February is the season of love…and of the very beginnings of your summer garden. This is the month when you can buy fresh packets of seed and start growing the new herbs, veggies, and flowers you will enjoy in your garden all year long. Starting seeds doesn’t take much – quality seed starting medium, a container with good drainage, and those precious seeds. The tricky bit is getting them to grow.
This is not the first time I have written about starting seeds in this blog. If you’d like to see how it’s done, click here to read how I used a seed starting kit one spring. To discover what mistakes I’ve made in the past, click here. In this post I decided to take it another step and answer some of the questions I get about seeds and seed starting. Here you go!
Q: My seed packet says I have to put my seeds in the refrigerator for a week. Is this really necessary?
A: If you want to have success growing these plants, then yes you need to follow directions. Each type of seed starts to grow when it senses the right combination of light, moisture, and temperature. If one of those is off, the seed will stay locked up tighter than Fort Knox. Seed companies know this, which is why they give you the best advice on how to get seeds to germinate. A little patience now will give you a successful crop.
Q: Do I have to sow seeds indoors first? Can’t I just put them outside on the ground?
A: All seeds naturally grow outside in the soil. The advantage of starting seeds indoors is two-fold. First it gives you a chance to get a “jump start” on spring. There may still be snow on the ground but you can get your basil and green bean seeds germinated and growing indoors so you are ready as soon as the soil warms to put out your young plants. Another advantage of starting seeds indoors is that you can give them the special care they need to get started. Perhaps as many as half of the seeds available for you to grow might not thrive if they are simply sown outdoors. Giving them a little TLC indoors will make them grow for your garden.
Q: Can I use seeds from last year?
A: Yes, you can but be aware that the older the seed is, the less likely it is to germinate. Some seeds have a shelf life of as little as 3-4 months, just enough to stay alive through winter and germinate the following spring.
Before sowing old seeds you can test them for viability. Take 10 seeds and wrap them in a wet paper towel. Consult the seed packet to find out the days to germination. Put the damp towel in a plastic bag and set it aside for the number of days mentioned on the packet. Unwrap the seeds and count how many germinated. If five germinated, then only about 50% of the seed will come to life. If this is good enough, then go ahead and sow.
Q: I’m worried I might have seeds from GMO plants. How can I tell?
A: There are very, very few true GMO plants available to the public. These are generally confined to field crops such as alfalfa, corn, soy, etc. Even if a seed packet does not mention this issue, it is almost certainly not a GMO crop.
Keep in mind there is a very big difference between GMO plants and genetically modified/manipulated plants. Nearly every food plant we use today has been changed by genetically manipulation through selective breeding. Everyday genetically manipulated plants are quite safe.
Q: I have leftover seeds? Can I keep them for later?
A: Yes you can. For maximum storage life, seeds should be stored in an airtight container and kept away from high heat. Then you will be ready to sow them next year. You could also trade them for other seeds on National Seed Swap Day, the last Saturday in January.