I’m going on the record as saying seeds are amazing. These often tiny little things have such potential, such power.
Take for example the milkweed plant seed. Small, brown, and humble, it’s attached to a piece of fluff which helps it parachute away from the parent plant. It waits for the appropriate time, then grows into a gorgeous plant, providing food and habit for pollinators and insects, including the much-loved monarch butterfly.
Consider the tomato seed – pale and round, waiting for me to tuck it into warm soil so it can grow with its alluring aroma and produce lots of food for me (or if I’m unlucky, for some other critters).
Inside every outer seed coat waits an embryo with its temporary food supply – its endosperm. At the right conditions, the endosperm generally forms the first leaves to emerge from the seed.
Condition requirements include the correct moisture levels, temperature and lighting – particulars vary for different seeds
This is the time of year for gardeners and farmers to start setting up those perfect conditions for plants we want to grow throughout the warmer months.
It is far too cold to direct sow (plant seeds outdoors in the soil). Even if we currently had warmer temperatures we have to wait until mid-May to get many plants into the ground, as a late freeze can easily kill tender plants in a single night.
Many plants my family and I want to eat have a longer growing season than we have warm months, so my mother and I started our first round of seeds recently.
To know when to start which seeds, check the instructions provided by the seller or a seed calendar tailored to the zone you live in. If you want a guide throughout the year there are apps and websites to schedule and organize gardening.
Among others we started hot and sweet peppers, tomatoes, onions, rhubarb and basils. We are able to start seeds so early because my mother has southern windows perfect for seedlings to thrive without getting leggy (too tall without many leaves, caused by the plant reaching too far for light). Some gardeners might have to wait a couple more weeks.
I want to share with you a trick I learned from my mother to help seeds germinate quickly: when moistening the seed starting medium use boiling water. No, the seeds won’t burn (my concern). The initial warmth wakes the seeds up a little faster than would cool water.
Her method, developed over decades of starting seeds, doesn’t start with soil. Instead she plants seeds into trays (all upcycled) filled with sand or garden quality vermiculite. Once the seeds have sprouted she pricks them out and into soil in pots.
These loose planting mediums create minimal root stress when the seedlings are pulled out and planted. As my mother explained to me, she prefers this method to directly planting in pots because it eliminates the need to thin out plants if you’ve put more than one seed per pot. It also eliminates empty pots if seeds don’t germinate – basically, she finds it just slightly more efficient.
For containers, we used all types of plastic we’d accumulated such as hummus containers, tofu containers, Chinese take-out trays.
Every time I see a new seed pop up I’m filled with wonder. Currently my (fingers crossed) future garden is all tucked into trays of sand and vermiculite and a box of seed envelopes. It blows my mind that right now I can theoretically hold most of my summer meals in one hand.