Garden Basics with Farmer Fred

046 Understanding Seed Packets Pt. 1

September 15, 2020 Fred Hoffman Season 1 Episode 46
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
046 Understanding Seed Packets Pt. 1
Chapters
00:01:16
Understanding Seed Packets, Pt. 1
00:12:28
Smart Pots!
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
046 Understanding Seed Packets Pt. 1
Sep 15, 2020 Season 1 Episode 46
Fred Hoffman

A seed packet might say, “Plant in spring, but if you live in a mild climate, sow in fall.” What is a mild climate? Do you live in a mild climate? You might think so, but the folks at that seed company might disagree. On this episode of Garden Basics, our favorite retired College horticulture professor Debbie Flower tackles that as well as what can be other very confusing terms on a seed packet. Things like, “days to harvest”, bolting, scarify, stratify, and more. Plus, tips on how to store seeds so they'll last for years.
It’s all on Episode 46 of Garden Basics with Farmer Fred: Understanding Seed Packets, Part 1

Links:
Great books on saving your own seeds, including Suzanne Ashworth's best selling, "Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners, 2nd Edition".

Garden Basics comes out every Tuesday and Friday. It's available wherever podcasts are found.
Got a garden question? Call and leave a question, or text us the question: 916-292-8964. E-mail: [email protected] or, leave a question at the Facebook, Twitter or Instagram locations below. Be sure to tell us where you are when you leave a question, because all gardening is local.

All About Farmer Fred:
Farmer Fred website: http://farmerfred.com
Daily Garden tips and snark on Twitter
The Farmer Fred Rant! Blog
Facebook:  "Get Growing with Farmer Fred"
Instagram: farmerfredhoffman
Farmer Fred Garden Videos on YouTube
More podcast info including episodes, live links, product information, transcripts, and chapters available at the home site for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred



Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

A seed packet might say, “Plant in spring, but if you live in a mild climate, sow in fall.” What is a mild climate? Do you live in a mild climate? You might think so, but the folks at that seed company might disagree. On this episode of Garden Basics, our favorite retired College horticulture professor Debbie Flower tackles that as well as what can be other very confusing terms on a seed packet. Things like, “days to harvest”, bolting, scarify, stratify, and more. Plus, tips on how to store seeds so they'll last for years.
It’s all on Episode 46 of Garden Basics with Farmer Fred: Understanding Seed Packets, Part 1

Links:
Great books on saving your own seeds, including Suzanne Ashworth's best selling, "Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners, 2nd Edition".

Garden Basics comes out every Tuesday and Friday. It's available wherever podcasts are found.
Got a garden question? Call and leave a question, or text us the question: 916-292-8964. E-mail: [email protected] or, leave a question at the Facebook, Twitter or Instagram locations below. Be sure to tell us where you are when you leave a question, because all gardening is local.

All About Farmer Fred:
Farmer Fred website: http://farmerfred.com
Daily Garden tips and snark on Twitter
The Farmer Fred Rant! Blog
Facebook:  "Get Growing with Farmer Fred"
Instagram: farmerfredhoffman
Farmer Fred Garden Videos on YouTube
More podcast info including episodes, live links, product information, transcripts, and chapters available at the home site for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred



Farmer Fred :

