Monday, June 22, 2009

Sowing Medicinal Herbs

Last year, I got really into medicinal herbs and also into the challenge of starting perennial herbs from seed. Most of these perennial herbs are more easily propagated by cuttings or plant/root division, but starting from seed allows you a greater variety of plants to choose from and also more control from an earlier stage in the plants life. So basically, I bought about 40 different herb seed packets from Johnny’s and began working on growing them in San Marcos.

I started many of the plants in the La Cambalacha herb gardens from seed in wooden flats. Another group of more obscure herbs needed to be stratified, which means pre-chilled, before germinating. These herbs, I placed in two airtight plastic bags and stored them in the fridge for several months. I kind of forgot about them until Colleen noticed them this past week when cleaning the fridge. Thus, I decided to sow them in a wooden flat and see if my fridge stratification was successful.

Wooden flats are the best and most cost and labor effective seed-starting tray. These flats can be made with scrap wood and once made, last for many years. Compared to plastic trays, they have longer life and are often cheaper. Recycled materials such as egg cartons are good, but again, only last one season and often are limited in space for plant roots to expand. Basically make the flat about 4-6 inches tall, 12-18 inches wide, and 25-30 inches long. When choosing a size, keep in mind flats will be a lot heavier with moist soil in them. The bottom of the flat should have many holes for drainage and the best design is to just use a number of 2-5 inch wide, ½-2 inch thick pieces of scrap wood spaced about 1 inch apart.

The soil mix used to sow these seeds is one part topsoil, one part screened compost, one part course white sand. The sand is good for seed flats, as it allows good drainage and good water retention.

The following herbs were sowed (Sowed from the ‘A’ marking): Angelica, Echinacea, Joe Pie Weed, Skullcap, St Johnswort, and Pleurisy root. All of these seeds are very small and also require a bit of light to germinate. Thus, I merely made small divots 1/8 inch deep in the soil, about 1 inch apart, and placed 1 seed in each space. I planted in short rows, 2 to 4 rows of each plant.

To keep tract of what is where, I marked an ‘A’ on the flat and use my knife to mark off number sections corresponding to each plant species, which is also numbered. These sorts of seeds can often take several weeks to germinate, so it is a slow process, which enables more things to go wrong in the meantime. It will be interesting to see what actually comes up and does well in this area.

I also direct seeded a few of the seeds into the garden bed pictured here behind come flower cuttings.

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