Start­ing seeds

Alberta Gardener Magazine - - Contents - By Dorothy Dob­bie

It may be eas­ier to go to the lo­cal gar­den cen­tre and buy plant plugs started from seed by some­body else, but it isn’t half as re­ward­ing as start­ing them your­self.

Ev­ery seed packet con­tains some in­for­ma­tion spe­cific to the needs of the plant you are about to grow, but be­ing armed with some gen­eral knowl­edge about seed plant­ing will serve you well no mat­ter what you are plant­ing.

Seeds need to ab­sorb wa­ter to ac­ti­vate an en­zyme that trig­gers res­pi­ra­tion. This stim­u­lates the di­vi­sion of cells that we see as growth. This is why we some­times soak seeds (beans) with hard shells or nick or scratch them to al­low mois­ture to pen­e­trate and get them started. As one gar­dener put it, wa­ter the seeds, don't soak the soil. Over-wa­ter­ing can limit the plant's ac­cess to oxy­gen.

Few plants will ger­mi­nate below 10 de­grees C (50 F); most ger­mi­nate be­tween 20 and 30 de­grees C. Know which is which. Fi­nally, many seeds need light to ger­mi­nate but some, such as lark­spur, pansy and bach­e­lor’s but­tons, need to be in the dark. Cover these seeds with soil. Oth­ers can be sown on top of the soil.

There are lots of rea­sons why seeds won't ger­mi­nate. They may be too old (dried out); the soil may be too wet, too cold, too hot or too rich in ni­tro­gen (also known as "too hot"). They may be planted to deeply, too shal­lowly or in soil con­tain­ing weed killer residue. Weed killers, even though it is claimed they break down in two or three days, can re­main in the soil for up to two years with residue enough to in­hibit ger­mi­na­tion. Red­wood mulch, good for keep­ing weeds at bay but not so good for your seeded plants, can also in­hibit seed ger­mi­na­tion.

So what’s in a seed?

A ga­mete con­sists of an ovum (egg) and a sperm cell, which is many times smaller than the egg. Two ga­metes fuse dur­ing con­cep­tion and form a zy­gote, which is this ini­tial new cell at the be­gin­ning of a new life. Each of the ga­metes car­ries what will be­come half of the ge­netic ma­te­rial of the new en­tity. Yes, we're talk­ing plants, not peo­ple, but the process is pretty much the same for both. In flow­er­ing plants, though, the fu­sion of sperm and egg takes place through a process known as meio­sis.

The zy­gote that re­sults in the seed con­sists of three parts. First is the em­bryo or im­ma­ture plant that con­tains one to three cotyle­don leaves and some­times ad­di­tional stores of nutri­tion to get the plant started. The en­dosperm con­tains starch and of­ten oils and pro­tein. Fi­nally, the hard seed coat is there to keep mois­ture in and pro­tect the seed. It is the en­dosperm that we eat when we make flour from wheat seeds for ex­am­ple. Co­conut meat and wa­ter are also en­dosperm.

Al­though we don't think of them this way, nuts and eggs are also seeds

in their own way and are filled with won­der­ful nutri­tion, sur­rounded by a hard shell to pro­tect the mois­ture and life in­side.

Over­all, seeds, nuts and eggs have pretty im­pres­sive nu­tri­ent lev­els, but some seeds are su­per im­pres­sive. Sun­flower seeds, for ex­am­ple have all the nu­tri­ents we need, ex­cept vi­ta­min D (and you can get that from sun­shine), to sur­vive. They are 22 per cent pro­tein and 50 per cent oil. Just 100 grams of sun­flower seeds will give you 30 grams of un­sat­u­rated fats, 30 mil­ligrams of es­sen­tial linoleic acid which re­duces choles­terol, and a good dose of potas­sium to help flush sodium from your body. They also con­tain mag­ne­sium and phos­pho­rus which will help ab­sorb their 174 mil­ligrams of cal­cium. Pump­kin seeds are high in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and sesame seeds con­sist of 19 per cent pro­tein (com­pared to eggs at 13 per cent). As they say, the health­i­est thing on a Big Mac is the sesame seeds!

The cotyle­don

The two pretty lit­tle leaves that first emerge from the soil upon ger­mi­na­tion are magic in­deed. They con­tain all the in­for­ma­tion needed to be­come grown up plants and some­times, in plants that don't pro­duce en­dosperm, they also con­tain all the nu­tri­ents needed to give the plant its start on life. Oc­ca­sion­ally, you will see the cotyle­don ap­pear with tiny hats, bits of the seed coat that didn't fall away when the lit­tle leaves broke through.

Lit­er­ally, fil­ial 1 or F1 hy­brids in seed com­pany lingo, means first gen­er­a­tion plants from two dif­fer­ent but ge­net­i­cally pure par­ents that have been cross-pol­li­nated. A ge­netic lock is cre­ated so that the plants can­not be repli­cated from seed. If you want a sec­ond gen­er­a­tion, you will need to do this by cloning – tak­ing cut­tings. F2 hy­brids are plants cre­ated by cross­ing to F1 hy­brids, an un­sta­ble com­bi­na­tion.

What about plant­ing her­itage seeds?

It's im­por­tant to keep the gene pool healthy so grow as many heir­loom seeds as you can. Your toma­toes may have more frag­ile skins, you may be plagued by bugs and dis­eases that you will have to deal with, you may have lower yields or it may take your veg­eta­bles longer to reach ma­tu­rity and the blos­soms on the flow­ers may not be as big, but do it. The al­ter­na­tive is to have en­gi­neered plants that are bred to be ster­ile so that you can't plant from seed at all. And then there's that rumour that leg­is­la­tion is be­ing planned down south, un­der the guise of "pub­lic safety" to make it il­le­gal to grow any food to sell un­less it's li­censed by some big com­pany.

Plant­ing your own seeds can be a re­ward­ing ad­ven­ture.

Tim­ing is every­thing - be sure to plant the seeds 6-8 weeks be­fore you plan on plant­ing them in the gar­den.

All you need is a sunny win­dowsill or some grow lights.

Some­times you'll see seed caps on your seedlings.

Give your seedlings a boost with some fer­til­izer.

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