Monday, June 11, 2012
Getting Good Germination with In Situ Planting
My neighbors laugh at this quaint, laid-back vignette I have created on my shady front porch because I am never there!
Yesterday was a work day in the family garden. The tiller is working reliably, so one of the first things I do is run the tiller up and down all the rows. It takes about an hour to do the two large overlapping rectangles. The rows running east-west are divided at two points with eight foot wide paths. This is to keep our sanity as we drag hoses around the potager.
My sister-in-law and I are quite impressed with ourselves this year, having figured out the optimum width for the space between the rows (from the center of my left arch to the tip of my right big toe) and finding a way to lay them out straightly (using electric fencing posts and string). The distance between my big feet taking that big stride is approximately the width of our second-hand tiller, inscribed with the name, "Little Man". Little Man has about 6-8" on each side. Right now I go up and down between the rows twice, crowding first one side and then the other. I figure as the beans bush out and the potatoes get hilled up, this will be exactly one pass with Little Man, or about 40".
But the thing that has so impressed me this year versus last year, is our great germination rates. Last year the ground was so cool so long into June. This year the soil warmed fairly early. Optimally, soil about 70 -75 degrees germinates seed most readily; except for the cole and salad crops, which germinate best in cooler soils, about 55-65 degrees. After temperatures reach 80 degrees germination falls off quite rapidly for all seeds, which is one of the reasons seed viability also decreases if you don't keep your seed in a cool, dark space.
In addition to proper temperature for germination, moisture or humidity is a key ingredient, even more so than light. Planting seed pressing the seed so it makes good contact with soil so it also makes good contact with the dampness inherent in soil is a good idea. Watering the row after planting and pressing also makes good sense, although both amaranth and soybeans and some others germinate just as easily in soils that tend toward the drier side.
Also, there are a few things that are counter-intuitive when germinating seed. Some older seed germinates better than fresh seed (but not always-- delphiniums, for example). Other seeds germinate better if their have been crushed, like beets and chard. Those things that pass as seeds in the pack of each of these really are seed capsules containing 0-5 seeds, some of which are not mature, Crushing the tan, corky capsule actually releases the seeds which are shades of brown to black and about the size of the head of a pin. Most beans will germinate better if soaked for up to 1/2 hour and then planted. However, not all of what we think of as beans belong to the same genus. Beans are actually members of five or so different genus, including vicia (favas), glysine (soybeans),vigna (cowpeas and mung), phaseolus (runner and pole beans), physocarpus (winged bean). Of these, the glysine will actually germinate much, much worse if soaked prior to planting. Last year, I made the mistake of soaking the edamame. I had less than a dozen germinate. This year, it looks like they were planted by a Hollywood movie set crew, perfect as a picture.
My nephew, at three, has the newly planted seed watering routine down pat. Hold the shower sprinkler over the row,count to five, move to where it is not wet, and repeat. He had also impressed me with his ability to know what a pepper plant is, pop it out of its pot in one piece, place it in a pre-dug hole and using his spade, cover the root with the plant upright. I was so impressed by his three-year-old's prowess I had to holler to his weed-whacking mommy to come view his expertise and perfection. He's been hanging with the gardeners, but he's truly very good at it.
I guess it is not only seed germinating well in the family garden, but little gardeners as well.