Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy Spring...thyme to plant seeds

Starting Herbs from Seed

There are a great many reasons for starting your own herb plants from seed. Most gardeners are first prompted to venture down this road by this motivator: necessity. How many of you have wished for the perfect herb to fill in that one last spot in the garden or the perfect shade of pink in your flower border and then have gone to your local garden center only to find out that it is not available locally? Economics is another motivator for starting your own seed. Plants, especially exotic, can be expensive even to buy just one and often one is not enough. Starting plants from seed often gives us more plants than we need. Quality is another motivator for seed starting. Often the plants found at the local big box stores have been sitting around at the mercy of whoever remembers to water it. Starting plants from seed at home insures that plant health is controlled which gives the plant a good start for a long life.

For me, winter begins when the onslaught of seed catalogs hit my mailbox. I am like a kid in a candy store with wonderland stretched out in front of me. And all of this in the luxury of my nice warm easy chair. When the catalogs start rolling in, I take a few minutes with each one and circle whatever suits my fancy with a black magic marker. I go through all of the seed suppliers since there is a likelihood that one of the suppliers has the perfect basil or oregano that I don’t have yet. I then whittle down my selections to the chosen few and place the orders. Place your orders right after the first of the year because by March most supplies are starting to dwindle.

Finding the space to start your seeds could pose some logistic problems, so before you actually begin, decide where you plan to keep the trays. Seeds need warmth and moisture to germinate and once germinated they will need light. My suggestion is that if you don’t have plant lights or fluorescent lights use what you have in the house. Seed germinates between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The top of the refrigerator or the top of the TV. or a warm windowsill are all good places to start the germination process. Before you begin your seed starting adventure gather a few key items. Containers can be of various shapes and sizes. From propagation trays with domes to clean egg cartons, these will work as long as they can hold a little seed starting mix and can handle a little moisture. They must be clean and free of contaminates. Wash the trays with one part Clorox to 9 parts water and rinse well. As with anything else in life the preparation of growing medium for seeds can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. We chose to be as simple as possible with our growing mix opting to pick up several bags of the Jiffy like mix at our local home improvement stores. Pre-moisten your growing mix before using will kept the dust down and make sowing those tiny, tiny seeds a whole lot easier.

Most seeds can be sown straight from the packet, but on occasion seed jackets are too tough and germination is virtually impossible. By chipping, nicking or soaking the seeds for a period of time in warm water, the jackets will more likely open up and receive the moisture needed to germinate. Most seed companies give you some information about the best method of preparation so read the back of the package carefully.
Eliminate confusion at sprouting time by marking your trays with its contents. Little white tags with name of seed, when sown and any other pertinent information can be written down. Tamp down the medium and level off in the container. Make indentations or rows for the seed keeping the depth according to package instructions or your own experience. Either with a pinch of two fingers or a gentle shake of the package those tiny seeds will be on the growing medium. Tamp down the seed to make contact with the medium. Cover your seed trays with plastic wrap or plastic domes to retain moisture. Place under growing lights or on top of refrigerator. Most seeds will germinate in 7-10 days with some exceptions. There are some herb seed that requires refrigeration before sowing. Again, experience and a little research will give you the information needed to reach a high rate of germination.

Once germination has occurred take the domes and plastic wrap off the seedlings. Place seed trays under grow lights or near a sunny window. Turn the trays often to insure that the seedlings are receiving enough light and watch for drying out which occurs quickly. Damping off occurs when the stems of the seedlings rot at the soil surface. The seedling falls over and dies. Water the seedlings by sitting the tray in a pan of water or the sink and let the moisture absorb from the bottom. Once the herb seedlings have a true set or their second set of leaves it is time to transplant to their new homes. Pot up the new herb babies in clean and sterile pots. Use a potting mix that is friable and light. Poke a small hole in the potting mix. Gently pry your seedling out with a popsicle stick under the roots and gently place into hole in potting mix. Lightly tamp soil down and gently mist. Water until well established.

Excerpt from “Starting Herbs from Seeds” by Michele Brown, 2002.

No comments: