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Seeds: Magically Delicious

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The scale tells you about the ten extra pounds every gardener gets in January. An easy ten pounds of seed catalogs appear as if by magic.

Seeds are magical. That dried little orb fights through all kinds of weather, being gobbled by birds, blown from one county into another, all while holding Mother Nature’s hand. Weeds seeds are the toughest seeds known to mankind and we all know those seeds germinate without fail. But, what about the seeds we really want to germinate?

Seed catalogs are filled with thousands of varieties of seeds, more than your heart’s desire. Reading the information in the seed catalogs helps whittle down the choices. Just like any catalog, whether tractor catalog or Russian bride catalog, the choices must be ratcheted down to a reasonable number. Your seed choices are limited by climate zone, the amount of garden space available, water, and time. Who wouldn’t like an acre vegetable garden to feed the county enough zucchinis to change the news of the world? Every gardener’s dream, a zucchini on every door step! However, your own gardening reality must influence your seed choices.

After you have chosen your seeds, get to know them. The seed packet is the guide to success, advising how and when to plant and your expected outcome.

Seeds are alive, an embryo with just enough energy to wake up and get going, composed of 20% moisture and 80% growing tissue. There are five elements to germination.

Soil moisture is the germination kick starter. Starting medium needs to be moist. Think of your starter soil like a sponge, not sloppy-wet but 15-minutes-in-the-dryer wet.

The seed packet lists the optimum range of soil temperatures for germination. Temperatures above or below that range may make the seeds go dormant or damage the embryos. Soil temperatures may be controlled by a seed heating mat, indoors on top of the refrigerator or under lights.

Seed embryos are living, breathing organisms. They need oxygen to initiate cellular activity. If the soil is too heavy, your seeds will suffocate or drown. Heavy clay soil, while holding water, has little pore space for air and oxygen. This is the reason why seed starter material is so light.

Seed packets are specific about light requirements. Jalapenos, as an example, need a warm well-lighted area and soil that is kept moist (a spray bottle is good). Under good conditions the seedlings will emerge in 10-21 days at 75-80 degrees F. Use new seeds; 22 days down the road is not the time to discover the seeds you planted were old and not viable.

Roots need soil to draw in moisture and nutrition, to anchor and stabilize the plant. There will come a point when the seedling will need to be moved to a soil mixture from the seed starter material.

As with the rest of the world, everything is about timing. Look up the last risk-of-frost date for your area. Count backwards to determine your seed sowing date. Your packet will advise whether seeds are best started indoors or out and the length of time before the seedlings may be transferred outside. The magic of seeds creates pounds of fresh, delicious food.

Julie Silva is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.

University of California Cooperative Extension Central Sierra Master Gardeners can answer home gardening questions. Call 209-533-5912 in Tuolumne County, 209-754-2880 in Calaveras County or fill out our easy-to-use problem questionnaire here. Check out our website here. You can also find us on Facebook.