In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
March, 2009
Regional Report

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Gabriel reaches for a sunflower seed head in a lush veggie garden started from a handful of seeds.

To Sow... or Not To Sow?

This spring my gardening starts indoors. With seeds. You see, I unearthed the oversized envelope box I'd been stuffing seed packets into since last spring. Well (gulp), since 1997, if the "Sell By" dates are accurate.

There are two more boxes -- for future attention. I'm trying to learn to finish one project at a time -- as materials pile up on the dining room table, chair seats, coffee table, and floor corners.

Two weekends ago, eight-year-old friend Gabriel stayed over. He loves dirt. Heaping it. Digging it. Carrying it. Adding water to it to make Mud Soup. So we planted "cat grass" (oats) in two small pots (one for his kitty, the other for the neighbor's cat who sneaks onto their patio.) He carefully placed 6 to 8 oat seeds over nutritious soil we'd mixed in the wheelbarrow. Fortunately he has sharp eyes, a gentle touch, and is fascinated with nature. For him and his mom in their city kitchen, he cut a small triangle from a seed disk for mesclun lettuce to put in a pot and cover with soil mix.

I had Asian spring mix and 'Easter Egg' radishes to plant in a plastic oval pot. Gabe spotted a red plastic wheelbarrow -- and was off. In less than two weeks, the lettuce and radishes are sprouting. It's time to rig the grow-lights.

The Seed Box
Success breeds success. Which brings me back to the seed box. Its contents are daunting from two perspectives. Practically speaking, how do I organize this treasure trove? Which flowers, herbs, and veggies to plant where, when? Which seeds are viable? How much time and space can I devote to keeping seedlings alive till planting outdoors?

Environmentally and horticulturally speaking, seeds reflect the science of botany. To me, they are miracles. Each tiny seed becomes a plant that can grow into an oak tree, a fan of flowers, a vine full of gourds, tasty basil. Each viable seed holds an embryo (a miniature plant) and the plant's first food in the form of endosperm (usually starchy cotyledons).

The rice grain and the wheat seed are staple food for hundreds of thousands of people. The acorn, pine nut, maple seed (samara) can populate a forest. Closer to home, a community garden -- which starts with seeds -- brings neighbors together around healthy, fresh veggies and fruits.

My box holds nine packs of different nasturtiums -- 'Alaska', 'Cherries Jubilee', 'Empress of India', 'Mahogany', 'Vesuvius', 'Peach Melba', and 'Tall, Mixed'. Their seeds are seldom viable beyond one season though. The dormant cells deteriorate, dry out, or get moist so they don't sprout. Too frugal to toss them, I'm testing a sample from each packet. I rolled five seeds in a small piece of paper towel, put the labeled samples side-by-side in a plastic bag, then misted them with water. I also tucked in samples of larkspur, poppy, lupine, zinnia, and hyacinth bean; then ziplocked the bag. It's near a heating vent to speed germination. In five days, I'll check for sprouting; again in seven, 10, 12, and 14 days. Seeds showing roots are good to plant. Rotted and non-sprouting seeds and their original packs get recycled in the compost pile.


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