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How can I improve my success with seeds?

 
pollinator
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I've never done particularly well with seeds. Plants work better for my impatient, forgetful self. But living in Haiti, that only works if thing are available locally, and that's pretty limited. Everything else has to come from seeds sent in.

I recently ordered some seeds and have been trying to make them work for me. Morning glories and zinnia popped up quickly then got cooked by the hot sun (I'll try them again in cooler months). But I've had several other seeds that simply did nothing for me. I don't have access to potting mix, so I was using "top soil" which is basically the darkest looking clay soil I can find in the area. I tried supplementing with worm castings and that had little effect.

My current method has become using cardboard egg cartons and covering them with a white plastic grocery bag to hold moisture. I just planted some African Iris and torch Lily seeds after being somewhat stratisfied in our fridge that is subject to somewhat frequent power outages. Checked them about 48 hours after, and there was a beautiful dark green fungus growing on the soil. So I opened for a few hours and then reclosed the bag.

I'm also trying some in the paper towel/Ziploc bag method with very little success. I have velvet apple seeds that are germinating well that way, but the others have failed.

I'm now working on making a potting soil mixing about 1 part sawdust/wood shavings with an equal amount of a combination of charcoal, goat manure, local soil, etc, and then putting urine and coffee grounds and water from boiling potatoes or pasta or whatever. I keep it in a bucket with cracks to let it get some circulation, and turn every couple of days. I'm HOPING that might help my success. I might be able to get some coconut cior from the coconut hulls I get locally, but I'm looking for a reasonable way to harvest it. If I can figure that out, it should help.

What else can I do to help? It's hot here, and there's not much getting around that, though I will try to start more in the cooler months.

Thanks in advance for the advice!
 
pollinator
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Seeds don't want or need a rich soil, most will germinate quite happily on a papertowel or in wet sand.

If they are not germinating at all then the soil is unlikely to have anything to do with it, it's more likely to be the water/heat/light that is an issue. It could also be that the seeds you have gotten are either old, or got cooked somewhere in the postal system.
 
Priscilla Stilwell
pollinator
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Skandi Rogers wrote:Seeds don't want or need a rich soil, most will germinate quite happily on a papertowel or in wet sand.

If they are not germinating at all then the soil is unlikely to have anything to do with it, it's more likely to be the water/heat/light that is an issue. It could also be that the seeds you have gotten are either old, or got cooked somewhere in the postal system.



Yes, that's a possibility/probability. I'll keep going with the methods I'm trying, and see if they improve in the cooler months.

Is there a significant difference in starting seeds depending on the variety? I've been trying to soak the ones (especially) that have hard shells, but someone told me that's not necessary in the tropics. But my "tropics" is very dry compared to other tropics.
 
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A packet of cucumber seeds yielded a germination rate of 4%. 4%! And the watermelon I threw in the compost quickly outdid them. I was disgusted. This year I'm saving cucumber seeds.
 
pollinator
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Priscilla Stilwell wrote:Is there a significant difference in starting seeds depending on the variety? I've been trying to soak the ones (especially) that have hard shells, but someone told me that's not necessary in the tropics. But my "tropics" is very dry compared to other tropics.


Yes, there are major differences. If the seeds are hard you may need to nick the shells. You may need to pour boiling water over them, or have them sit in water for a week. You may need to let them dry out or cold stratify and some need to be planted fresh. Some will germinate almost immediately and some will take months. Some need an acid bath. Lots of different ways of treating seeds.

My plant propagation book  says lily seeds are slow to germinate. It says they should be sown fresh and have a much lower germination rate otherwise. Some lilies will germinate but then immediately go dormant until the next growing season (which you won't know until it comes back up after one to two years).  The book doesn't give specific treatments for the seeds of either lilies or irises except to sow the seeds fresh. What others are you working with? I'll look them up.
 
Priscilla Stilwell
pollinator
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Burl Smith wrote:A packet of cucumber seeds yielded a germination rate of 4%. 4%! And the watermelon I threw in the compost quickly outdid them. I was disgusted. This year I'm saving cucumber seeds.



Ha! I don't feel so bad! I planted cucumbers and pumpkins from seed where my compost pile had been before I started trench composting directly into the beds. They came up nicely, but then critters dug at them. I still have a good mound (out of 3) of cukes, and 2 pumpkin seedlings that look good. That should be sufficient for the tiny garden I currently have.
 
Priscilla Stilwell
pollinator
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Lauren Ritz wrote:

Priscilla Stilwell wrote:Is there a significant difference in starting seeds depending on the variety? I've been trying to soak the ones (especially) that have hard shells, but someone told me that's not necessary in the tropics. But my "tropics" is very dry compared to other tropics.