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred is brought to you by Smart Pots, the original lightweight, long lasting fabric plant container. it's made in the USA. Visit SmartPots.com slash Fred for more information and a special discount, that's SmartPots.com/Fred. Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener or you want good gardening information, well you've come to the right spot. A seed packet. it just might say "plant in spring", but if you live in a mild climate, "sow in fall". Well, wait a minute, what is a mild climate? Do you live in a mild climate? You might think so. But the folks at that Seed Company just might disagree. On this episode of Garden Basics. Our favorite college horticulture Professor, (retired), Debbie Flower tackles that and what can be other confusing terms on a seed packet. things Like days to harvest, bolting, scarify, stratify and a lot more, including tips on how to store those seeds. It's all on episode 46 of Garden Basics with Farmer Fred, understanding seed packets, part one, and we'll do it all in under 30 minutes. Let's go. So recently I bought a packet of seeds, it was a packet of nasturtium seeds. It's a flower, it tends to bloom here in the cool season and it's a great way to attract pollinators and beneficials. beautiful little ground cover with big flowers. And on the instructions on the back of the packet for sowing the seeds, it says recommended one to two weeks after your average last frost date, which around here that would probably be in March or there abouts. But it says for mild climates. So in fall for winter bloom well we're in a mild Climate and it always blooms in the cool season here. So I guess we must be in a mild climate. But then I went on the website for this particular seed manufacturer botanical interest. And it had a very different definition for mild climate than what I thought their definition for a mild climate says. It's those without freezing temperatures generally USDA zones 10 and warmer. Here in the Sacramento Valley, we are USDA zone nine. And I always thought we were kind of mild, but I guess we're not mild. I guess only the southern tip of Florida and Southern California are considered mild climates. But this is news to me because I've never had a problem growing this during the cool season. And that raises up a whole fleet of questions about what do all these terms on the back of a seed packet really mean? For that we bring in our official translator, retired college horticulture Professor Debbie Flower. And Debbie, if you look at seed packets, they're full of all sorts of terms that a lot of new gardeners may be totally unfamiliar with.

Debbie Flower :

Yeah, there are certainly lots of words. It depends on what company you get the seed from some say almost nothing on the packet, and others have practically a novel. I like the novel ones. Yes. So yes, there's lots of information, lots of words, lots of terminology. horticulture, like any science or group of sciences, which horticulture really is, has its own language and definitions. So it's good to know what those words mean.

Farmer Fred :

And what adds to the confusion especially for new gardeners. I mean, local nurseries can help you out a lot when it comes to buying plants because your local independent nursery usually only carries outdoor plants for the season when they are meant to be planted in terms of flowers and vegetables.

Debbie Flower :

So it is a quality nursery is it is a nursery that is tailored to To location which independent nursery certainly. our big box stores are not always

Farmer Fred :

correct. And that brings up one anomaly to that though, and that is the seed rack at the independent nursery. They may have seeds for any old time of the year in that rack.

Debbie Flower :

Yeah, they're, they're stocked by the seed companies or, you know, there's obviously a relationship between the nursery and the seed companies, but, and they will turn their seeds over when the seasons change. But it doesn't always mean that what's on that rack will grow at that moment.

Farmer Fred :

Exactly. They're usually just going through the rack to take out the expired seed and put in fresh seed, but the varieties that they may be putting in may have very specific timeframes for planting.

Debbie Flower :

Right. And of course, there are gardeners who like to push the envelope and grow things in their yard that aren't necessarily Known to survive in that environment. So they want to cater to those people as well. So there can be some different stuff in the seed rack.

Farmer Fred :

Exactly. We're gonna try to make this as easy as possible, we are going to go through a glossary of common terms that you might see on a seed packet or in a plant description, and give them definitions you can understand. And you could refer back to this episode, whenever you have a question because I think we're going to cover most of the terms that you might see on a seed packet or on a plant. Let's start with the letter A. Let's start with annuals. Maybe we should include all the variances of that. So that would be annuals, biennials and perennials.

Debbie Flower :

Okay

Farmer Fred :

Be my guest.

Debbie Flower :

Annual refers to one year. if you have your annual checkup at the dentist you go once a year. So annual is a plant that completes its life in one year. But you have to understand what completing its life means. That means it grows from a seed into a plant. It flowers, it has fruit and produces seed and dies. It's important. The dying part is important for an annual. Many plants we have in the yard can produce flower and fruit and seed but they don't die. Those would be perennials. perennials live more than two years and they grow from seed. They typically have a juvenile period, just like humans have a juvenile period, meaning they're unable to make offspring for several years. fruit trees are notorious for that. You won't get fruit on a fruit tree for five years or more in some cases. So that's something breeders work on they try to shorten that amount of time. But a brand new fruit plant out of the seed will not have fruits on it. Even your tomatoes will not flower and fruit the first day they come out of the seed They have to go through their juvenile period and become an adult. Once they're an adult, they can flower and fruit. And in the case of a perennial, something that was more than two years before it dies, they can produce flower and fruit for many years before that death process occurs. And yes, plants do have a lifespan, they have a time in which they will die eventually, often environmental things get in the way and kill them before that lifespan is up. But many plants, I'm thinking again, a fruit trees, something like 30 years is a lifespan for a producing fruit tree. And that's not unusual. Then there are others like the plants in the Rockies, the trees in the Rockies that live for thousands of years. So perennials live two or more years and they can produce fruit and seed and flowers many years in a row. Then there's the biennial by means two and Greek and any refers to The annual part the year so biennial can complete this life in two years. The first year grows from seed. And it tends to have only leaves only green parts, leaves and stems doesn't flower doesn't fruit. Then the second year, they sort of seem to leap out of the ground. They're much bigger usually than the first year. And they do produce their flower and fruit and seed, and then they die from that. So annuals one year, biennials two years, perennials more than two years,

