A New Column by Ryan Minkler, Owner of NorthCulture Garden Supply
Planting your seasonal crop can be as easy as putting some seeds in the ground and hoping that mother nature provides a perfect season, or you can take steps to ensure that you do have a good harvest, regardless of mother nature’s weather decisions this year. I prefer the latter, but even the most prepared gardener can encounter the unexpected.
Now is the time of year that most of us are beginning to look for “starts” or germinate seeds that will ultimately provide us with food or medicine at the end of the season. While I enjoy planting all sorts of vegetables and herbs, my forte’ is in medical marijuana. With a decade of experience in the industry, I’ve encountered a wide variety of challenges. My goal is to help you anticipate possible obstacles on your path and achieve a bountiful green (or purple) harvest.
It all begins with a seed. You are going to want to pick out seeds that are the most mature to ensure a strong, resilient plant. What to look for is what’s known as “tiger striping” on the seed. It will run lengthwise down the shell of the seed and be a dark, almost black, color. The mature seeds will likely be larger than the others and a shade or two darker. Once you’ve picked out your seasonal lineup, it’s time to “pop” (germinate) those seeds.
This process is relatively simple and only takes a few days. What works well for me is to take about six paper towels and fold them about three or four times. Now soak the towels in water (filtered is best, but I just use my well water) and ring it out like a wash cloth. Now place your seeds about two inches apart on one half of the towel and fold. We are basically creating a constantly humid environment, with little to no light for these seeds to germinate.Use a tupperware or even cut a 2-liter bottle open and lay it on it’s side. Place the wet paper towel, the seed sandwich, inside the container of choice. Any container that will retain most of the humidity will work. Once you have your germination vessel, we must place it in a dark, ambient environment. I use a closet shelf and close the door so as not to allow light in. Many people will use heat mats to maintain a constant temperature but I find that my house temperature is just fine. Now the hardest lesson in gardening….patience.
Carefully check the moisture level of the paper towels after a day or two to make sure it’s not evaporating off too quickly. Usually after about 48-72 hours, it’s time to look for a taproot. Unfold the paper towel to reveal seeds that have began to sprout. The husk will likely be cracked by a healthy white taproot searching for an environment to grow. Depending on how long you waited to check on them, some of the seeds may even have shed their husk and presented their first two leaves already. These leaves are know as the “seed leaves” or scientifically cotyledon, and they are temporary.
Now we need to give this root what it is looking for….an environment to grow. This is known as the “plant media”. Most commonly, people use soil for the plant media but there are many other conditions which are ideal for root development. I could go on and on about different forms of gardening but that is not the scope of this article. For now, let’s focus on soil as our media. To plant our seeds, we want a soil that is light in nutrients and allows for good drainage. Zen Blend, Light Warrior and Pro Mix HP are a few good products. You can make your own blend using peat moss, perlite, compost and kelp meal – just to name a few. There are a number of recipes online for making your own soil.
After you’ve selected the proper soil to plant in, it’s time to fill the containers. Choose a container that is pretty small to allow for a dense root mass to form. I like the 3.5” square plastic pots for this stage. They are inexpensive and hold just the right amount of soil to keep the plant healthy for about a month. It’s important to understand that “as below, so as above.” Meaning that the plant’s foliage will take the general shape of the root mass that grows below the surface. So, choosing a narrow deep container creates a plant that will grow taller and skinnier whereas a shorter wider container will be bushier and broader. This is more important in later stages of transplanting but it’s never too early to begin molding your plant’s form. Fill the pot to the surface with dry soil and wet the soil with a light nutrient solution. There are many root stimulators and light nutrient solutions specially designed for this stage. I use the back of a sharpie or pencil to make a small, maybe 1/2” hole in the center of the moist media where the seedling will be placed. If the seedling has the “seed leaves” showing then try to face those just above the surface of the soil while submersing the rest of the sprout underground. If no leaves are showing then place the sprout about a 1/4” below the surface and gently fill the hole with less dense – but still moist, particles of soil.
After all our pots are planted, it’s time to let them grow! A low-intensity florescent bulb will emit just the right amount of light to entice the plant above the surface and begin the growth process. Keep the room temperature between 60-80 degrees and make sure they don’t dry out. A heat mat helps maintain a constant temperature in the root zone giving the gardener one less thing to worry about. Allow for at least 18 hours of light for the seedlings to start taking off, don’t go below this light schedule or you may induce the flowering stage. Some people like to give the plants a full 24 hours with no night cycle, but I believe that everything should sleep – it’s natural, so I put my light on a timer that gives the plants 6 hours of dark. You shouldn’t need to water for a while as the roots will take time to develop in their new-found environment.
I hope this information helps produce plenty of healthy, strong plants this growing season. Stay tuned to the Crescent City Times for more columns on cultivation techniques as the season develops. Feel free to visit NorthCulture Garden Supply at 1070 Hwy 101 N. for all your gardening needs. We have a knowledgeable staff and are happy to answer any questions you might have.