From Seed to Shining Seed … Free Seeds at our SeedFest Feb. 25

MG seed sorting 2

I know we all have the itch — no, I am not talking about that winter dry skin, but the itch for gardening.
Once the rush of the holidays is over, and then the doldrums of the long rest of winter lie ahead. Then the seed catalogs start pouring in, and the itch to garden almost becomes unbearable.
Well, you have the itch; I have the cure. Pumpkins, beans, cukes, and almost every vegetable, herb, flower, fruit and more that you can think of, we have and there are thousands of packages of free seeds waiting for you.
Join us for the University of Illinois Extension Will County Master Gardener, Master Naturalist and Master Composter, SeedFest on February 25 from 9 -11 a.m. at the Will County Extension office, located in the Will County Farm Bureau, 100 Manhattan Road, Joliet.
Free seed for everyone (up to 15 packages each.) No need to register, no cost, just show up. Plus, my volunteers will staff learning stations to give you tips and tricks on all things seed starting.
We are so fortunate to receive about 50,000 packages of seed from the Midwest Food Bank in Bloomington Normal. They receive these seeds from the vendors who had leftover seed at the end of the previous growing year. It is a curious story how this wonderful opportunity began. It shows that we gardeners know a secret: Seeds are food.
One of my longtime Master Gardener volunteers had a family member who volunteers for this food bank full time. And the volunteer was lamenting that the food bank didn’t know what to do with this huge seed donation they received — because they needed room for food.
My volunteer, with a gardener’s twinkle in her eye said, “Seeds are food. You just have to know what to do.”
And with that, a wonderful partnership began. And our SeedFest Program was born. Actually, the first year we called it seed swap to coordinate with National Seed Swap Day, which is designated as the last Saturday in January. But so many people were worried they couldn’t participate if they didn’t bring seeds to share. So one of our volunteers coined our event –SeedFest.
We want to not only share this extremely generous donation of seed but equally as important, fulfil our mission of Helping Others Learn to Grow. We decided to add four casual learning stations on seed starting. Each one focuses on a different topic related to successful and not so successful seed starting. This is not a sit-down class, think of these as learning walk by stations.
Will County Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists and Master Composters and I will all be there to answer any of your gardening questions, including those about seed starting. Each learning “pop up” has a specific theme related to seed starting.
The most popular pop up is the “Oh, that is why my seeds didn’t make it” station. My volunteers intentionally grow bad examples to show attendees how simple, small changes can lead to success … or failure. There are three main errors many seed starters make:
First, seed starting is like gardening — there is no Ron Popeil “set it and forget it,” which many people do with seed starting. They have the best of intentions, they get a big order of seeds, spend money and time on putting their seed starting set up together, plant them, but then forget they need regular care and checking. Especially during those first germination stages. Otherwise, dead seedlings.
The other main problems are not having a strong enough light source, and your seedlings stretch and stretch — like a teenager getting up at noon on a Saturday. These seedlings do fairly well inside, but they are week and scrawny. And won’t make it outside in the Midwest spring. The strong sunshine and constant wind of sometime will knock them down like a two-year-old playing with blocks.
The other main seed starting mistake reminds me of a line from Frank Sinatra singing ‘New York, New York’. I am sure you are familiar with “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” he was referring to the Big Apple. I am referring to the outdoor conditions. We need to keep our seedlings in Midwest weather boot camp.
Buy a “dollar store” clip-on fan, and even before your seedlings emerge, have it blowing on your seed starting. This stimulates wind and will, from the start, keep your seedlings, stout and tight and strong.
Also remember this warm and dark till you see the green, then cool and light for growing on. Many people keep it too warm all throughout seed starting and that will, again, produce weak, scrawny seedlings.
Most seeds need dark and warm to germinate, but then keep them growing on in a cooler situation with stronger light. This makes a world of difference.
Other learning pop-ups feature how to start native seed; how to create a free (and all the way to the newest gadgets) for a seed starting set-up; and what diseases and insects are associated with seed starting (those darn gnats).
There is no cost to this event. It is family friendly. And we will even be offering you our state snack seed, popped of course, popcorn. We will have available many University Extension fact sheets free for the taking as well.
If you have any questions, call the University of Illinois Will County Extension Office at 815 727 9296 or email me directly at [email protected]
Hope to “see-d” you there!



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