What are seeds?
Seeds are alive! They are small containers for future plants and hold everything from genetic material to food that the young plant will need to germinate and then grow into a healthy plant. Seeds breathe and have metabolisms!
What kinds of seeds should I use?
For the home gardener and small grower there are basically three types of seed available:
* Open pollinated
Hybrid seed comes from two parent plants with disimilar traits. These plants have been heavily inbred to focus on one or more outstanding traits like vigor, or disease and insect resistance. If you save seed from these plants, the offspring usually reverts back to one of its parents, meaning that it is unlikely you will get the same plant you planted last season. Because of this, hybrid seeds are not recommended for seed saving.
Open pollinated seed also comes from two parent plants, but in this case the parents are more similar to each other than the hybrid parents. The traits have stabilized so the offspring reproduce true to their parents.
Heirloom seeds are open pollinated seeds that have been handed down from one generation to another. They have usually been available for at least 50 years, but may not have been commercially available.
Seed starting equipment for starting seed indoors
* Pots with enough room for roots to grow freely until it is time to transplant. Four inch nursery pots work very well, but almost any type container can be used as long as there is a drainage hole.
* Light weight soil mix, sometimes sold as “Seed Starting Mix”
Starting seed indoors
* Use the freshest seed available to assure the best germination rate.
* Pre-moisten your seed starting mix to the consistency of a damp sponge.
* Fill your containers almost to the top.
* Sprinkle seeds on top of mix, making sure they aren’t too crowded. The larger the seed, the fewer will fit in a 4 inch pot. For instance, I usually never put more than 2 squash seeds or 4 sunflower seeds in a 4 inch pot.
* Press the seeds into the mix making sure the surface of the seeds have contact with the mix. This ensures the seeds’ ability to take up water.
* Cover the seed very lightly with mix. Water pots from the bottom.
* Label your pots with the variety and the date you started them.
* Place the pot in a warm location. Most seeds require warmth and moisture to germinate.
* At this stage, light is not necessary for most types of seed.
* Once the seeds germinate, place your pots in good sunlight or add artificial light.
* Water pots from the bottom when the mix starts to dry out.
Once your seedlings have two sets of true leaves they can be moved to either a larger container or can be moved outdoors. If your weather and soil are still too cold, consider holding your seedlings indoors, but transplant them into a larger pot. Transplants will need fertilizer at this point, so consider using a half dose of fish emulsion every two weeks. If the weather is cooperating and your soil is warming up, you should move the seedlings outdoors. Before doing this, you will need to gradually expose the seedlings to outdoor conditions. This process is called hardening off. Do this by placing seedlings in a shady spot for a few hours on the first day. Bring them back inside for the night. Over a week’s time gradually increase the time they spend outdoors and gradually increase the amount of sun they are exposed to. By the end of the week, they should be ready to be planted in their permanent location in the garden.
Starting seed outdoors
Some seeds resent being moved/transplanted, so should be started where they will grow in the garden. Examples of crops that prefer to be sown directly include peas, beans, carrots and wheat.
* Prepare your planting bed with compost and organic amendments.
* Water the soil.
* Read the seed packet instructions on how far apart to space the seeds, especially if you don’t plan to thin the seedlings after germination.
* Broadcast the seed over desired area or place seed in furrows.
* Cover the seed lightly with soil.
* Water the soil lightly so as to not disturb the seed.
* Label your rows.
* Protect from birds by covering with a spun polyester cloth like Reemay.
* Keep soil moist until seeds have germinated.
Observing your seedlings
While your seedlings are growing, take time to observe them. How are they doing? Do they seem healthy? Do they seem strong or weak? Observe and note any special characteristics or traits which may emerge. Good flavor, high yield, vigor, good color, early fruit, late bolting are just a few of the qualities gardeners look for when they evaluate their plants for seed saving. Tag the plants that you may wish to save seed from later in the season and continue to observe.