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Defining seed terminology
Smooth blue aster.
Barbara Fiedler / Provided
By Stephanie Lugo of Go Green Galloway
Growing plants from seed is a fulfilling accomplishment for a gardener. It is ideal to purchase seeds in late winter or early spring before the last frost date. It gives you the opportunity to start seeds indoors, like tomato seeds that should be started indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. Seed companies have a large inventory of different varieties to select from early in the season. Seed descriptions, typically on the back of the seed package, incorporate germination instructions, optimum growing conditions, and planting season. The seed terminology used in descriptions can be unfamiliar but will determine the success rate of germination.On the front of the seed package, at the top, is the name of the seed company followed by the species name and variety. This is where “Certified Organic” or “Non-GMO” declarations will be displayed. Certified organic seeds are packaged from organically grown plants, which are less toxic and more ecologically friendly. Genetically modified organism (GMO) seeds undergo gene splicing in a laboratory. Most seed companies pledge to include some non-GMO offerings and to use clear language on the packaging.The front of the package generally displays the seed type. Open-pollinated seeds produce plants that obtain necessary pollen by the wind or by pollinators, such as birds and butterflies. Self-pollinated seeds produce plants with a “perfect flower” that has both the female and male parts for pollination to occur with a gentle shake. Heirloom seed varieties are open-pollinated and have been passed down for at least 50 years. Plants produced from heirloom seed are “true-to-type”, which means that the offspring exhibit the same traits (flavor, color, size) as the parent plant. Hybrids are recognizable by the “F1” designation which identifies the seed as the first generation of the hybrid. Seeds collected from an F1 hybrid plant will not produce plants true-to-type. Hybrid seeds are not genetically modified, instead, hybrid seeds are the result of cross-pollination. Two species or varieties are manually cross-pollinated to obtain the desired attributes of both plants.On the back of the seed packaging, there is a colorful map of the United States. The hardiness zone map categorizes growing regions based on recorded weather conditions. This designation identifies what kind of plants to grow in your region and how early to plant them. According to the USDA hardiness map of Atlantic County, the hardiness zone varies from 7a-7b. It is important to support locally sourced seeds from smaller seed companies. Locally grown and saved seeds are adapted to the regional climate and soil conditions in which they were grown.Below the hardiness zone information, there are germination instructions. Here are some methods: Some seeds can be directly sown and germinate with ease, others require certain conditions before germination can occur.Stratification refers to the cold, moist period that breaks seed dormancy in a variety of species. Seed can be naturally stratified by planting in the fall, or manually stratified. To manually stratify, scatter seeds on a moist paper towel inside a labeled sandwich bag and place in a refrigerator, approximately three to six weeks before planting. Common flowers that require stratification are Milkweed, Lupine and Black-Eyed Susan.Vernalization is common in biennial plants (require a two year cycle from seed to flower); like Foxglove. Vernalization is the cold-treatment of a plant to induce flowering; either by the natural conditions of seasonal cold or by artificial cooling. The change in cold conditions trigger reactions within the plant for a sequence of growth activities.Scarification is the process of permeating the hard, outer shell of the seed through abrasion and then soaking. Roll the seed against sandpaper or a nail file to gently scratch off the seed coating, then submerge the seed in tepid water for 12-24 hours before planting. Some plant seeds that require scarification are Morning Glory, Sweet Pea, and Joe Pye Weed.Heritage and organic seed stock is essentially the seed that nature has produced over hundreds or thousands of years. GMO seeds are manipulated to try to provide targeted functions, not necessarily keeping the values of a total ecosystem and human health in mind. GMO also gives ownership, patents and control to corporations and individuals; therefore giving financial considerations preference over the best interests of the environment. Please do your part to help keep native and natural seed use the preferred method.
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