by Charlene Burgi
The temptress was found in the warm sun and temperatures pushing into the mid-60s. In my head I knew this was February with months of winter yet to face, but my heart beckoned me to get my hands in the soil.
Naturally, being a gatherer and reaper at heart, I headed to the various places I stashed my vegetable and flower seeds. They were scattered with the move, and so the treasure hunt began. I found some in the garage, the garden shed, the greenhouse, front porch and even on my desk. During the hunt I scored a saved bag of toilet paper and paper towel cardboard cores. They are perfect for starting seeds as they disintegrate when planted in the garden and reduce the transplant shock that occurs when attempting to remove fragile roots from those plastic cell packs.
After gathering the seeds and separating the flowers from the vegetables, I started looking at the number of days for germination and the expiration dates. Some seeds were packaged as far back as 1999. While this may be shocking to some, I knew that some seeds could remain viable for over a hundred years—not that I had any of those! I did know that time could decrease the germination production on many seeds I did have. I chose seeds with a long germination period as I realistically knew spring was a long way off.
To test viability, I sprinkled out a dozen seeds onto wet paper towels, folded the towels in half, labeled the contents and waited to see the outcome. It didn’t take long for the seeds to germinate in the warm greenhouse. I was able see what percentage (if any) of each seed type would germinate, and then calculate the amount of seed I would need to plant to get the number of plants I was looking for.
The next step involved filling the paper cores with seed starter and planting the seeds at a slightly higher ratio than found with the wet towel experiment. If I had one seed sprout for every three on the damp towel, I planted seven to eight seeds per soil-filled paper core. The cores were placed on trays, watered and covered to maintain constant moisture. I haven’t put bottom heat on them yet, since the greenhouse maintains a minimum temperature of 55 in the cold evenings but spikes to 80 during the daytime. I am reconsidering this option today as I woke up to three inches of snow and daytime temperatures in the 30s. The greenhouse thermometer is reading 60 inside, and I know that the soil temperature for many of the seeds I planted needs to be closer to 65 for germination. Now to dig out the heat mats!
I thought you might like a recipe for making your own seed starter. Make sure the composted material is free of seeds and debris by screening it through a fine wire mesh first.
Geminating Seed Mix
- 4 parts screened compost
- 1 part perlite
- 1 part vermiculite
- 2 parts sphagnum peat moss and/or coir
Have fun with this project. This is one of nature’s most exciting gifts—to plant a seed that looks hard and dead, and find life—a thing of beauty.
This blog is dedicated to my mother who passed away January 26. She gave life to many a flower, vegetable—and yours truly.
Don’t Miss Out: Sustainable Landscape Program at Sonoma State University
SSU’s Sustainable Landscape classes are rich with information. However, they may soon be temporarily discontinued, so don’t miss this opportunity! You can register for the day-long, Saturday classes individually or take all six as part of the certificate program. Upcoming classes include:
Plants and Plant Communities (March 30)
Sustainable Management of Soils and Habitat Gardens (April 27)
Water Resource Management (May 11)
Sustainable Solutions to Landscape Maintenance (May 18)
Ecological Principles and Site Analysis (TBA for the fall semester)
For more information and to register, visit the program website at sonoma.edu/exed/sustainable-landscape.