Sowing Seed

Nothing gives me more hope than the annual ritual of sowing seeds. This starts just before the longest night of the year and continues through summer solstice. Usually the alpines commence the cycle.

The first step is to clean previous year's pots. This can be an ongoing job throughout the year. But it is most often the last job that gets priority. Good thing there is an up-and-coming gardener to help. She loves the soap bubbles and doesn't mind the alcohol on her hands.

This gives me a little time to refresh my memory about seed family preferences: light/dark, drainage, peat/sand, stratification. At the start of my career, I relied heavily on Norm Deno's Seed Germination Theory and Practice and Thompson and Morgan's pocket guide. Norman & Geoffrey, my seed sowing mentors, maintained they did not need to vary their procedure - everything was sowed with the same method. The pot was filled with soil-less mix amended with the local river washed grit. It was top dressed with a sprinkling of the same grit. The grit cover, they maintained, was translucent. So the light always could get to the seed. (That never explained to me their successes with gentians.) Their success rate was phenomenal. But I still paid attention to known light/dark and like recommendations.

For most alpines, I begin with clean 2.5x2.5x3.5 inch pots. A half inch layer of Pennsylvania "Light-Weight" (expanded clay shale- for healthy roots) is added as the base. Then comes soil mix according to the family and geographical preferences. To Metro or Jiffy Mix is added a coarse builder's sand and packed into the pot near to the top. The soapstone tamper, pictured below, is the favored instrument of the up-and-coming gardener as well as the seasoned. It is shaped like the pot and compacts the soil mix easily, saving knuckles and fingers. Then seeds who favor dark to germinate, like gentians, are covered with a half inch of grit. Penstemons and their ilk, are sowed on top, after the grit is applied. When there is no known information, some grit is sprinkled on half. Or if there is concern about rot, a light sprinkling is applied. When there is concern about moisture requirements, less grit and more peat is added.

 Seed Trays Ready to Soak
Each pot gets a label: genus, species, source, cultivation instructions (if any). As each flat is filled, it is soaked overnight in the sink. Afterwards, out it goes into the outdoor open frame for the winter. N&G always covered their flats with trays, but I prefer to leave them open fully to the moisture until "The Melt". And there they sit until spring.


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