Farmer Fred :

one of my favorite biennials, and that's a rather unusual category of plants. And one of my favorite biennials is the Tower of jewels. The Echium wildprettyi, I think, is the species on that. Yes. And it really is it's just this green little blob that looks like cousin Itt from The Addams Family. And then in its second year, it produces literally a tower. They Have jewel-like flowers, and this tower is like four or five feet tall.

Debbie Flower :

It is a really spectacular plant. It is so much fun to grow. I've had people stop at the end of my driveway and point at my, my tower of jewels in the yard.

Farmer Fred :

and hummingbirds love it. Yes they do. On a related note also on a seed packet, you will see especially on vegetables, "days to harvest". Mm hmm. And that's usually right next to "days to emerge". And the emerge refers to how long it takes for that seed to come out of the ground

Debbie Flower :

days to harvest plants from the seed that there's a plant inside every seed, a baby plant and so it's the plant that's coming out of the ground,

Farmer Fred :

as opposed to a tomato warm

Debbie Flower :

to a seed.

Farmer Fred :

All right. days to harvest I always find it amazing that they can actually pinpoint that it will take that tomato 60 days. From the time you plant it to the time it will produce fruit I find that hard to believe.

Debbie Flower :

Have you ever checked them on that?

Farmer Fred :

No, I never have. That's Yeah, that would be a good experiment.

Debbie Flower :

I always find that term days to harvest rather vague, because the definition that I've read says the number of days from sowing meaning planting in the ground or transplanting until you can harvest fruit from that plant. And so, sowing is when the seed goes in the ground. transplanting is when you take a baby plant, let's say you bought it at the nursery in a little six pack or a four inch the plant back in the ground. There's time between the days you the seed is planted in the days that plant has taken to grow into a plant that you buy at the nursery, but they seem not to take those days into consideration. So I I also have not tested them on days to harvest If they're accurate on the seed packet, I look at it as a relative term. If this tomato is going to produce in 60 days, and this tomato is going to produce a 90, I can expect fruit off of one before the other. But I don't know that they truly can pinpoint it to the day,

Farmer Fred :

you would have to be planted at exactly the right time of the year to in order to agree with their parameters.

Debbie Flower :

Yes, and weather would have to be perfect. Yes.

Farmer Fred :

it's interesting in this one definition on Botanical Interests webpage, about days to harvest, they say it's number of days from sowing or transplant to harvest. Well, which is right, you're selling seeds, would it be sowing,

Debbie Flower :

right, exactly. But if you sow it indoors, let's say as many people do, or if you happen to have a greenhouse in your greenhouse, and then transplanted into the garden, there will be some back what we commonly refer to as transplant shock. There will be some setback in the growth of that plant. When you put it from the container into the ground. but I really don't think it's as many days as as it takes for that plant to grow from a seed into the plant we're putting in the ground. So I agree it's a very vague definition and a vague term, right?

Farmer Fred :

It'll just give you a ballpark idea of how long it's going to take. Yes, I mean, we can tell you that cherry tomatoes are going to ripen before a full sized heirloom tomato.

Debbie Flower :

Correct.

Farmer Fred :

That's all we can tell you though. We're glad to have smart pots on board supporting the garden basics podcast. Smart pots are the original award winning fabric planter. They're sold worldwide. smart pots are proudly made 100% in the USA. I'm pretty picky about who I allowed to advertise on this program. My criteria, though, is pretty simple. It has to be a product I like; a product I use; a product I would buy again. And smart pots clicks all those boxes. They're durable. They're reusable. Smart Pots are available at independent garden centers and select Ace and true value stores nationwide. To find a store near you visit smart pots.com slash Fred. It's smart pots, the original award winning fabric planter. go to smartpots dot com slash Fred for more info and that special farmer Fred discount on your next smart pot purchase, go to smartpots.com slash Fred. Now, another term you may come across, especially when planting vegetables, you might see the term "bolting" on it. And in reference to a stage that the plant is going to go through what is bolting.

