Garden, Plant, Cook!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Growing Seed: Nature Germinated vs "Help" And Ginger from The Garden.

Dear Folks,

Questions come up each spring (or earlier) on a regular basis:  (sometimes fall) -- how to start seeds, indoors, under lights, greenhouses etc.

First, though, I harvested my Ginger!!

I saved the piece on the left - it is about 3 and quarter inches long, and broke up the other into 3 pieces and replanted.

This ginger has been in the ground about 18 months, give or take, and as with the turmeric (click to read the post) I usually "try" to harvest in the fall, but we were so warm this fall, I just decided to wait until the plants really began to die back.

This is the biggest piece of ginger I have ever gotten.  Many of these roots are not "supposed" to do well here in the valley, and you have to have patience as ginger, turmeric, horseradish and other of these types may take a couple of years to establish.  I'm thinking about trying galangal a ginger relative but I need to see if I have room for it when I see the results of the turmeric and ginger replanting.

BACK to seed germination.

Germination rates are listed, sometimes on packages or websites, and are a good guide to the percentage of seed which will germinate.  What these germination statistics don't address is the "quality" of the seedlings produced.

Germination quality and quantity are totally dependent on which of the 3 types of sowing occurring .

Direct Sow, Self Sow (natural re-seeding), and Indoor/Greenhouse Sowing.

Pictured is my tomato volunteer (self sown) taken yesterday.  This little and healthy seedling is about 3 inches tall and already nicely branching out.  I fully expect this plant to grow, then stop when the weather cools again, then start up and that will continue until all danger of frost is over (about the end of February).  This is probably a cherry type tomato, which took up residence in our gardens about 5 years ago and comes up with regular performance each year in 1 or 2 places.  This is a new location and I expect the plant to do well BECAUSE it self-sowed.

Direct Sowing is just what it sounds like.  You sow the seeds in the spot in the ground or raised bed where you want the plant to grow.

Indoor/Greenhouse Sowing is the use of pots, flats or as I do, use Jiffy Pellets to "force" seeds to germinate under more ideal conditions.

Pictured are some of my current crop of seedlings in jiffy pellets, that I will start planting out in February/March -with frost protection handy.

Here is the BIG difference in the quality (and quantity) of seed germination between the 3 types of seed germination environments.

Self Sown (naturally re-seeding from existing plants) is going to produce the healthiest plants by natural selection i.e., those that germinate and grow are going to be the healthiest of all 3 types of germination simply because the seed is the strongest combined with the best environmental conditions (i.e., soil temperatures and moisture reliability).

At the same time the quantity of seeds germinated is going to be VERY low.  If you knew how many seeds were spread by the plant the volume of germinated self sown seed would be a fraction of the total seeds dispersed 

Direct Sown Seed is next in terms of healthiest / strongest germination quality.  Again because even though you choose when to sow and control location selection (presuming you are choosing a good sun access location) and watering, the seeds which germinate are going to be the strongest.

Seed packages and other sources of information traditionally say sow 3 seeds of each, 1 for the birds, 1 which does not grow and 1 for you. You can increase the germination rate by pre-soaking the seeds before you sow.  Soak seeds, roughly 24 hours or overnight for most seeds, particularly hard seeds and a maximum of 8 hours for beans and peas.  This pre-soaking helps break dormancy faster and increases germination rate (quantity) and decreases the time for growth emerging from the ground.

In other words you are "helping" the seed by controlling some of the factors around germination.

Indoor/Greenhouse Sowing, is the option which will give you the highest germination rate (quantity), BUT potentially at least a fair amount of lower quality seedlings produced.  Why?  Because you are creating optimal conditions for germination which will grow both strong and weak seedlings.  Growers will watch all the seedlings grow and then clip off any which appear too weak to be good transplant candidates.

We all like to see success in sowing seeds and many folks give up and buy already grown transplants to save the frustration of growing from seed.

Choosing to grow from seed usually allows us to control all of the above conditions, but also choosing which varieties and also the option of heirloom and/or organic over patented / commercially control of plants.

I use a mixture of direct sow and greenhouse jiffy pellets depending on time of year and what I want to have available, when.

I choose jiffy pellets over pots for the simple reason there is little or no transplant shock to the seedling.  You plant the entire jiffy pellet in your chosen location and let the baby grow.

A package of 36 pellets is usually around $3.76, so a little over $.10 each.  If your nursery does not offer them, Amazon has a pretty good deal for 100 a little under $.14 each.

In this collage I show you my method of starting the seeds.

After pre-soaking seeds I choose to pre-soak (not all need it) I first fill a container with HOT water.  Some I do not pre-soak like basil seeds which are small and will react immediately to the Pellet by releasing their gel coating.

I then wait (maybe 10 minutes) for the pellet to expand.  I make sure the netting at the top is open and fully exposes the peat moss, and put the seeds on top, then push them in, gently ease the peat moss around the seeds and take them out to the greenhouse.  I make a "map" of which pellets have which seeds.  I use a dark tray for the pellets, which both catches water and heats up during the day, with some retained heat for a while after dark.

The point of the HOT water is two fold:  it expands the pellets very fast AND provides a warm starting environment for the seeds, which I then take immediately out to the greenhouse.

After a few weeks of growth, I add a few grains of fish emulsion fertilizer to help the seedlings, as the peat moss is an inert material with no real nutrients in it - its sole purpose is to provide a moist environment to break dormancy and germinate the seeds.

Dormancy in seeds is a fascinating thing.  The seeds all have a hard outer shell or coating which protects them from intermittent moisture or soil temperature changes.  They NEED a constant of their preferred moisture and temperature to germinate.  There is a whole range of other factors which can influence germination (fire, going through an animal's stomach etc.) which we do not need to discuss here.

Suffice it to say that seeds need a constant combination of moisture and preferred temperature (cool weather loving plants like cool or cooling soil, warm weather loving plants like warm or warming soil).

As an aside - many gardeners, particularly new-to-gardening, are frustrated when they sow seeds, water for a few day or even a week and then nothing comes up.

Remember the word "constant" or consistent if you will?  What happens, many times, "under ground" is the seed HAS started to germinate, but then when the watering is not continued OR the soil cools too much or warms too much depending on the variety, it stops growing or dies all together.  The last point is most often the result of watering a few days and then not watering again.  The seed started to germinate then without moisture it died without every breaking ground.

I hope this helps with your seed growing decisions.

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Have a best day in the garden and kitchen!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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