Yes, there are major differences. If the seeds are hard you may need to nick the shells. You may need to pour boiling water over them, or have them sit in water for a week. You may need to let them dry out or cold stratify and some need to be planted fresh. Some will germinate almost immediately and some will take months. Some need an acid bath. Lots of different ways of treating seeds.

My plant propagation book  says lily seeds are slow to germinate. It says they should be sown fresh and have a much lower germination rate otherwise. Some lilies will germinate but then immediately go dormant until the next growing season (which you won't know until it comes back up after one to two years).  The book doesn't give specific treatments for the seeds of either lilies or irises except to sow the seeds fresh. What others are you working with? I'll look them up.



I just ordered some more seeds, so we'll see. What book are you referencing? I think I'll buy the David The Good "Free Plants for Everyone" book after I finally receive and finish his "Compost Everything" book. I've been really enjoying his YouTube channel, especially since we now live in similar climates. I watch other channels, but I get the most out of his, and I find his quirks the least annoying. Haha. I'd love other suggestions on YouTube channels and reading! I have been donating all my agricultural books to the university library once I finish them, knowing I can still access them there (since I live about a 90 second commute . . . On foot . . . From there). The students get a lot of use out of them, even when they're in English, since they all have to study English and most of the agriculture books are well illustrated.
 
Lauren Ritz
pollinator
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"Plant Propagation" from The American Horticultural Society. Editor Alan Toogood, if that means anything. And no, you can't borrow it. :)
 
Priscilla Stilwell
pollinator
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Lauren Ritz wrote:"Plant Propagation" from The American Horticultural Society. Editor Alan Toogood, if that means anything. And no, you can't borrow it. :)



Amazon, take my money now! Haha

JK, don't have money now. Gotta wait until I get a check.
 
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Hello Priscilla,

Getting back to the basics may help - there's only five things to remember:

Seed, soil, moisture, temperature and light.

Seed:

I suggest you try obtaining packet seeds from a number of sources just to ensure viability - from a climate similar to Haiti would make sense. Although there may be limited variety, obtaining them from people on the island would be better still - acclimatised and proven strains.

Observe what other people grow - perhaps some of your choices are not well suited to the area without special care.

With small seeds you could make seed tape - using toilet paper and a glue made from flour and water (like papier-mâché)

Soil:

make seedling mix yourself. Sieved compost, washed course sand, coconut fibre, a small amount of native soil. Even dried and ground egg shells = calcium. Beware of local soil borne pathogens.

Manure and urine shouldn't be used in seedling/potting mixes - too concentrated. Save them for the garden. Ditto with wood shavings because of nitrogen depletion. Coarse bark for orchids and bulbs being the exception.

A weak compost/fish/seaweed tea can be applied weekly once the seedlings are hardened-up.

Moisture:

constant but only enough to allow seedling mix to stick to a finger when inserted. Soaking does aid germination in most instances, but is not absolutely necessary.

A hand spray that mists water is probably a gentler way to keep trays damp.

Temperature:

keep warm somewhere between 20C - 25C.

Light:

sunny position inside a house or shed, no wind. Preferably dabbled light, not direct tropical sunlight.

Ventilation could also be added. In that moist warm climate, mould and fungi will thrive. Suggest not using plastic bags/covers.
 
Priscilla Stilwell
pollinator
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F Agricola wrote:Hello Priscilla,

Getting back to the basics may help - there's only five things to remember:

Seed, soil, moisture, temperature and light.

Seed:

I suggest you try obtaining packet seeds from a number of sources just to ensure viability - from a climate similar to Haiti would make sense. Although there may be limited variety, obtaining them from people on the island would be better still - acclimatised and proven strains.

Observe what other people grow - perhaps some of your choices are not well suited to the area without special care.

With small seeds you could make seed tape - using toilet paper and a glue made from flour and water (like papier-mâché)

Soil:

make seedling mix yourself. Sieved compost, washed course sand, coconut fibre, a small amount of native soil. Even dried and ground egg shells = calcium. Beware of local soil borne pathogens.

Manure and urine shouldn't be used in seedling/potting mixes - too concentrated. Save them for the garden. Ditto with wood shavings because of nitrogen depletion. Coarse bark for orchids and bulbs being the exception.

A weak compost/fish/seaweed tea can be applied weekly once the seedlings are hardened-up.

Moisture:

constant but only enough to allow seedling mix to stick to a finger when inserted. Soaking does aid germination in most instances, but is not absolutely necessary.

A hand spray that mists water is probably a gentler way to keep trays damp.

Temperature:

keep warm somewhere between 20C - 25C.

Light:

sunny position inside a house or shed, no wind. Preferably dabbled light, not direct tropical sunlight.

Ventilation could also be added. In that moist warm climate, mould and fungi will thrive. Suggest not using plastic bags/covers.



