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Cold stratification alternatives using that "nature" thing

 
Derick Greenly
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After several repetitions of:
-quarrels with my housemates/family regarding the questionable little tupperware full of seeds, paper towel and compost in the back of the fridge and inquisitions as to whom threw one out or spilled pickled brine on another
-stressful, panicked rinses and peroxide baths to mitigate a musty scent or fuzzy seed coat
-waiting longer than I'd prefer to get seeds in, in order to satisfy a 3-month stratification NECESSITY

...I've decided that this artificial fridge stratification thing might be for suckers.

Why did it even come to be? My best guess is because most folks do their seed ordering in either a too-warm part of the spring, or a part of the winter when the soil's ice. I've heard it posited that folks do it to ensure a seed is live and germinated before they give it a lifelong site in the ground.

So, can I ask your experiences? A few options in particular:
-Collecting recently thawed apple slop/seed slurry from the base of the tree, and picking the mushy frozen cherries of the trees in my area NOW. It's stratified, no? Would the deep freeze inflicted on the fruit still on the trees be a killer?
-Planting seeds in pots, to be left for good or ill out in the elements.
-Busting through the snow in January or February when most seed orders come in, then sowing and mulching deeply, then burying in snow again
-Giving the seeds a hella-soak or cold water bath (still very labourious and fridge-bound, but seemingly quicker and less infection-prone).

Fall sowing seems by far to be the best option, but some folks are crippled by squirrel attack, some plants are teenie weenie for ages (and may get lost before ID), and other folks (like the author) plumb missed the bus this year and want to compensate.
 
Lynsey Nico
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Location: Copenhagen
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It's labour-intensive to stratify in the fridge, and the results aren't as good. Natural stratification is by far the best option. The deep-freeze doesn't usually kill things -- if anything it's like a pre-selector for the most vigorous seeds.

I do for some crops it simply because it's easy to keep track of things, but I had good luck stratifying quince, apple, lupin, hollyhock, wingnut, walnut, oak, chestnut, Hibiscus syriacus, and other seeds outdoors. I just cleared a garden plot for them, labelled it, and they come up when they know it's time, rather than after some sort of predestined interval. I've had an incredibly high success rate with direct fall sowing, and no damping off or seedling loss. They are very vigorous.

As far as direct fall sowing in pots: I am still waiting on my Paw Paw and Persimmon trees, but I think they'll come. I did have some problems with this method because I had sown them out on a balcony, and a mouse came in and dug up all of the cherries, plums, and nectarines I had planted. I was livid, but I know the little bugger just saw it as a winter buffet. THAT is the danger of direct-sowing otdoors without covering.

In the fridge, I stratified things like lavender and asparagus, because I sow them in individual pots with herbs and vegetables come spring. It's really just a matter of how you will be raising things as to what will be the most convenient, but there are a lot of fungal and disease problems associated with that are normally taken care of by the biodynamic ecosystem outdoors, that doesn't allow things like fungus to take over.

I'd say the reason most people are reluctant to direct-sow is because most people don't know what the seedlings will look like or how to tell them apart from the newly-emerging weeds. Maybe it's a good idea to try is indoors the first time, take a photo of the seedling, and then play around with direct-sowing the following year once you know what you will be looking for.

It's really all a matter of experience. Stratification in the fridge is attractive for newer gardeners because it allows the maximum amount of control with the minimum amount f knowledge. It takes time to build up a memory bank of what seedlings look like, especially when they are so different in appearance from the resulting plant. I'm still on that learning curve.


 
Dan Boone
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I tried sowing in midwinter into various small pots. It seemed to work well for my tree seeds and not at all for anything else I tried.

Having attracted negative household attention with my own dubius Tupperwares, I am now considering setting up a freecycled mini-fridge in my personal space just for seed storage and maybe for beer I'm not planning to share.
 
Derick Greenly
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Right-o. Seems to me that cold stratification would be of depreciating value as one learned to identify the seedlings and *ahem* learned to value their time. Best of luck to my musty little friends in the fridge. By the way, has anyone succeeded with a cold water stratify? Basically keeping them in fresh, cold water in the fridge which you change every day or ten. Supposedly speeds things up and nips rot in the bud?
 
Mike Haych
Posts: 216
Location: Eastern Canada, Zone 5a
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I've tried both and find the refrigerator "better". At first, I thought that natural stratification outside would be better because there I was mimicking Nature. But what I overlooked was the material/moisture combo that the seeds went into. I tried a range of materials/moisture and none worked very well, at least not consistently. I was also faced with germination at one of the worst possible times in our cycle - early to late spring. The care that very young seedlings require came at the time when we are scrambling to get ready for the season.

So I shifted to the refrigerator using peat moss in the 2"x3" plastic bags that you can get in the Dollar Store. The results were better but not wanted I wanted. I now had germination sometime during the late winter before we could work outside. I was able to transplant to growing medium under lights and, if needed, domes. I could control the amount of moisture as well as apply water soluble mycorrhizal inoculant. But I had more seed rotting/drying than I wanted because it's difficult to get the peat moss water content right. I also had trouble keeping track of the details of what I was doing. And I didn't have enough space.

So I switched to vermiculite with 1/4 tsp of bottled water. I stopped using tap water when I figured out that the periodic damping off that I was seeing in seedlings was due to accumulated salts in the planting material. Being on a well, we have a water softener to deal with the hard water. While the salt used in the process is not noticeable to the taste, it killed some seedlings as it accumulated in the planting material. The vermiculite/bottled water combo has resulted in greatly improved results, eg, I've been able to get germination of goumi seeds which have been impossible for me over the years. To keep track of what I was doing, I started using a spreadsheet on Google Drive for tracking details and Google calendar to remind me when to move from cold strat to warm strat and vice versa. That solved wonky memory problems. And I bought a bar fridge second hand which crapped out a few months after purchase. So I sprang for a new one from Walmart who do free door-to-door delivery. It keeps my trays of stratifying seed baggies and scion wood and then serves as small fridge for wwoofers during the summer. Right now under lights as a result of these tools/process, I have seedlings of Nanking cherry, goumi, autumn olive, sloe, pawpaw, Indian grass, big bluestem, whitty pear, Swedish mountain ash, dolgo crab, Aronia, etc, etc.

Although my preference and approach is to mimic Nature, this is a time when a heavily controlled intervention works better for me. Since there's no impact on Nature by doing this, I'm comfortable with the approach.
 
Kate Barnwell
Posts: 27
Location: Sunny SC, zone 8
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Mike-
That's good info. I'm going to try the vermiculite and bottled water recipe next year.
I've also found the fridge way, not necessarily better, but more convenient for me. Slightly (like very slightly) wet peat moss seems to work well on most I've tried (pawpaw, walnuts, quince, dogwood, citrus, jujube) and I just plant them in pots in the spring. I plant the bigger seeds in tall pots and smaller ones in veggie sized pots. I would definitely not just plant them out in a row, the mice will absolutely love you for it though
While I'd like to just be able stratify them outside, but the logistics are tough. I tried layering seeds in a big pot one year and then just setting them outside, but it's hard to check on them and see if they've sprouted and need planting or rotted, etc.
 
Akiva Silver
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I bury all my tree seeds every fall in a rodent proof pit outside. It's just hardware cloth buried and on top. The seeds are in contact with soil and mulched. In the spring, I dig them up and plant them out, this works much better than any other stratification method I've tried.
 
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