Debbie Flower :

Bolting is when an edible crop produces flowers and and they refer to the edible crops like the greens, lettuce, spinach, chard, kale, Here's where we eat the leaves could also refer to root crops, beets, radishes, carrots, and bolting is when they they say on the definition premature, I don't think it's premature. It's, it's what the plant is going to do next. It's typically in response to warm temperatures, and changes and day length. But what we noticed the most is warm temperatures. And those plants have finished doing their green growth and now they're going to flower and so they're just doing what comes naturally to them. But it's a point where the chemistry inside of the plant changes the hormones inside the plant change. And the cabbage or the lettuce or the spinach or or the chard typically then tastes bitter. A lot of different chemicals accumulate in the leaves and they are not as nice to eat not as tender and sweet. And then often, these are annuals and often they will seed in flower and die.

Farmer Fred :

If you stare at a bolted plant long enough, you may notice a lot of insect activity around the flowers. And that's a good thing. And it's one reason to have a big garden to where you can leave the bolted plants in the garden, letting them flower, attracting all sorts of beneficial insects that can help you control the bad bugs.

Debbie Flower :

Absolutely, yes, yes, those are great flowers for attracting the beneficial insects. It's a great insect control strategy for the vegetable garden.

Farmer Fred :

In some seed packets, you might see what are called special germination instructions, it might say to soak the seed in water for 12 to 24 hours and that darkness can aid germination. So you want to sow at the recommended depth, and instead of being in Simple English like that, it may say something along the lines of the seed needs stratification or scarification. What do those terms mean?

Debbie Flower :

scarification is the easy one to remember, I think, because it has the word scar in it. And scarification is breaking the seed coat so that the seed can absorb water to grow. So you scar that seed coat. It is is not it maybe sounds more violent than the process really is. Sometimes with let's say, peas or sweet peas, will suggest you soak the seed in warm water for 24 hours before planting that's a method of scarification Believe it or not. He can take the water can take chemicals out of the seeds that prevented from germinating. plants don't want their seeds to germinate as soon as they fall off of the plant. Often that's the wrong season for that plant. And if they fell off the ball fell off the plant and grew they would be growing right next to each other. And so it's become an adaptation for plants to figure out a way To get something to eat them, or to attach to an animal's fur, or blow in the wind in some way, move away from the parent plant sow seeds of plants typically will not germinate as soon as they come off the plant. That's a bad strategy for the plant's ultimate survival over decades. So they put something in the seed that prevents it from from germinating. Sometimes it's the fruit around the outside. Sometimes it's chemicals in the seed coat, which can come out with a soaking of water soaking, which is a type of scarification. Sometimes it's a very hard seed. And that needs to be worked on over time, maybe by stomach acid. If an animal were to eat it, maybe by freezing enzyme, which can can work on breaking open the seed coat, or we humans can take things like sandpaper or nail clippers, and just rub into the seed coat. Typically the seed coat and those plants that need to be scarified by rubbing by breaking physically breaking the seed coat or dark in color. And so you just want to to sand them or clip them until you see a lighter color underneath. You don't want to go too far in because that will kill the baby plant that's inside or has the potential to kill the baby plant that's inside. So scarification is breaking of the seed coat. In commercial production. They might use acid to break seed coats and there are many recipes that you will find if you delve into scarification of seeds, many different recipes listed to break that seed coat of different species of plants, stratification, it a little harder to remember in my book anyway, it's giving the plant a moist cold treatment so that it will be ready to germinate. So another strategy that plants use So that the seed does not germinate at the wrong time of year is to produce their seed with a not quite mature baby plant inside or a mature baby plant that is in dormancy. dormancy is a state where the plant the seed will not grow or the plant part will not grow, even if it's given good growing conditions, moisture, temperature, air, all those things that seeds need, or plant parts need to grow. And so what you need to do is mimic the winter. Winter satisfies dormancy cold satisfies dormancy. So you want to preserve the seed so it doesn't die, and you want to give it a cold treatment. And so typically, the way that's done is to take the seed, put it in a jar or a plastic bag with some sterile media. I like to use peat moss because it's got a very low pH it's very acidic, which prevents fungus from growing but I've seen people use other things like sand, or perlite. The advantage of those is that you often see the seed. Brown seeds kind of disappear in peat moss, but they're visible in perlite and sand, and a little bit of moisture just like a wrung out sponge. you don't see puddles of water in the jar or bag, you just want to the whole thing to be moist and you put it in a cold place, the refrigerator works as cold place and leave it there for if no if I if the seed pack it doesn't say I would say leave it there for six weeks or leave it there until you see roots begin to grow, which is the first thing that comes out of a seed. This is done with acorns. That's a nice one to do it with because they're nice and big. And you can check them periodically and see if the root tip has come out of that seed and if it has and you have to very gently plant them. I say gently because that's that root tip will be very brittle. It If the six weeks has gone by, and the roots have not shown and the media is still moist, then I would plant some of them, half of them maybe they probably will germinate anyway, I would give the other half of a couple more weeks of that chilling, moist chilling to three minutes important, they stay moist. And so you can check your bag or jar periodically to make sure the media is moist, not wet, just moist, then plant those others. I've done it many times with many different kinds of seeds. The cold treatment really helps that plant completed storm dormancy and grow.

