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Seed Preparation for Organic Vegetables, Flowers, and Herbs

by Gabby Hyman, All About Lawns Columnist

Many people choose to tend an organic backyard garden, using only open-pollinated heirloom and traditional seeds. Using heirloom seeds can helps maintain biodiversity in the face of ever-increasing limitations of genetically engineered, controlled plants and flowers. Although a commercial seed company originally released many of their heirlooms, organic gardeners prefer to hand their seeds down for generations, protecting them from unstable hybridization (often referred to as plant erosion).

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If your garden will use traditional organic or heirloom seeds, you may want to lay out the plat with pollination as a top priority. Self-pollinated vegetables like peas, peppers, beans, and tomatoes should be grown with differing varieties planted at least a dozen feet apart to protect the purity of the seed. Cross-pollinated veggies include beets, corn, carrots, spinach, pumpkin, chard, broccoli, and squash. These typically need the help of honeybees, so should be planted where they get plenty of moving air.

Harvesting and Preparing Organic Seeds
At the end of the growing season, you typically should harvest seeds from the tastiest, heftiest, better-growing varieties in your backyard garden. When the seeds are ripened, dry them indoors. Try not to set them on paper towels, because they usually stick. Rather, put them in a ceramic bowl and, after dry, into an airtight jar. You can even over-winter seeds in the refrigerator. Some organic growers use silicon packs to keep out moisture.

When the next spring approaches, you should jump-start your seeds. The process is called "cold stratification." Now is the time to grab the paper towels. Spread them out on a clean, flat surface, sprinkle them with water, and lay down seeds about an inch apart. Top the layer with another paper towel and lightly moisten it.

Some organic growers prefer to mix their seeds with peat and moisten them before putting the mixture back into the refrigerator in a sealed bag. Be sure the peat is sterile. A great way to keep things straight is to put the rolled paper towel and seed burrito in a plastic zip bag with a label so you know what you're planting.

When you're ready, tear the paper gently around the edges (but be careful not to shred any growth) and transplant the seeds directly with the paper into potting soil or jiffy pots. Now you traditionally want to keep them in a warm location and moisten them until they're ready to go in the garden.


About the Author
Gabby Hyman has created online strategies and written content for Fortune 500 companies including eToys, GoTo.com, Siebel Systems, Microsoft Encarta, Avaya, and Nissan UK.

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