Yarb Tales - Starting Seeds
February 22, 2016

The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center graces the park with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas, and helps us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.

To start seeds indoors you need moistened, pasteurized growing medium, sterile containers and labels. Use plastic cell-pack pots that fit snuggly into trays or any small container that drains well and is big enough to sustain new seedlings for a few weeks. Seeds of vegetables and herbs can be started in any warm environment, including shelves in a closet. Giving the seedlings adequate light and warmth when the cotyledons appear is the challenge.

Do research to find the environmental conditions that your seeds need to germinate. Some seeds need light; these are sown on the top of the medium or just barely covered. If the seeds require darkness, the general rule is to cover at a depth of two-and one-half times the thickness of the seed. Gently press the medium down into the pot, sow one to three seeds into each pot. Do not sow too thickly. Cover the seeds with the proper amount of growing medium and then water.

Cover the pot(s) with a plastic dome; slip the pot into a clear plastic bag or stretch plastic wrap over the top. If you are using fluorescent lights, remove the plastic covering when the majority of seeds have germinated. If the pots are in direct sunlight, remove the plastic as soon as you see any germination. Heat from the sun builds up under the plastic and can cook the seedlings.

If your germination area is indoors or in a greenhouse, the medium will be the same temperature as the air in the room. Some growers set pots on heat mats to maintain a constant temperature at night, when air temperatures are cooler in a greenhouse. This does speed up germination time. You do not, however, need a heat mat to get flowers and vegetables up and growing.

Plan your seed sowing activities carefully. Here in zone 7A, our last average frost date is sometime in late April. I usually wait until after April 20th to plant tender annuals in the garden. Check out http://www.thegardenhelper.com/hardiness.htm to see the map.

Young plants will need food, increased light and more room for their roots as they grow. Leggy growth is a sign that the plants need more light. If growth slows down and the bottom leaves get yellow, the plants are root-bound. Provide strong light and transplant as needed or the plants will be irreparably damaged. Before the plants can be moved out to the garden they must be hardened-off. Move them to a protected porch or cold frame so that the tender plants can get acclimated to the outdoor temperatures for several days before subjecting them to harsh winds, direct sun or driving rain.

The Ozark Folk Center’s Heritage Herb Garden crew and members of the Herb Society of America Ozark Unit will be demonstrating gardening in Arkansas at the 25th Annual Arkansas Flower and Garden Show this weekend, February 26 through February 28. We will have herbs, native plants, seeds, books, brooms and apothecary products. The event will be held at the State House Convention Center in Little Rock. Grab your gardening friends and come see us!

Also, mark your calendar for the Eighth Annual Ozark Seed Swap which will take place at the Ozark Folk Center’s Bois D’Arc Conference Center on March 5 from 1 P.M. until 3 P.M. Spring is nearly here! If I don’t see you in the future—I’ll see you in the pasture!