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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

A Sunday seed swap and seed starting demonstration

Cassandra West

Having never gone to a seed swap, I had only a vague idea of what to expect when I signed up for the Forest Park Community Garden 2011 Annual Seed Swap and Seed Starting Demonstration.

Would anyone be remotely interested in the garden-variety Burpee seeds I wanted to swap? Would the swappers be tripping over each other to get their hands on a package of exotic, hard-to-find seeds? Would there be anything new to learn about seeds?

Yes. No. Most definitely.

Seeds are fascinating little unborn plants, and gardeners of all levels, I’ve found, love to cradle and fuss over them. And, a seed swap is a great place to cultivate a deeper appreciation of those little babies we want to help grow to maturity. Luckily for many of us, the committee that organized the Forest Park swap thought to make a seed starting demonstration part of the afternoon. They also provided catalogs from some of the country’s top seed retailers for us swappers to take home and swoon over later.

Master gardener trainee Debbie Kong, an avid and resourceful suburban farmer, presented the seed demonstration, assisted by her daughter, Kara, who she calls Little Green Girl. Packing their demonstration with lots of practical information, they explained the characteristics and germination schedules of popular seeds.

We asked Debbie to tell us one of the most important facts we should know about seeds. “Seeds should not be more than two years old (this varies on the type of seed) because their germination rates declines,” she said.

And what kinds of seeds are urban gardeners looking for today? “Gardeners are now buying seeds from smaller companies that specialize in heirloom seeds for their quality and unique varieties,” Debbie explained. As for her own seed source preferences, she said, “I like buying my seeds at Renee’s Garden, Seeds from Italy, Botanical Interests, the Hudson Valley Seed Library, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I also recommend Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Seed Savers Exchange, which is a 35-year-old non profit organization working to preserve heirloom seeds.”

You don’t have to miss out on Debbie’s demonstration. Seeding Chicago recorded it for you. Watch Parts 1 and 2 here: