Paul Nickerson

Posts Tagged ‘Seeds’

Germinating Prickly Pears

In Propagation on September 18, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Prickly Pear Seedlings

So this is a little more involved than your usual ‘bury and wait’ germination, but its not impossible. At the beginning of this past summer, a friend brought a number of Prickly Pear seeds home from vacation. Being the type of people we are, we HAD to give it a shot.

The first step to germinating these seeds is cleaning off any extra pulp that may remain. This can be done by soaking the seeds in a warm, soapy bath for a few minutes. You may have to use your fingers to pull the pulp from the seeds. Once the pulp has been removed, rinse the seeds.

This is the fun part. In nature, the seeds pass through the digestive system of different animals before they are ready to germinate. For higher germination yields, we will need to imitate this. The seeds need to be soaked for an hour in an acid bath. It is possible to germinate Prickly Pear seeds without washing them in acid, but it can take up to a year! (I recommend you use the acid.) Courtesy of the Department of Chemistry, we were able to use sulfuric acid for this step. Lemon juice will work fine however.

After allowing the seeds to soak, rinse them again in water, then stratify them in a mixture of 1:1 vermiculite and perlite. Cover the container, and place in an refrigerator for 90 days. After the 90 period, vent the container and place in a sunny location. You should begin to see sprouts shortly after. The individual plants can be potted separately in a well draining media. We had a very high rate of germination, and the plants seem to be doing really well!

From Trash to Grow Bed

In Propagation on December 8, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Stemming from my last discussion on condiment cups, I thought I would share with you all another object that I have found very useful for germinating seeds. At work each morning, one of the girls I work with prepares up to five container of strawberries for parfaits. Typically, the plastic strawberry containers are recycled; however, I have collected (not hoarded) a small stack of them to use as germination trays.

Germination Greenhouse

Having cut the lid away, I placed a shallow layer of small stones along the bottom of the container. This allows for good drainage, and keeps dirt from falling through the large hole at the bottom edges. Next, I filled the tray 3/4 full with highly nutrient potting soil. Gently press the soil evenly with your fingers. If the soil remains higher in the middle than on the edges, the depths of the seeds will vary.

I find it easiest to wet the soil prior to planting. This keeps the seeds from being disturbed during initial watering.  Finally, plant the seeds according to their prescribed depth.

To create a humid environment, cut the lid and rim off of another container. When the second container is turn upside down it can be placed over the soil, resting just between the soil and the inside edge of the main growing bed. This will help to keep the soil moist and will create a wonderful environment for germination. I placed my container on a plate, allowing me to water it from the bottom. As you can see in the picture, the seeds have already begun to germinate. I planted about 12 tomato, broccoli, and cabbage seeds on December 3rd. The broccoli had all sprouted by December 6th, the tomatoes the 7th, and the cabbage began sprouting today!

Another method is to leave the original lid attached to the container, and simply use it to close the system; however, you will quickly need to remove it, because it will hinder the growth of the new seedlings.

Condiment Seedlings

In Propagation on December 8, 2010 at 2:08 am

Recycling seems to be one of the most common talking points of Envi Sci students. In regard to cycling, I have found a great way to reuse the plastic condiment containers from the restaurants on campus.

I am a collector (not a hoarder!), and as a result, I have gathered a small stack of black, lidded, condiment containers. After having been thoroughly washed out, without soap, I have found a way to put them to good use.

After poking three small holes in the bottom of the containers, I filled them about three-quarters full with highly nutrient potting medium. Using the tip of your finger, gently press the media flat along the top, creating a nice, level growing area.


Depending on the seeds, you will need to determine how deep they should be planted. I planted cucumber seeds in my containers, so it was easiest to use a pencil to make a small hole in the soil. I then placed the seeds into the holes, and covered them over.

Next, water the soil thoroughly, and cover it with the clear lid. This will maintain a highly humid environment, perfect for germination. Place the containers in an area where they will receive the light necessary for germination.

Final Germination Container

Once the seeds have germinated, remove the lids. Leaving the lids in place will restrict growth and will not allow for sufficient air circulation for the seedlings. Once true leaves have formed, the plants can be transplanted outdoors, into larger pots for container gardening, or into your aquaponics system.

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