Growing from seed (or cutting/shoot/root segment/bulb etc) is a wondrous art and, they say, assures you a place in heaven 🙂 There are no uniform principles of propagation. One learns through trial and error (and reading the Mumbai Farmer website)! Here’s a synopsis of what I learned during my years of experimentation…
SEEDY STORY: THE QUICK & DIRTY INTRO…..
- Most seeds have a shelf life of 2 to 3 years (besides onion, with its shelf life of 6 months).
- Seed storage is usually best in a cool, dark, dry place.
- Seed germination is usually best in warm, dark, moist environments.
- The ideal soil mix for germination is 50% fresh, sterile Earth and 50% sterile CocoPeat or Vermiculite. The former provides basic nutrients, while the latter provides a more porous, aerated medium for tender roots to reach out.
- There is no ideal germination temperature as it could vary from 18 degrees Celsius for lettuce to 30 degrees Celsius for most Indian gourds. Remember generally though, that hard shelled seeds would need higher temperatures for germination, and you can increase soil temperatures by adding heat-generating Compost in your soil mix.
- Kickstart germination by soaking seeds. Large, hard-shelled seeds may be soaked overnight, and scarified thereafter (gentle scraping of the hard, protective coating). Small, softer seeds may be soaked for only an hour, if at all.
- Sowing actual seeds is important, as some, like coriander, are contained within shells which need to be broken open to release its seed. Also ensure that the seeds you are sowing are not roasted, and thus, infertile.
- Seeds from cross-pollinated veggies that you may save from your produce may not give you identical veggies. This is because the process of cross-pollination mixes genetic features. Thus veggies of the next generation, while being good to grow and eat, may not necessarily be true-to-type.
- Seed saving is a very satisfying art if you care for the environment and future generations. It can also be challenging, since survival rates are lower (a good many of these seeds are eaten by insects once sown). Store-bought seeds tend to have higher success rates because they are stored methodically, then chemically coated to prevent insect damage once sown.
- Hybrid seeds are the outcome of systematic human intervention in a natural process. Not all hybrid seeds are genetically modified as hybridity could be achieved either by 1) using natural, low-tech methods in controlled environments, and 2) using complex, high-tech methods involving gene splicing in highly controlled environments. So the question of whether a hybrid plant is organic or not depends on the method used for hybridization of its seeds. Because of the cost of interventions in creating hybrid seeds they tend to be more expensive, but they are also easier to germinate, more resistant to disease, and more bountiful in production.
- All things being equal, organic and naturally saved seeds of local varieties are the best way to go. We need to grow, appreciate and enhance the variety in Nature’s bounty – not be part of the problem through our unthinking demands for standardized produce. The multitudinous natural varieties between so many species are dying because our weakness for convenience cooking favors only a few standard veggies. We also need to stop aping the West in our veggie choices. Why get so excited about growing broccoli and splurge on pest control when good old bhindi comes up with hardly any fuss at all?……Local varieties like bhindi have survived in local conditions for centuries, and thus they tend to be hardier. And by growing such veggies organically from seed, and hopefully sharing seed with your friends, you make fewer demands on the planet, and leave behind no chemical debris.
THE PLOT TURNS MURKIER: MORE DOPE ON SPECIFIC SEEDS….
HERBS – are usually propagated from seed or cuttings of which:
- cuttings of most (like basil, thyme and oregano) need to be placed laterally while those of mint prefer oblique placement.
- lemongrass prefers to grow from transplanted shoots while aloe vera will help you out nicely by birthing baby aloe veras by its side.
FRUIT VEGGIES – are usually propagated from seed, of which:
- some seeds will germinate with great gusto in days (like beans) while others emerge most grudgingly after more than a week (like tomatoes), and some actually require evil design to get them started (there you go, bitter gourd).
- some seeds need darkness indoors to entice them out of shell (like gourds) while others come gaily out of their closets in the full blaze of sunshine (like okra and peppers).
LEAF VEGGIES – are usually propagated from seed, of which:
- spinach is fastidious and will grow only where you have personally placed its seed, while dill and coriander, once established, will very sweetly spread their seeds for you across the surrounding area.
- lettuce and those of its ilk (like salad mixes, leeks and celery), will only germinate at temperatures below 18 degrees Celsius (though you could pull a fast one on Nature by germinating seeds in the refrigerator, as I once did).
ROOT VEGGIES – are propagated variously:
- from seed (like onion), from bulb (like garlic, though it also grows from seed), root segment (like potato, turmeric and ginger), or rooting tuber (like sweet potato – though this little scoundrel will also propagate from cuttings, then sneak all over your garden when you’re not looking – this is one veggie that will propagate with complete abandon, even with no help from you).
With all these complex permutations and combinations it’s no wonder that propagation is more an art than a science! For more detailed info on propagation of each type of veggie and herb, please see my Plantopedia.
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