December 1, 2010

Remember when packets of seeds were only ten cents? They aren’t any more, and we for several years have bought larger packets of our favorite garden crops, and store those not planted that year in sealed containers (used gallon milk containers for us), in our refrigerator. We also save some seeds from our own gardens, in labeled envelopes, in the same containers. We have started seeds that we stored for five years, and they did as well as new bought ones did. Expect at least a four year life span for beet, cucumber, lettuce, muskmelon, pumpkin, watermelon and, tomato, and radish seeds, and the same four-year-or-more applies to flowers such as alyssum, calendula, celosia, dianthus, nasturtium, poppy, and zinnia.

If you feel unsure about the viability of any leftover seeds, it would be prudent (I get so upset when I haven’t been prudent!) to take a random sample of 10 or so. (Pick a number you can remember! I write my 10 down on the table!) Spread the sample seeds out on a paper towel, roll the towel up with the seeds secure inside, identify each rolled towel, and  write the name of each plant seed down where you won’t loose it, wet the rolled towel thoroughly, and put somewhere warm, such as on a plate, on the top of a refrigerator in your kitchen.

If you don’t know the germination time, from the seed supplier, the Internet,  call your extension office for it, and I write down the date each packet should germinate- a few days later, I unroll that towel, and count the number of new little plants, struggling to exist.  If all 10 germinate, that is wonderful.  If nine do, we have 90 percent germination, etc. Each state requires the percentage of germination to be printed on packaged seeds. If my tests show 60 or 70 percent germination, I may plant double the number of seeds when planting time arrives, just in case!

Proper storage is crucial to successful seed storage.  Keep them as dry as possible, as cool as possible, and as dark as possible.  I store ours in the shop refrigerator, which mainly contains pop and stuff for our rest breaks during spring and summer gardening efforts. The freezer might be better, but it is full of frozen meat, bought in anticipation of rising prices.

We love gardening, the exercise is good, we know what our produce has been fertilized and sprayed with, and we start a lot of our garden plants with seeds, from the most reputable source.  We have started most of our plants from seeds for a long time since I learned how from material provided when I became an Indiana Master Gardener, all of which is available currently from your County Extension Office, in your County Seat, as well as their knowledge, friendship, and many ways of helping you in horticultural matters like seeds, plants, lawns, shrubs, trees, etc. There are ways my parents used to start seeds in the 1930 s, that are now antiquated, and a lot of work. Most  garden catalogs  you will receive soon have many of the things you should have to successfully start seeds, but not the kind of detailed knowledge available at your extension office. They stay open, except for major holidays, have phones, love to help you, all gardeners, farmers, housewives and 4-H young folks.

We have bought, made, been gifted with, and borrowed a lot of seed starting materials, and we currently use seed starting waterproof plastic trays, (about 11 X 22 X two inches), disposable trays (in sections of six cells with drainage holes, six sections fit easily inside each waterproof tray, we use several).  All necessary starting tools are available from GOOD garden centers, some we adapted, or made ourselves.

We start our seeds in a white waterproof tray, with permanent markings one inch apart on both long sides in moistened starting soil, filled loosely to the brim, then compacted an inch. We use an almost 11 inch piece of this plywood to mark deeply enough across the 11 inch width, into which we place seeds one inch apart, and we carefully drop 10 seeds evenly spaced in each row. We identify what seed we planted in each row, alternating sides with the identities of each row. We place the clear plastic top on to prevent evaporation, seeds need their moisture, they have everything else included to create a new plant.

Mercy me. I am out of space, and I have another column to fill next week, because I think you should know the whole story of how to start your garden seeds easily and inexpensively (once started!), and I will continue next week, because – next year things we buy will probably increase in price, and I don’t know about you, but it has been a long time since I have been offered a job  with significant salary! Any at all, actually! . . . Good gardening

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