Have you ever saved seeds from a special plant, planted them, and then not have them come up?  Seeds are very interesting in that they have different “rules” for a successful next generation.  Some of these involve length of resting time and amount of moisture available. Are they covered with something that needs a special trigger? Do they need to freeze, or at least go through a cold period? Do they need light to start or does light hinder their start? Plus a number of other variants, many of which are related to the conditions that exist where they are natives.

          Every year I collect a variety of seeds, usually with a pair of scissors or clippers and a large plastic bowl.  I cut the head loose, let it drop into the bowl, and then take them into the garage where I can sit and separate the individual seeds.  For some this is easy but for others hard!!! Many have protective covers, some are spiny, and some terribly tiny.  Yet they are all complete containing enough food to get them started with enzymes that change the food (much as we digest food) into a form they can use.  Orchids are an exception. They produce many seeds with little or no food and then if they don’t land in the correct place will die immediately.  On the other hand are the WATER Lotus seeds picked out of the graves from hundreds of year ago that have been “waiting” to be freed by water and warmth.

          Seeds could have been called surprises as you never know what to expect from a seed that was pollinated by the wind or carried by an insect from a ruffled edged flower over to a slick, shiny one.  This is what makes life interesting every spring as you wait to see what happens!!! People will save seed from that expensive hybrid only to have “weirdo’s” show up.  The new gene combination made them almost unrecognizable.

          If you are going to save your seeds be sure they are mature.  As soon as the petals drop, I start watching as some plants such as POPPIES are very fast-tiny little holes open up about 1/4th of the way from the top, soon the pods will be dry and the wind or animal movement start to shake the many tiny seeds out.  You can lose most of your seeds very easily so when I see the holes opening, I cut the head off into a bowl and wait a few more days.  One serious mistake one can make is to put seeds not entirely dry into a container and close the lid.  Any moisture can cause mold or rotting.  I put a tag in the seed jar and leave it uncovered in the garage until fall.  I don’t take the seeds into the house as some seeds must freeze or at least go through a cold period, before they will germinate. Watch the seed packets closely as some seeds have special instructions such as “refrigerate for 6 weeks”.

          All seeds contain the first leaves (cotyledons), a stem, a leaf bud, and a root tip. Beans can be used to show this as they are fairly large as there are a goodly amount of food stored up (endosperm) which is what we notice when eating.  Beans split into 2 parts (dicotyledon) while corn, another large seed only has one section of endosperm.  So seeds are divided into mono (one) cots or di (2) cots regardless of size or shape.  In general, the grasses are all monocots.  The next time you eat corn-on-the-cob just think of the little corn plants whose food you are eating.

          Some seeds must be planted at once after they are ripe, some need an exact temperature, others a certain amount of moisture, some need a specified time of cold, some need to be covered while others won’t germinate in the dark so we need to read seed packets closely and when saving your own, you need to know their likes and dislikes.  Have you tried to get lettuce to come up in July unless we have a cool spell? Many of our vegetables (such as BEANS) are never dormant and are ready to germinate as soon as they get wet.  Keep the lid off that jar until you are sure they are dry!!!

          Have you ever had a nice, new set of tiny plants up from seeds you have started only to wake up some morning to find them all lying down and dead? This is called damping off caused by a fungous.  Pull one up and you will see a space in the stem just as it comes out of the soil that has collapsed.  I like to use a mix which contains sphagnum moss, very finely ground, to keep my plants alive.  Sometimes I use potting soil in my pots with just a thin layer of germinating mix which doesn’t contain food for the new plants but provides moisture and kills the “bad microorganisms”. I don’t recommend trying to sterilize your garden soil.  If you get it too hot for too long you will kill all the good guys and your kitchen will smell terrible for days!!! My favorite set up is a flat such as you get plants from the nursery.  I use 2 if I can. One alone is too fragile and I like to water from below. The lower holds water, the upper does not and 24 of the 2 ½ inch plastic pots fit in nicely. I then fill the pots 3/4th full of damp potting soil covered with a thin layer of seed starter.  Then I put several seeds in each one and cover with a plastic bag to maintain humidity. I have a heat mat the same size as a flat and put the flats under a fluorescent lamp of one warm bulb (shop light) and one cool bulb.

          An interesting crop that is not from seeds is the sweet potato.  They are used to a long, hot summer so can not be out very early but you can start them early.  Most of the potatoes in the stores have been treated not to sprout so your first year you will probably have to buy starts from the garden center. Then every year after that save 2 to 3 good looking, large sweet potatoes from your crop.  In early spring put your potatoes on their side in damp sand or sphagnum moss in a warm place. You may get more plants than you need.  After they sprout from the eyes they can be broken off and rooted in potting soil.  After the soil is above 65 degrees F. for several days I use a large hoe for mixing cement to make a raised row. The rooted cuttings are placed at the peak, 3 feet apart, with 6-8 layers of newspaper spread around the plants to keep weeds out and to prevent the first runners from rooting. They will root if they touch the ground. Then stand back if your plants have enough water as they will spread up to 6 feet. In the fall immediately after the first frost cut the vines off and dig.  I like to put them under light shade in a warm spot for up to a week and then wrap each one in newspaper and store in a warm, dark place.  They will be good until it comes time to start your new ones in March. Centennial has always done best for me.

Copyright 2007