BETWEEN THE COVERS (of a seed catalogue)

Mark saw a robin in his composter today.

What weird winter weather.

Recently, we went on a family trip to Florida and we met lots of people from all over the continent. All of them said the same thing: there has been very little snow and above average temperatures.

By now many of our newsletter readers will be well into the seed catalogues, and perhaps some of you have already received your 2024 seedstock. Just this week, Ben received almost 4kg of wildflower seed from Northern Wildflowers ( He will use this bag of possibilities to surround his pond restoration project: about an acre. We can’t wait to see the results.  

It is easy to let the imagination run wild where seeds are concerned. The racks and the “mail order” (read: online) offerings are almost endless.  For generations, dreams have been made between the covers of seed catalogues. The selection can be overwhelming. We remind you that love and care for seeds is required to realize success. And many others, the ones that don’t get sown, live on to grow another day. Most of the seeds that you have stashed in a drawer somewhere are quite viable. We encourage you to give them a try. 

With a mind to living less wastefully, we suggest you visit a local “Seedy Saturday” event or seed exchange as part of your 2024 Crop Planning. There usually exists the opportunity to trade surplus seedstock with other enthusiastic growers, and connect with the local gardener community before we return to our respective corners in the dirt. Simply Google your city name + “Seedy Saturday”, or check out the listing at

When you do acquire your seed stock, involve the kids as they see the magic of germination and plant growth much as they see the magic of Christmas. Adults can get desensitized to this stuff. But the miracle of a bean or sunflower poking through the soil is one young gasp away.  

Be sure to read our “Things to do in March” list below. It is a good reminder that much of the bounty this gardening season is not only found in seed packets but in the form of bulbs, corms and tubers. 

March is a great month to try them all. With a sunny window, and a few inexpensive supplies, the possibilities are endless. And the dreams that can be fulfilled, well, we won’t dare to go there. Lets just say two words, “bounty and beauty”.

Sow and dream on.

And be sure to say a prayer for the robin, with hope that cold winter weather does not catch him by surprise.

Happy seed sourcing!

Mark and Ben Cullen

Merchants of beauty and beans.


Dahlia bloom
  • It's time to prune apple trees, thinning out old, thick branches and dead wood to open up the tree for spring.

  • Buy garden seeds or look in your area to find out about Seedy Saturdays and Seed Exchanges, which are a great way to find heritage varieties and meet local growers. If you're going to buy your seed from a seed company or retailer, it's still early enough to get a broad selection.  

  • Before the end of the month, you can begin starting your cooler season crops such as onion, leeks, broccoli, cauliflower and kale which are okay to transplant up to a month before last frost. It helps to protect them with a row cover. Starting seeds in March is a good opportunity to lengthen your growing season.

  • Start your dahlia bulbs inside using 1-gallon pots and a quality potting mix, which will give you a jump on their blooming season.

  • Purchase tuberous begonias, dahlia and canna lily bulbs and start them indoors. The begonias will root best in a seeding tray full of damp peat moss on the top of your fridge, where the low ambient heat that comes up the back of it will kick-start your begonia tubers into putting down roots. The canna lily bulbs are best started directly in one-gallon pots in a sunny window.

  • Branches of spring-flowering trees and shrubs can be cut and forced into bloom indoors. Wait for the flower buds to begin swelling and then harvest the branches with a pair of sharp pruners. Choose branches at random from all parts of the plant to maintain the natural shape. As soon as the branches are cut they should be placed in water. Treat branches like any cut flower and keep the vase full of clean water. Keep branches away from hot air vents and heat sources to prolong the life of the blooms. A short list of branches that are easy to force indoors includes: Forsythia, Camellia, Redbud, Dogwood, Flowering Cherry, Crabapple, Witch Hazel and Pussy Willow.

  • When the snow has melted, cut back the standing perennials in your yard (the ones that we told you last fall to leave alone): monarda, rudbeckia, Shasta daisies and the like. Most of them break off at the base and are easy to clean up, if you have a strong back.


Clean Those Bird Feeders

By: Jody Allair

One of the questions that I get asked most frequently about bird feeding is “how often should I clean my bird feeder”? In this month’s Birds in Focus column I am addressing that question and more, by including these simple steps from the Birds Canada website.

Setting up a bird feeder and/or bird bath makes life easier for birds and our lives more enjoyable. Birds can become ill, however, from leftover bits of seeds and hulls that have become moldy or from droppings that have accumulated on and around feeders. Fluffed-up feathers, lethargy, abnormal growths, and crusty eyes are all symptoms of avian illnesses such as salmonella, trichomoniasis, avian pox, and eye disease. You can help prevent illnesses at your feeder and stop the spread.

Pine Siskin

Photo credit: Jim McCabe

Follow these simple steps in order to create a safer environment for your birds:

•         Clean feeders and birdbaths. Every two weeks, scrub and soak feeders with 10% chlorine bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water). Rinse feeders thoroughly and allow to completely dry before refilling. Only use feeders that are easy to clean.

•         Clean the ground under feeders. Regularly rake and discard bird food and droppings under feeders as they can become moldy or spoiled.

•         Move your feeders around. Regularly change your feeder placement to limit the concentration of droppings and seed wastes.

•         Temporarily remove feeders. Take down your feeders for two weeks if a sick bird appears at your feeder or if an outbreak has been reported close to you.

•         Consider using feeders that do not allow the birds to stand in their food. Droppings are more likely to come into contact with food on open trays and platform feeders.

•         Always discard any seed that has become wet. Harmful molds can grow on wet seeds.

For more information about bird diseases and what to do if you see a sick bird at your feeder, visit

Good Birding!

Jody Allair

Director, Community Engagement

Birds Canada

Connect with me on Twitter and Instagram at: @JodyAllair

Harrowsmith’s SPRING EDITION

The latest print and digital edition of Harrowsmith magazine is now available on newsstands across Canada.

Packed with everything you have come to love about Harrowsmith – gardening tips from Mark & Ben Cullen, seasonal recipes, DIY projects and more – this issue will inspire you to shake off the winter chill and embrace all the warmth and brightness Spring has to offer.