SVG Class 1, 2/8/2014, Charts and Q&A

The is the fifth year we have offered a series of 3 classes on Sustainable Vegetable Gardening in February and March. The first class this year, on planning and soil preparation, was really exciting: 83 people attended. Thanks to all who came for your enthusiasm, great questions, and suggestions. Please continue the series for classes 2 and 3, which will end with a workshop to build your own garden plan.

The presentation viewgraphs from the first class (Planning and Soil Preparation) are now available on the Master Gardener Prince William website, On the home page lower right, under LATEST SUSTAINABLE GARDEN BLOGS, clicking on ‘Sustainable Vegetable Garden Notes’ brings you to a downloadable file: SVG Part 1 Planning and Soil 2014.pdf which contains all the charts and pictures presented during the class.

Q&A - Testing your seeds - I am testing some seeds left from last year and placed them in zip lock bags on moist paper towels as you suggested.  What exactly am I looking for?  It appears that there are small smudges around the seeds. Anything else I can expect?  Should they actually sprout?  I don't remember seeing that in the examples that were displayed.

Your question on the seed test is right on target -- we really needed to open the bags and unfold the paper towel to inspect the results.  In the 3 examples on display, 7 of 10 beans were viable, watermelon was 6 of 10, but they take longer to sprout.  Onions take 12 or 14 days to sprout, and they hadn't been in the bag that long - none had sprouted by the time of the class but a few days after the class, 13 of the 15 onion seeds sprouted.

What we are looking for is a seed that has actually sprouted. That smudge around the seed is common early on as the seed coat softens but we really want to see the sprout, that is, the seed cover softened in the wet environment, plus the initial root and shoot formations have poked out of the seed coat and begun growing.  Then we know that seed was viable.  So we test a sample of the seeds. If 7 or more of 10 sprout, your seeds are good.  Commercial requirements are 70% or better for most seeds.  Even if they are 3, 4 or 5 years old, if they pass the test, they are good as new.  If a quarter or fewer of your seeds sprout, you might as well buy new ones.  If between 25 and 70% sprout and you still want to use them, just plant them more thickly then thin them if they come up too close together.

Different crop seeds have different sprouting times. even given the best environmental conditions.  So onions are usually 10 days or more.  Radishes and beans are much quicker; normally the seed packets tell us what to expect.

Q&A – How about some information on Vegetable Gardening in Containers and small plants for small areas.

The class is focused on planting in the ground in ways that are organic and sustainable, but much of the information in the class is applicable to containers and small spaces. There clearly are differences: using containers, what is good soil, what varieties will do best, etc. Here are some very good articles on the subject which will bridge the gap between in-ground and in-containers.

1. This Maryland Extension paper covers all the bases: the advantages and limitations of containers, how to do it organically, environmental conditions, container types, soil/growing media, compost and nutrition, planting and tending, dealing with problems, even making your own self-watering containers. Plus it has a good list of books, suppliers, and other resources. There is not much information on specific varieties. The easy way to find the paper is to google: Maryland hgic container gardening. Here’s the link:

2. Barbara Pleasant, Mother Earth News, April/May 2012. Short article, good ideas, by a well known Virginia garden writer.

3. This Virginia Cooperative Extension paper by Diane Relf adds great information on vegetable varieties and their space requirements.

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