Thanks. Some good reminders.
 
gardener
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Ive had lots of problems with seeds received by mail (in fact now I bring them in my suitcase. Shh). One time an entire order was a dud, not a single plant came up out of at least a dozen packets. Not sure if they put the package in the microwave instead of the x-ray machine or what.
I go to as many local seed swaps as I can, and if I see a plant I like I will talk to the person and ask if I can come back and get seeds. I have some okra from the Biggest Okra I've Ever Seen that I got like this. That way you know it's suited to the environment/hemisphere/weather/etc. Corn has been especially difficult. i've learned a lot more about starting different seeds in specific ways (paper towel in a bag, etc) but there are still plenty of challenges (rosella/jamaican hibiscus is my current headache). Keep trying, and take notes so you remember next time!

PS, you also might benefit from a shade-cover area for starting your young plants. If you can get shade cloth, great, but if not you can use whatever you have. Like a tent so your plants don't get fried.
 
Priscilla Stilwell
pollinator
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Ironically, my Roselle gave me NO trouble. I got some from Etsy. Every seed I planted in the egg carton germinated and several that I planted directly into the poor soil. They haven't gotten any extra water really since being planted into the soil, and are doing well. Now that it's starting to rain again, they should do well.

I ordered 5 precious little perennial peanut seeds (Arachis Pintoi), and I REALLY want to succeed with them, with the hope that I can propagate them widely as a ground cover and for food for the bunnies and chickens. It says online that they should be inoculated and then makes it sound super complicated. I don't see why it wouldn't work to plant them in good compost or worm castings? But now I'm stressed. They are expensive relatively speaking, and not easy to find. If I can get a couple to take, propagation should take off exponentially, but it's getting that first one to take.

Other things I ordered were:
Pistachio tree seeds (not so worried about these since it's just an experiment, but it would be fun to grow them!)
Strawberry tree
Black oil sunflower
Sorghum
Ground cherries
Nasturtium
Amaranth

I think most of those should be fairly easy. And I'm getting enough of most to allow me some pretty good failure and still have success.
 
Lauren Ritz
pollinator
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Don't worry. The inoculation on your peanuts isn't absolutely necessary and may not even be useful depending on what life is in your soil. I've had peanuts come up with absolutely no care (planted by squirrels--my neighbor feeds them raw peanuts. Not perennial, but it's a start. :) ) so I can't imagine it's that difficult.

Sounds like an interesting list.

Pictachios are a desert plant. They may adapt or they may not, but try to plant them where there's a little more drainage. The biggest pistachio tree I've ever seen was in Germany, so it can obviously adapt.

Sorghum, nasturtium and amaranth should do fine. They grow in my nasty, dry soil but do better with water. The only way I've been able to get nasturtiums to grow is in shade, but that's probably just because of my (nasty, dry) soil. If you can call it soil, which is questionable.

 
pollinator
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If you find that many seeds are rotting, or seedlings are "damping off" (rotting right at the soil line and falling over), or you're seeing mold forming; you might try sterilizing/pasteurizing your seedling potting soil.  A solar cooker (which you should have for other purposes, given your climate!) is ideal for this, in a covered container.  Have the soil moist so the moisture turns to steam.  A quick way is to pour boiling water over a pot full of it till it drains hot out the bottom, but you may leach nutrients this way and leave the mix too soggy.  Small insects and other troublesome creatures in the soil itself are also reduced this way.
 
Priscilla Stilwell
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Alder Burns wrote:If you find that many seeds are rotting, or seedlings are "damping off" (rotting right at the soil line and falling over), or you're seeing mold forming; you might try sterilizing/pasteurizing your seedling potting soil.  A solar cooker (which you should have for other purposes, given your climate!) is ideal for this, in a covered container.  Have the soil moist so the moisture turns to steam.  A quick way is to pour boiling water over a pot full of it till it drains hot out the bottom, but you may leach nutrients this way and leave the mix too soggy.  Small insects and other troublesome creatures in the soil itself are also reduced this way.



Good to know. I suspect laying it out on a tarp in the sun might do just about as well?
 
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Look up online "germination temperature chart". There's a bunch listed. That will help eith veggie germination. When seed gets too hot or too cold it won't germinate. Different seed have different requirements. Also, in general apple seed have been the easiest fruit trees for me to germinate for our northern climate. Sheffield's sells seeds of a lot of stuff and I have had good germination success from them, if your talking perennial fruit trees. I have had very poor success with stone fruit from the stores and farmers market. I finally started opening some and found many didn't have a seedling developing inside. Kind of spooky. Almonds stratified also did pretty well, but we're a northern climate, so maybe not for your climate. Avocado does very well from seed. Look that one up on how to start. I bet there's a million videos. Citrus needs to be directly planted when removed from the fruit. Eat and plant at the same time.  Hope that helps!
 
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