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I’m a bit behind in my seed planting here at the farm. We’re in the process of filing for our organic status, and I’ve had to shift some of our procedures to include specific soils that are on the approved list. It’s been really good to have to rethink what I’ve been doing. A few weeks ago I visited one of my former students who spends all spring growing more seedlings than I could ever imagine doing. She was a wealth of information and showed me some of her tricks for better germination of vegetable and herb alike.
I’m usually trying to start a few of my own garden seeds, but more often than not I’m trying to sprout oddball medicinals. The trouble with the oddballs is that they haven’t been cultivated for years by humans. They aren’t “tame” like the tomato. Herb seeds can seem difficult as a result, unless you know the trick. Some seeds need scarification or stratification to germinate and some simply need to be pre-soaked.
When sprouting your wild medicinals, be sure you understand their days to germination. If you don’t notice that a given seed takes several months to pop, you may have given up and thrown away the tray long before you might have actually seen results. Here are a few tips for some common medicinals when you are growing them from seed.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Parsley is notorious for being an extremely slow sprouter. You can increase your odds of success by soaking the seed in warm water for 24 hours before planting.
Lavender (Lavendula spp.)
Most people buy lavender plants or make cuttings from lavender plants they already own. If you are up for some natural variation in flower colors though, growing lavender from seeds can be fun. Lavender seeds are tiny so they need to be sprinkled on the top of your pots and gently pressed in. You will do yourself a favor if you have a heat mat to keep your pots at around 70 degrees. Lavender likes it warm for germination.
Basil (Occiumum spp.)
Basil is another popular herb that sometimes has a reputation as a slow germinator. Cover your seeds with about 1/2 inch of soil and with the right circumstances, basil should germinate in three to five days. There are many, many variations of basil that you might grow from Holy basil to Thai basil. Basil likes warmth for germination, as well, so a heat mat underneath the pots will greatly increase your chances of strong, fast germination.
St. Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
This yellow wonder likes to be put through a cold season before it will germinate. This can be mimicked by wetting the seed, placing it in the fold of a paper towel in a plastic bag and store it in the fridge for two weeks. When you are ready to put the seed on top of the soil and expose the pots to light.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Usually, you can expect a pretty spotty germination on rosemary. Most experts say to germinate rosemary in the light, but at my friend’s farm, she reported that for her, germination in the dark produced much more success. Go figure. I would say there is a chance here for experimentation. Try it both ways and see which works best for you!
Chamomile (Matricaria recutitus)
Chamomile likes to be sprinkled on the surface, lightly pressed and then exposed to light.
Generally, we can figure out what kind of special needs a seed might have by observing how the plant acts in nature. Some plants, once you get them started, seem to reproduce just be dropping their seeds on the soil surface all around them. Those will most likely benefit from light germination. This past year, I discovered that borage will readily seed but needs to be tilled under for germination. I didn’t have any seedlings until I “planted” them while getting the soil ready for my peas. This is the type of observation that is important to add to a garden journal and can help you become a stronger gardener each year you work with the land. Sometimes, it’s the dumb luck, accidental sort of stuff we do that gives us the most information.