It Is Safer Inside

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This week the outdoor temperature has ranged from the 50s to the 70s as is typical in North Carolina in March. If you are like me, those warmer days turn my mind to the garden and when I may be able to plant outdoors. However, the Farmer’s Almanac predicts the last frost to occur before April 23rd but don’t despair! Gather the family and let’s get growing anyway.

In the Central Carolina Zone where we live, it is too risky to begin directly sowing in the ground just yet, but some plants do well when started from seed indoors. Planting seeds is a rewarding activity to do together and the time is right to begin that eggplant, tomato, or pepper garden indoors.

Seeds are showing up on the hardware shelves encouraging us to get started. If you are using stored seeds from last season, you can determine their viability with a family-friendly experiment I shared in an article last year. Here is an excerpt from that article.

Our horticulture agent taught me how to test those seeds I have been hanging onto because I never got around to planting them. If my children were younger and still homeschooling with me we would be testing all my old seeds as a school project. Since two are in college and one is on his high school track I guess I will have to do it by myself. I think you should join me with your kids, grandkids, or just be a curious kid yourself.

We made a short video showing how to test three different seed varieties from packets of peas and tomatoes that were packaged in 2014. If you want to watch the video you can find it on our N.C. Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center 4-H YouTube playlist. In the video, you will see us select ten seeds from the seed packet and roll them up into a damp paper towel. After writing the date and seed variety on a gallon-sized zipper bag we place the roll of seeds inside and zip it up tight. If you are following along with me, you need to check the seed packet and find out the germination time. The germination time tells you how long to leave your seeds in a warm place, like on top of the refrigerator, checking the bag daily to be sure the paper towel stays damp. 

The chemistry that is occurring inside that paper towel is nothing short of a miracle. As long as water is the only thing we need to add to initiate germination, the seed coat will begin breaking down. The seed will actually consume itself in order to grow and survive until it can make its own food through photosynthesis. The embryo is kept alive by the starch in the seed, which is known scientifically as endosperm. The root will be the first thing to emerge from the seed coat, which is called the radicle. The seed and emerging plant have exactly the right amount of nutrient materials to sustain it until the plant reaches the surface and its true leaves can begin to process sunlight. When planting seeds it is important to know the planting depth so the seed will perfectly emerge before it starves to death.

Now back to our science project on top of the refrigerator. If your seeds are not a short-lived variety and have been stored in a cool, dry, and dark space, you are likely to find many of them germinated, even if they are older. If ten seeds germinate then you have 100% viability. You may plant your seeds as directed on the packet and expect them to grow. If only seven seeds germinate, you have 70% viability. You might want to plant more seeds than you need because 30% probably won’t grow. You can then thin them after they sprout.

Once you have viable seeds you should begin planting them according to the recommendations on the packet. Be sure they are in a well-lit area so they won’t become “leggy” while they wait on April 23rd to pass when it generally becomes safe to plant them outdoors in a pot, raised bed, or directly into your garden soil. If you end up with too many successful baby plants, rejoice and share them with a neighbor. 

Meredith Favre provided information and links as a source for this article. If you haven’t met Meredith yet you are missing out. As our Local Foods Agent, she is a new member of our team responsible for connecting you with our many local farmers and producers. You can meet her this spring at the farmer’s market, which kicks off on April 23rd.

If you want resources for your indoor garden like seeds or “how to with kids” guides contact Pam Kerley. Pam is the 4-H Program Assistant for North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center. 4-H is a positive youth development program offering programs that suit a variety of backgrounds, interests, budgets, and schedules. From in-school to after-school, clubs to camps, 4-H’s programs are available in Lee County and we welcome children who want to have fun, learn, and grow. In North Carolina, 4-H is brought to you by the NC State Cooperative Extension. N.C. Cooperative Extension’s experts and educators share university knowledge, information, and tools you can use every day to improve your life.