Verify Seed for Freshness and Genetic Status

01/10/2014 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener In the Garden, Plant of the Week, Tips, Uncategorized

nonGMOsealThe 2014 organic seed has arrived at the garden center.  Each packet is stamped with an official non-GMO seal, insuring that these seeds have not been genetically modified.  Make sure to verify a seed’s freshness date, organic status, and whether it is genetically modified before you buy your seeds for this spring.

If you buy your seed online there are some cautions that are important to have in mind before hitting the ‘Buy it Now’ button. Make sure to check for seed freshness.  Seed should have been tested and packaged within the last nine months for optimal performance. All seed packages should be tested and stamped for germination rates and viability.  Know the source from which you are buying seed or you can have failures from old leftover seed.  Make sure you know what you are buying before you claim black thumbs this spring.

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Here are my pointers on starting seedlings indoors.  Start your seed growing process by assembling all the materials you will need in your work area.

You will need containers and trays with drainage. These may be clean plastic pots, trays, or peat trays. For the planting medium, I prefer to use a ‘Soilless Seedling Mix’ or peat planting mix because of its sterility and handling ease. Either of these mediums is available at any good garden center.

Because many seed varieties require a constant temperature for germination, you should invest in a waterproof soil-heating mat. Although normally factory set to keep soil at 72 degrees, there also are mats that have variable thermostats.  A heating mat is money well spent; it increases success with seedlings and can be used for years.

seed starter kitFill your pots or flats with planting medium to within 1/4 inch of the rim. Moisten the potted soil by placing it in a pan of room temperature water until it is thoroughly wet.  Allow the excess water to drain from the pots, then tamp them lightly to pack the medium and remove any air pockets. You are now ready to sow seed.

It is important to know if the seeds you plan to sow need any special treatment before sowing. Some may need to be soaked for a few hours, some need days in the freezer, and others will need to be scarified (nicking the seed hull).  For this information you might consult with a local horticulturalist. Whatever seed you’ve chosen it is a good idea to do your sowing in stages so that in the event of disaster you have a second chance at a good crop!

Depending on the size of the seed you may have to create either a seed ‘trench’ or, using a dibble stick, punch a row of small holes. The rows should be at least an inch apart. The planting depth is critical, usually one or two times the diameter of the seed. Very fine seeds or seeds that require light for germination should not be covered at all.

With the seeds planted you should create a miniature greenhouse environment for the pots or flats. This can be done by placing them inside a sealed plastic bag (using small stakes to hold the plastic from actually resting on the soil mix), or by placing a sheet of glass over the tray.  An old aquarium works very well as do ready-made seedling greenhouses.  A greenhouse environment almost eliminates the necessity of watering the bed again before the seeds germinate; be sure to keep an eye on them, though.

Place your flat in an area where it will get good light but not direct sun, and can remain as close to the desired temperature as possible. Depending upon the seed, germination can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of months. Once the seeds have poked through the soil, remove the greenhousing and gradually move the flat into brighter lights or sun. Your seedlings will be quite tender and fragile at this time, and a radical change can cause disaster so, easy does it.

At this stage, the seedlings have underdeveloped root systems, so it is critical that you check daily for watering! The potting medium must remain moist, but never soggy.  Very wet soil starves the roots of oxygen and drowns new plants. Bottom watering is best at this point because spraying can dislodge the plants and water on the leaves can lead to fungus attack. Temperatures should be kept at about 70-75 F. degrees.

Until this time the seedlings have been nourished from the food in the seed itself.  Once the second set of leaves develops you can begin to feed your new seedlings. Fertilizing should be done from bottom watering, using a very dilute 1/4 – strength mix of soluble ‘Fish Fertilizer’ once a week. When the plants have reached about 3 inches you can begin to water and feed the plants from above.

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Wintercreeper emerald gaiety in winter colorPlant of the Week – Emerald Gaiety Wintercreeper, with its cool minty foliage, is like a breath of fresh air to winter landscaping. Now through spring the leaves are tinged in pink, which is very unusual for a broad leaf evergreen groundcover.  This plant’s dense creeping habit is excellent at flowing over raised walls, as a foundation plant, and even looks good cascading from a container full of winter flowers.  Winter or spring, this plant looks its best.

Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.