Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Preparing Native Seed for Planting

We collected lots of native seed in 2015 and thankfully, got them into labeled bags and into the refrigerator in a fairly reasonable amount of time to help promote longer viability. Sometimes it's complete chaos around here with all these new business ideas, daily chores, full-time work for Steve, the never-ending (it seems) bathroom project and a desire to get out, hike and explore. Getting a grip on chaos is part of our 2016 goals, for sure.

At the beginning of January, I pulled out our collected seed from the refrigerator to organize by germination requirements.

Many seeds will germinate readily in the spring after planting, but many possess dormancies that must be broken to allow for germination. Usually this means the seed needs a certain period of cold, moist, freezing and thawing, which is called stratification. These dormancies help protect the seed from rotting, too early germination, etc.

To do this indoors, I moistened the paper sack containing the seed requiring this type of stratification, sealed it in a plastic bag and labeled the bag to note seed type and how long the necessary stratification period. You can place the seed in moist sand, put it in a plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator (many people do) , but the seed was already in a paper sack and the sand frozen so I tried this to keep it simple. Maybe next year we will try something else....experimenting is good.

Some seeds require acid treatments to emulate passing through the gut of an animal. This is yet another protective strategy of seeds to ensure vialibility and makes sense....a hungry bird or mammal eats the seed, the stomach acids break down the seed coating, the animal uptakes nutrients and the seed passes through the system encapsulated in a nice fertilized package.

Acid treatment also helps if you have seed with such a tough seed coat it must weather for several years to crack it open. This helps protect the seed against possible years of inclement growing conditions by allowing a super long period of dormancy...some seed is still viable after hundreds of years, Google it and be as amazed as we are!

For this type of treatment, we used battery acid, which contains a percentage of sulphuric acid. You can see my PPE in the right side of the photo because acid is not something to be careless with. I started as a chemistry major in college before I switched to biology so I've spent a lot of time in labs. My one summer working in an environmental lab in Fort Wayne, IN - acid bathing various O rings (newbie/grunt task), testing water samples, working under hoods and running the atomic spectrometer was very cool, but its greatest purpose showed me I craved - even required more time outdoors, hence my switch. Even as a biology major, I spent so many lovely weather days in a lab, working diligently, but sneaking regular glances out at the beautiful North Carolina sun. I felt like a caged animal that just needed out. The plant and ecology classes that took me outside made my heart, mind and soul happy and I can't think of anything better than happiness, really.

Thanks to a super awesome female high school chemistry teacher, I still find all this more technical science stuff interesting.

Since we don't have a lab here, I use outside fresh air to help keep the work safe.

Look at these beautiful Staghorn Sumac seeds! They are completely edible (very citrusy) and make a nice tea, pre-acid treatment of course. I soaked bladdernut, rose, sumac and KY coffeetree seeds for a number of hours before rinsing them thoroughly and placing them in moist paper sack in a plastic bag. Some may require longer periods than I gave them, but we won't know until the growing season.

Good note taking is key to organization and doing things better next time. Here's our list of the seeds we have, the stratifications required and when I should get on with things. Since we don't own a greenhouse, we work according to Mother Nature and when she says it's ok to plant in Ohio. I worked all our dates around the average frost-free date for our area, which is right around May 15.

And, voila! All the seed is organized and back in the refrigerator until its noted time for stratification or planting.


  1. Impressive! I just order my seeds or let plants go to seed in the garden.

    1. We do lots of that too, but with natives we are collecting more and more and it's so fun! :)

  2. You have to be organized and very well read to do your job! You have it all covered and I can't wait to see what you grow this yr. Sometimes we can get bogged down with so much HAVE to's we don't get to do as much WANT to's. Hope you can find the balance of both that you desire.

    1. Thanks Sondra. We are really, really working on it. I think some break throughs are on their way. :) Fingers crossed!


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