Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A Funny Old Business

Germination's a funny old business, isn't it? They say seeds need three (or four) things to wake from 'quiescence' (that's sleepy-time to you and me) and start growing:
  • Water - well that's the obvious one. All life needs water.
  • Warmth - although while peppers and squashes need a good warm room to do their thing, radishes and lettuces can germinate around 4 C. While we often associate higher soil temperatures with good germination, some seeds require a period of cold first. In other climates, some require a forest fire!
  • Air - yup, they need to breathe just like us, so soil mustn't be waterlogged, and seeds too deep won't grow. Some seeds have a hard outer shell that excludes air, and need a bit of wear or a hard frost to split the shell before germination can begin.
  • Light - not all seeds require light, but some do; for example woodland flowers which grow in very early spring while the trees are bare and the sunlight reaches the forest floor.
But is this a formula for success? We should be so lucky.

I've always thought myself quite fortunate when it comes to parsnip seeds (which have a particularly poor reputation when it comes to germination) but when I think about it now, it's not so surprising. I tend to plant a whole pack of seeds in a row - that's 150 or thereabouts - after all there's no point saving them for next year as they lose their vitality so quickly. Then later I thin them where they're too close together, but I'm hardly thinning 150 parsnips - maybe half that. It's just that I sow so thickly I seem to do well.

This year I station-sowed my parsnips in a grid, and though I have lots of healthy seedlings, several of the 'stations' are still empty. If only I hadn't used the whole pack... At least parsnip seed is cheap; I popped to Wilko's yesterday and (after weeding all the fat hen out of the bed) filled in the gaps with a second sowing.

My sweetcorn came up last week - every single seed I sowed, and within just a few days! Thank you Real Seeds!

Yet I am still waiting for any action in the summer savory pots (old seed, but still just about in date)...

...or from the poppies (brand new seed, and not cheap!). These were sown way back in March. Actually look - that one in the middle is doing something. Has that one had more water than the others? More light or air? A different temperature? Nope.

And germination's been really patchy (about 35%) from the 'Bright Lights' chard (three righthand rows) - just one year old - while the brand new perpetual spinach seeds (lefthand row and very closely related) have all come up without a problem.

My 'Baby Bear' pumpkin seeds from Mr Fothergills have been in the soil for weeks, and they're my second attempt - I was just getting ready to have a good old rant about it... Then suddenly, and in perfect synchrony, up they popped. (The first sowing still hasn't done anything, despite getting exactly the same indoor temperatures.)

Am I going somewhere with this? Sort of, I suppose...

If you're the kind of person that needs to be in control, don't try gardening. Like the grinding of tectonic plates or the power of the wind or the frost that probably turned my unfleeced strawberries to mush on the allotment last night or the snail-that-got-away munching down your brand new cucumber seedlings, we're at nature's mercy and we have to roll with the punches. In all things, it pays to be adaptable and flexible and to work with nature wherever possible, because one thing's for certain: it's not going out of its way to work with you!

1 comment:

Paul and Melanie said...

I know exactly what you mean! I'd love to know why some seeds from the same packet germinate and some don't, and even the ones that do seem to vary on how long they take to do it. I've sown a second sowing of assumed dead seeds only to see them suddenly pop into life weeks later... It's odd... lol

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