J. Caduto
Here are the websites of some great seeds sources:
- Solstice Seeds: http://www.solsticeseeds.org/
- J. L. Hudson, Seedsman http://www.jlhudsonseeds.net/
- Vermont Bean Seed Company: https://www.vermontbean.com/
- High Mowing Seeds: https://www.highmowingseeds.com/
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: https://www.rareseeds.com/
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds: https://www.johnnyseeds.com/
- Fedco Seeds: https://www.fedcoseeds.com/seeds/
Native Seed Banks
- Native Seeds/SEARCH: https://www.nativeseeds.org/
- Seeds of Change: https://seedsofchange.com/
- Seed Savers Exchange: https://www.seedsavers.org/