Farmer Fred :

But I would imagine one should not store seeds in the refrigerator.

Debbie Flower :

One can store seeds in the refrigerator if they're in dry and in their seed packets. But you wouldn't want to store seeds in the refrigerator in a moist condition. Once a seed gets wet that it start to grow and if it dries out after it starts to grow it is dead.

Farmer Fred :

If you did want to store your seeds in the refrigerator, then they should be in their original packet. And then I would think maybe include a silica packet somewhere in the bag where you've got your seed packages, and then keep it in like the vegetable crisper.

Debbie Flower :

The location I think, is pretty irrelevant. However, the back of the refrigerator stays more evenly Cool. coolest fine. It's the dryness that the refrigerator provides refrigerators these days. I remember defrosting refrigerators and defrost increases, but we don't have to do that anymore. Because they dry themselves out. They don't build up moisture and an ice inside of the refrigerator like they used to. So it's a very dry environment. So the cool dry environment is is what allows the seed to last a long time. So I put my seeds in a plastic bag that By seal, plastic bags are not impermeable to air so they won't, you know kill the seeds from certifications if that's a thing. And I've seen jars suggested like canning jars we put the lid on, and they're in their original seed pack that in there in the refrigerator, but any part of the refrigerator is fine. The crisper drawer is where I put seeds that I am stratifying of course

Farmer Fred :

we have just scratched the surface of planting glossary terms. We'll probably revisit this again with more glossary terms. But I think we've learned a lot in our little diatribes here, trying to explain seed packets and hope it helps out people.

Debbie Flower :

Seeds are so much fun.

Farmer Fred :

Yeah. And once you get bitten by the bug, you'll never go back. That's true. That's right. It's Debbie Flower. Thanks for a few minutes of your time, Debbie.

Debbie Flower :

Oh, it's a pleasure, Fred. Thank you

Farmer Fred :

The Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast has a lot of information posted at each episode: transcripts links to any products or books mentioned during the show, and other helpful links for even more information. Plus, you can listen to just the portions of the show that interest you. It's been divided into easily accessible chapters and you'll find more information about how to get in touch with us. We have links to all our social media outlets, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Also a link to the farmerfred.com website. That's where you can find out more information about the radio shows. You remember radio, right? Now, if the place where you access the podcast doesn't have all that information, you can find it all at our home podcaster, Buzzsprout. Buzzsprout.com. Just look for the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. You'll find a link to it in the show notes. Garden Basics comes out every Tuesday and Friday and it's available just about anywhere podcasts are handed out. And that includes Apple podcast, Google podcasts, I Heart Radio, overcast, Spotify, stitcher, tune in, and hey, Alexa, play the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, would you please? Thank you for listening, subscribing and leaving comments. We appreciate it.

Understanding Seed Packets, Pt. 1
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