Radishes-in-waiting . . . Get your hands dirty, plant a seed, and begin an edible garden.
“Let’s start your seed education by going over some basics. A seed is a small food-filled container that holds an embryonic plant within. The embryo is dormant but alive – breathing and eating at a very low rate. It possesses genetic instructions to grow and develop into a mature plant. The seed is activated by moisture, and once sprouting starts it must be completed or the embryo will die.”
Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, Steve Solomon, 1989, Sasquatch Books
Vigorous seeds produce healthy plants that eventually produce their own healthy offspring and a new generation of ‘vigorous’ seed. There’s good and bad seed out there. Explicit information about the seed is on the back of the packet, such as the year it’s packaged and an implied expiration date; the likely percentage of seeds that will germinate and grow – 80% are commonly published odds in the world of statistical seed survival; optimal soil temperature (yes, there are soil thermometers) and range of days to germination.
The Planting: Once soil is prepared, remember that a seed is alive and waiting to be tenderly nurtured toward its true calling, which is to sprout and grow. Vigorously! Follow directions on seed packets, and there are a few additional tips for improving chances of successful germination:
· Moisture, not too much, not too little. Seeds should not dry out, nor should they lie in soggy soil, a common mistake. Spray a garden plot lightly with a hose; a spray bottle works well for potted seedlings. Check soil daily and make a moisture assessment before watering.
· A fine, light, and moisture retentive soil. Delicate seeds aren’t happy in tightly compacted soil. A combination of dirt, compost and fertilizer should do the trick (3/12 posting).
· Relatively warm soil. Early spring veggies like spinach, peas, mesclun and radishes tolerate cooler soils, while what we know as summer veggies do not, tomatoes and basil for example. As you can imagine, warmish soil would be comforting to a seed.
· Cover the pot or plot with light material like a *cloche if it gets too chilly, though most hardy spring vegetables tolerate freezing or near-freezing for short periods of time; place pots next to a south facing wall to maximize light and reflective heat.
And weather is unpredictable. If it gets too cold and wet, seeds may not germinate. Nobody’s fault. Replant. The good news about the early spring vegetables is that they grow quickly and will be on your palate in a relative flash.
*Cloche is a French word meaning ‘bell’ with, but of course, a reference to fashion. A cloche is a bell-shaped hat, but to gardeners it’s protection for seedlings. It could be a lightweight woven material draped lightly and secured over seedlings, a piece of plastic, or a glass jar to cover individual small plants.
PI guest columnist, Anna Lappe’ on ‘homegrown ways to address climate change’. 3/13/08