Thursday, June 30, 2011

Garden Experiments

As a new gardener coming to the practice primarily from the perspectives of ecology, food security, resource depletion and resiliency, I jumped into the deep end and experimented right away with different techniques and approaches that I didn't find in conventional gardening books.

In particular, I learned quite a lot from Steve Solomon's Gardening When It Counts. I really like his technique for 'chitting' or pre-sprouting seeds and using a homemade gel medium to help with sowing.
For anyone who grows their own sprouts to eat, pre-sprouting uses exactly the same technique, only you stop the process as soon as the seed develops a rootlet. Pre-sprouting gets the seeds going, under conditions that you can control, like temperature and moisture, and gives the seed a significant head start by the time it goes into the ground. You don't have to worry at all about the soil drying out before the seed has a chance to sprout. You can observe germination rates of the seeds and see right away the percentage of your seeds that germinate.

This process works well for peas, beans, corn and all the small seeds. For the larger curcubits, you chit or pre-sprout them in the warmest spot in your house (not exceeding 29 degrees Celsius), between clean, wet but not dripping, cloths or a towel tucked into a sealed, plastic bag or storage container.

Sowing the really tiny seeds is a fussy, finicky ordeal that often leaves me cursing like a sailor and wasting a lot of seed. Mr. Solomon comes to the rescue here with this super cool technique that I just love. He makes a gel medium by disolving one tablespoon of cornstarch per 1 cup of water, brought to a boil, simmered briefly and then cooled until a gel forms.

You may need to adjust the ratio of cornstarch to water to get just the right consistency of gel, neither too thick or too runny. And adjust how much gel you make based on the size, amount and spacing of the seed you plan to sow. Once the gel cools to room temperature, gently stir in the pre-spouted seeds, evenly distributing them throughout the mix. The mix then goes into a clean plastic bag.

Little, baby seed sprouts! Grow babies grow!!!

When you're ready to sow the seeds, cut a tiny hole in one corner of the bag (start small and increase in size if you need). Slowly squeeze out the gel and seeds, just like you're icing a cake.
It takes some time to get the hang of it, but with a little bit of practice you end up with lovely lines of evenly spaced seeds.

Within 3 days my seedlings were up and out the ground and looking good!

With this particular round of seeds I'm trying another experiment and hoping to incorporate some polyculture into the beds that I planted. So I actually sprouted a few different types of vegetable seeds that went into three different mixes, which is why the bags pictured above are numbered. I'm eager to see how this works. I think I will need to get better at spacing and put more thought into which plants to group together. It's quite possible that I'll end up with an over crowded mess of plants competing with each other. I might have to thin mercilessly, which I'm just terrible at. Whatever happens, it will be a good learning experience!


Dmarie said...

wow! I just grew my own alfalfa sprouts for the first time, or I'd not have thought this post do-able. I'd not of thought of sprouting other seeds; thanks for sharing this technique.

Amber said...

It's a really neat technique! It adds an extra step or two, but it's easy and I like the certainty of it. You know, even before the seeds go in the ground, that they will germinate.