sowing viable seeds in a tray

Book Review: Starting & Saving Seeds

Lengthening days and slowly warming weather herald the beginning of spring, that wonderful season of promise and hope. What could be more symbolic of this than seeds, tiny lifeboats waiting for the right conditions to spring into action and create the next generation of beauty and flavor in our gardens? Yes friends, it’s seed starting time.

A Book to Help

Now, for most of us this is a fun and joyous time, but I confess that it brings up a certain amount of anxiety for me. I have never been good at starting seeds indoors. In fact, you can read my confession of seed starting failures here. But today I am feeling more hopeful and upbeat about starting seeds after reading Starting & Saving Seeds (Cool Springs Press, 2018)  by Julie Thompson-Adolph.

Starting & Saving Seeds by Julie Thompson- Adolph

This book has it all: an overview of seed basics; illustrated instructions of preparing, sowing, and harvesting seeds; the invaluable sections on how to sow and harvest specific popular plants.

Sample Tips

To give you a taste of what’s in this book, here are a few excerpts.

  • Arugula – This salad herb doesn’t transplant well, so although you can start seeds indoors, you might save yourself the trouble and sow it directly outdoors. However, be sure to do this once the soil has warmed to at least 60 degrees. Arugula will come up quickly, within a week, so you might want to sow a few seeds every two weeks to give yourself fresh leaves to harvest throughout the season. Near the end of the season, let a few plants go to seed so you can save them for next. Arugula seeds will remain viable for up to 7 years.
  • Tomatillos – Here in the Southwest, we include this cousin of tomatoes in our vegetable gardens. Unlike arugula, it transplants well and can be started indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost in your area. Keep the seed-starting trays warm with bottom heat to encourage germination. Sow tomatillo seeds outdoors after the soil temperature reaches at least 75 degrees. It self-pollinates and cross-pollinates easily with other varieties. If you want to save a particular favorite, bag a few of the emerging flowers to keep the genetics pure.
  • Milkweed – Once an annoying weed to farmers, this native flower is now popular for those who are creating butterfly gardens. Milkweed requires a certain period of cold to trigger germination in spring. You can either sow it outside in fall or store it in a refrigerator for 6 to 10 weeks before sowing. Germination is slow, taking up to 3 weeks provided they have received the necessary number of cold days. This is definitely a plant for a patient gardener, as it flowers the second year.
Mexican sunflower
Mexican sunflowers can be grown easily from seed and enjoyed across the Southwest. Source: PIxaby
  • Mexican Sunflower – This cheerful flowering annual needs light for the seeds to germinate. Just sprinkle them on top of the seed-starting medium and resist the urge to cover them up. Make sure they have lots of light if you’re starting them indoors. If you don’t have a grow lamp or a very sunny window, just wait until the soil temperature reaches 70 degrees before sowing them directly outdoors.
  • Cilantro – This cool weather herb is popular to grow in the Southwest but you have to be prepared to baby it in our hot climate. Cilantro seeds should be soaked overnight before sowing in damp seed-starting medium. Be sure to cover with the medium because cilantro seed needs darkness to germinate. Start cilantro seeds as early as possible so the herb can enjoy the cooler temperatures of spring and provide you plenty of fresh leaves before the searing heat of summer arrives to kill it. Plan to do a second sowing in fall when temperatures are again cooler and cilantro will grow.

Gathering and Saving Seeds

Although we are focused on seed starting now, don’t forget this book also covers the art of collecting and saving seeds. Some seeds are easy to save – just clip the mature flower heads and allow to dry. Others, like tomatoes and cucumbers, are a little messier and require patience. A few seeds like cucumbers and tomatoes should go through the process of fermentation to clean the seeds and destroy disease-bearing pathogens.

Whatever your seed starting plans are for this spring, Starting & Saving Seeds is a book you’ll want to add to your garden library. Its clear instructions and helpful diagrams will make you a success year after year.

arugula seedlings, seed starting book review
Arugula is a fast-germinating salad herb. to keep a regular supply, plan to sow these seeds every two weeks during spring. Source: Pixaby

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Ann McCormick, Southwest Gardening contributor

If you enjoy herbs and organic gardening, you’ll want to meet Ann McCormick, the Herb ‘n Cowgirl. A life-long gardener, she has devoted her time for the last 20 years to writing and speaking about her favorite subject. Ann is a feature writer for The Dallas Morning News.The Herb ‘n Cowgirl also shares her love of herbs and her gardening techniques as a speaker and media guest. She lives in Fort Worth, TX with her husband of 35 years and an assortment of dogs. To find out more about the Herb ‘n Cowgirl visit her at

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