Seed starting

Yesterday I pulled out the dirty,dog-earred packets of last years (and the year before that and the year before that) seeds. Some old veggies that Mike couldn’t quite part with (we gave most away), herbs I’d rather have growing fresh than pick at the CSA, and a few hand collected packets of annuals and native plants I am experimenting with starting. Not only are the herb seeds old, but they are numerous-way too many to plant on the Off Chance.
So first, the test-a sprinkling of seeds (not the regimented ten for a percentage germination result) in paper towels, tucked into baggies with the packet clipped to them. Instead of baggies, I could have used my usually massive Mama Dowd Memorial Bread Bag collection (which consists mostly of plastics bags of the non-bread sort, since Mike makes almost all our bread), but I had run low, and still had a box of NonPC baggies left from the summers emergency landscaping sandwich supply. These little packets went into a canvas bag to warm up by the stove.

Seeds needing soaking got a different treatment. I don’t have many, and they were mostly seeds I had collected, and intend to plant regardless. I had collected stored them in envelopes from my Fulfillment Manager Memorial Junk Mail Envelope collection, with the germination instructions I researched last fall noted on them. Good, but this is the brilliant part: I filled empty spice jars from my-oh, you know what-with a bit of water, screwed on the caps with the little holes in them so I could pour the water out when I was done, a secured their notated envelopes around them.

Now, this may not seem so innovative to veteran seed collectors, but I am just starting in a serious way. I’m a pro landscaper and master gardener now, but I just saw myself in a video from when I first first moved to the country and I was mystified at why the heck a lilac would have swollen buds on it in December. You gotta start somewhere!

I started the Gaultheria procumbens (wintergreen) and Cercis (redbud), as well as Hibiscus. They all have a story of course. The Gaultheria is from The Peck Forum gathering at the Watson Retreat in Painted Post. I found more plants than mushrooms,but I was with a good group that made up for it. Ava Chin, for one-see her NY Times blog for plants in a whole ‘nother environment :
The Cercis is from a tree on Linn St. (one of my MANY childhood homes), that was possibly not there in my youth, but wouldn’t have been noticed by me if it had been. Believe it or not, I haven’t always been a gardener. In fact, at one point I recall thinking how annoying the sun is, the way it makes you sneeze. This was in Ithaca, though, and I had lost familiarity with the blue Oklahoma skies of my childhood. There is a gardening story to this house anyway, though. In the back it abuts the hill below University Ave, so no yard to speak of, but in front there was a small patch between the house and the sidewalk, and there my mother had the first garden I ever saw her tend. It had maybe tomatoes and nasturtiums, but mostly what I recall is her standing in front of it, her back to the road, sipping coffee and contemplating.
but back to the seeds-for all my notes and prep, I some how overlooked the part where they should be surface sown (exposed to light) for germination. The Gaultherias bright orange berries, planted singly in each cell, were easy to excavate, but the little brown Cercis seeds just got a bit of stirring around.

As I suspected most, of the herbs were no good, no doubt exacerbated by leaving them outside on top of the potting mix in the freezing cold when we were cleaning the house. The Digitalis (not a native, but a personal favorite) tested very well, and the Cosmos sulphurous poorly but enough to be started thickly. I nicked and am soaking the Canna seeds collected from a plant brought back from the horse pasture of Mike’s childhood home. The original Cannas had been tossed out there by his aunt decades ago, taken root and reproduced. Stratifying on the porch are the Gaultheria and Cercis.

The Cannas are nicely up-almost 100%. I also got a great crop of Cosmos sulphurous about an inch high, but the digitalis, which germinated so promisingly, was not as productive in the soil.

Today I potted up the Cosmos and Canna to 4″ pots. This will be our first try out of seedlings in the greenhouse. It’s still early, so we’ll keep an eye on the temperature in case they need to be covered.

I pulled the stored tubers of Cannas and Dahlias out of the basement.

Dahlia showing signs of life

Dahlia showing signs of life

They’ve been in either their original pots of dirt (some Canna) or wrapped in newspaper in a styrofoam box I cut holes in. These are the same Canna stock I got the seeds from, but being a few years old-maybe five-they are

massive tubers. The ones in 5 gallon pots are about to bust them apart. I repotted them all in various containers, covered them with potting soil and stuck them in the greenhouse, along with the potted up Cosmos and Canna from seed.


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