Starting a Garden with Heirloom Seeds at Petaluma Seed Bank

Last spring, I built my first planter box, filling it with seedlings from my local nursery. I planted curly kale, celery, bush beans, asparagus, red chard, and strawberries. It was so much fun to watch the plants grow and change, and lucky for me, there aren’t huge numbers of pests in my backyard to ruin the good time. I literally had no idea what I was doing, beyond putting dirt in the box and planting the little guys; I just went for it!

the proud little garden helper dug in the dirt with me for our first garden project

the proud little garden helper dug in the dirt with me for our first vegetable project

Almost a year later, having planted many new seedlings and enjoyed the harvest from every corner of my back yard, I’d say I’ve learned a lot (including that kale can grow REALLY tall and look like a mini-tree in the planter box, and bush beans should not go behind them in their shade). We’ve had some ups and downs in our garden, but for the most part, it feels good to know that I am capable of growing at least some of my own food!

That being said, there’s one thing that’s still very much intimidating — starting from seed!

As a very sweet and thoughtful housewarming gift last year, some good friends gave me an herb planter and some seed packets — tarragon, thyme, sage, oregano, and basil. (Just for some perspective, before moving to California, I couldn’t keep a fern alive, much less start with a seed and grow it into something worthwhile. The thought of putting in the effort and failing is a very big hurdle for me to clear in my mind.)

I tried my very timid hand at all but the basil (just couldn’t pull the trigger on that one, so I threw the seeds into a smoothie). I started them indoors in little pots, and tried carefully not to over-water, as I’m wont to do. While the sage and oregano are doing great in my herb garden more than a year later, the tarragon and thyme have never reached usable volume, and in fact, I’ve presumed them dead more than once, only to see them return, still pathetic, still tiny, but alive.

I’ve read some great tips online about how to start vegetables from seed, but for some reason (read impatience, fear of failure, and too many directions), I have just had the hardest time attempting it for myself.

This weekend, I was finally convinced to take the plunge! My mother-in-law mentioned the Petaluma Seed Bank, suggesting that I stop by to see all the heirloom seeds they have for sale. I wasn’t going to buy anything, but she made it sound so neat that I wanted to check it out. When I walked in, I knew I wouldn’t be walking out empty-handed.


Here’s the view from the front door. Giant dried gourds are hanging from ceiling on the left.

The selection is overwhelming, and the building is amazing! (In the bathroom, they have a poster with at least 25 garlic varieties and their pictures. So cool!)





“We offer over 1,500 varieties of heirloom seeds, garlic, tools, books, and hundreds of local hand-made gifts and food items. Remember—everything we offer is pure, natural, and non-GMO!” (source)

The short story:

  • The building, which used to be the Sonoma County Bank, is a beautiful focal point of the downtown Petaluma area, and is the perfect spot for such a wonderful attraction
  • Any homestead or gardening magazine your imagination could ever dream up is right there on the rack when you first walk in (including RABBIT USA Magazine, which had an adorable front cover)
  • Any gardening tool, growing equipment, lighting, how-to guide, seasonal planting chart, or locally made sun hat your heart could fancy can be found inside these walls
  • Culinary herbal blends, seasoned salts, aromatic sugars, and infusions are waiting for you at the back of the store, ready to be added to your goodie bag
  • The staff is extremely knowledgeable about what should grow where, when, and how, and they’re happy to help a novice like me


After about 20 minutes of open-mouthed gawking and feeling totally overwhelmed with choices, I selected two varieties of cherry tomatoes, sugar pie pumpkins, delicata squash, giant celery root, and giant leeks (all heirloom). I also grabbed an indoor starter tray, and with trepidation, approached the counter with an arsenal of questions. The friendly woman behind the counter waited patiently as I wrote down every word she said, took a deep breath, and made my purchase.

I also scooped up this tasty culinary salt, as my interest was peaked after listening to a Salt Tasting Here and Now episode last week with Chef Kathy Gunst. I can’t wait to sprinkle it on something.


smoked salt2

This is going to be a very exciting experiment, and I anticipate I’ll learn quite a bit from it. I have to wait to plant some of what I purchased, as the last frost is estimated at April 15th this year, but the leeks and celery root are ready to go.

Stay tuned for updates as these little guys take off! And any lessons I learn along the way, you’ll be the first to know.


Your Turn:

Do you have a garden or interest in starting one? Have you ever planted a garden from seed? What tips do you have to share? Any thoughts on the best way to start? Share your thoughts below!


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