Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Few Thoughts on Starting Seeds . . .

Here at the end of August the weather is cooling off, barely, and I am struggling not to be a seed starting fool.  I have a flat of older seedlings that I move around on the sun porch several times a day, to take best advantage of the light.  In addition I have two flats of newly planted seedlings and one intensive care flat of new cuttings and divisions.  (Not to mention the cuttings in water in the kitchen window, young trees in containers, misc. container plantings, and other things planted in the yard.)

Poking seeds into potting soil is an easy enough task.  However, if that tasks turns out to be successful, tending the plants, potting them up into larger containers, and eventually chipping away at the hard adobe soil out in the yard are not so easy.  There must be a limit!  

In the wild, plants produce anywhere from hundreds to thousands of seeds for every one that successfully grows, matures, and sets seed of its own.  The odds are stacked against the survival of every individual seed produced.  The survival rate of the seeds that find their way to our hands can be better (or sometimes worse) than those seeds produced in the wild.  Growing plants from seed successfully, requires us to understand what the particular seed we are growing needs to thrive; and then being able to deliver those conditions right on time.

When we purchase seeds in packets, especially the more common types of seeds, most of what we need to know may be printed right on the packet.  We need to understand that these instructions are generally not negotiable.  For instance, most seeds need to be kept evenly moist but not soggy to grow.  If we let the garden bed or potting soil dry out, particularly if that happens at just the wrong time, the seeds or seedlings will do what most wild seeds do everywhere—they will die their little tiny deaths.  

Gardeners use many strategies to keep their newly planted seeds and seedlings moist.  My seed starting shelves are the perfect size to hold a single nursery flat on each shelf, and the shelves themselves are wrapped in clear recycled plastic to admit light and hold in moisture.  I start my seeds in six packs and small pots placed within the nursery flats.  I initially pour about an inch of water in the bottom of the flats to give the soil and the seeds a good soaking, and then, with a spray bottle, I keep the surface moist throughout the following days.  This takes a lot of attention, but I gladly give it.

But there are ways to get around paying so much attention.  The more you read about seed starting the more techniques you will find.  Most long time gardeners have used many techniques over their lifetimes and they have settled down with something that works for them.  Some have small green houses with misters running on timers, some use special wicks or self watering arrangements available through garden and nursery supply catalogs.  On the other end of the spectrum you will find gardeners that just throw the seeds on the ground.  In my Hoopa garden, which much of this blog was written about, this was absolutely my favorite (but not only) technique.  

Here in my new home in Lucerne CA, I have found that throwing the seeds on the ground only feeds the bugs and the birds.  So, I have adapted, as gardeners everywhere must adapt.  What works in one place and for one person, will not necessarily work in every place for every person.  Don’t give up if you have so far failed.  Remember, the odds are very much against the seeds; there is no way you are ever going to kill as many as have died in nature.  If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.  

I hope to find myself organized enough to bring you some more thoughts on starting seeds in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, below are some links to more information.  The first is an article on starting seeds that discuses temperature, light, and other germination requirements and supplies, as well as books and websites for more information.  At the second link you will find lots of information on fall planted crops that you can start from seed over the next few months, depending on your weather.  Happy gardening! 

Seed Secrets:

Fall Gardens: