Happy New Year! Another year for gardeners to learn, plant, and grow. January is a start up month for certain seeds. Indoor seed starting kits can be bought online complete with a bottom tray for catching water drips and a clear, plastic lid to keep moisture inside. These are reusable though I do recommend cleaning last year’s trays with a bit of bleach in hot water to remove all dirt particles and any mold that might have formed. Also, if any disease or spores collected on old trays, it should be washed off before using again. If properly stored out of the frost and snow, these plastic trays can last over twenty years. I keep mine in an enclosed unheated shed outside.
Seeds from last year are kept in paper envelopes taped shut and stored in a cardboard shoe box. I throw in a few of those silica packs that come with new shoes and other shipped items that helps keep moisture out. Be certain to check dates on your seed packets. Expired seeds DO expire and saving them isn’t worth it because they may/may not germinate. You can toss a slew of expired seeds into a damp paper towel, label it, and see if they sprout in a few days. That means they are viable and can be used. I like to replace my seeds according to the projected longevity claimed by seed companies. I listed a handful of the most used seeds below. If you would like to obtain a complete list of viability for vegetable and flower seeds, please drop me a line and I can email you the lists.
This year I will plant seeds following the moon cycles. Say what? Yes, old time growers, maybe even your grandparents, planted by the moon. Moon cycle calendars are easy to find online, just search for one. The full moon is recommended for starting some vegetables that grow above ground. That occurs right now; look up in the sky tonight! I will drop leek and onion seeds into soil-filled trays, sprinkle soil on top and press lightly to make good contact, mist them lightly, cover with the lids and then place the trays on my heating mat. Now the fun begins.
Initially the seeds started indoors don’t require light. The heat alone will make them pop open and send out a sprout. The next step is to get them under a light source. Grow lights work great but we have used fluorescent strip lights, too. That little green sprout emerging from a seed will need light of some sort (sunlight is best), to keep it green and growing. It is amazing how nature sends everything UP. Plants, animals, and people all stand up as they are pulled towards the sun.
With the ground in the garden freezing and unfreezing, seedling starts will have to wait until it is safe to plant directly in the ground. Caring for our indoor seedlings can be a big chore until the temps warm up in the spring. Once the seedlings are about 4 inches tall, I set the whole tray outside if and when the temperatures hit 60 degrees or more. This process is called “hardening off.” At sunset the seed trays are moved back inside and kept warm again. Extreme hot or cold temperatures will stress any plant and may hinder their growth. If you have a heated greenhouse with a temperature controlled vent/fan, that works great. Keep these little beings moist, not soaked.
Stratification of seeds can be done now, too. Research will tell you which seeds germinate after a cold treatment. Seeds can be placed in a sealed plastic bag and placed in the fridge or placed outside on cold days. This replicates how seasonal temperatures affect various seeds in an effort to “wake” up their cells. Here’s a few common seeds that do need stratification: poppy, black eyed Susan, lavender, and verbena seeds. My experiment this year will be to winterize these seeds directly outside in the plot I have prepared for them to grow. Toss them on cold soil, throw a few shovels of soil on top and let it all go until the magic of spring wakes them out of their deep sleep. You know how sunflower seeds spring up on their own every year? Nature has a built-in clock tick ticking!
These are how many years you can safely and correctly store seeds: Arugula – 6 years, broccoli – 5 years, cukes – 6 years, lettuce – 6 years, spinach – 5 years, summer squash – 4 years, onions just one year only though you might have some luck for two years.
(Karen Cohen is an organic grower of veggies and flowers and writes about her gardening adventures. Gardeners interested in swapping seeds, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org)