Ah, growing seeds! Not everyone masters this art, but it continues to grow in popularity. To optimize our chances of success this spring, we contacted Lyne Bellemare, the artisanal seed producer who, along with nutritionist Bernard Lavallée, developed the beautiful seed boxes sold in our boutique. Get your garden gloves ready!
When she first started growing her own seeds, Lyne Bellemare was kicked out of her community garden because her project was taking up too much space! “We grow vegetables here, not seeds,” she was told. Not enough information was being circulated about the self-production of seeds. An entire ancestral know-how was being lost. Along with her involvement with Seeds of Diversity Canada and with the creation of her company Terre Promise, Lyne Bellemare is developing this know-how and is growing ecological seeds of rare or endangered vegetable varieties. She is a passionate woman with a green thumb who was kind enough to share her infallible tips for the sowing season.
1. Choose the right materials
Everything begins with the seed. To make the best selection, Lyne Bellemare suggests turning to Quebec seed companies whenever possible (for fresher and healthier seeds). Then, she mentions the importance of choosing a good potting soil (not black soil). “Ask your local nursery consultant which potting soil to use based on the seeds you have chosen for your seedlings,” she explains. “Finally, make sure you have good lighting. Seedling lamps will always offer a better yield than the sun, which is often not present enough in March.”
2. Read the seed packet carefully!
“Usually, all the relevant information you need is on your seed packet,” she reminds us. “Since not all seeds have the same requirements (buried or not, deposited on the surface…), the instructions come in handy. I work hard to develop these contents, hopefully they will be read!”
3. Choose the right time
“It is very difficult to provide a rule of thumb to know when to start your seedlings,” admits Lyne. “It all depends on the plants you wish to grow and especially on the last frost date in your region. For example, if the last frost in Montreal is on May 25th, you should not transplant before that date. To avoid ending up with overgrown and bulky seedlings indoors, consult a sowing calendar for your region or read the seed packet in relation to the last frost date.”
4. Check the seeds’ germination rate
“People will often plant one seed per pot and wait for it to grow,” Lyne says knowingly. “If the germination rate is low, it is better to plant several seeds in the same pot to get better results! The advice I give is to sow more, then eliminate the weakest plants and keep the strongest ones.”
5. Water without soaking
“If there is one thing to remember about watering, it’s that the roots need water, but they need air as well,” reminds the seed producer. “If you drown them, they won’t breathe or grow,” she observes. “So, you have to water without soaking and you must do it regularly. The seed must remain moist to germinate. The best way to know when to water them is by touching and looking.”
6. Prevent damping-off disease
Damping-off disease is very common. To help prevent it from attacking your seedlings, Lyne recommends choosing a well-ventilated room. She also offers an old wives’ recipe that works every time: “Sprinkle cinnamon on the soil when the seedlings start to grow. Cinnamon has antifungal properties that prevent the fungus from proliferating. I was skeptical at first, but I haven’t had any seedling damping-off since!”
7. Let the plants harden off
“A seedling that has been pampered indoors for weeks will have a hard time once it’s moved outside,” explains Lyne Bellemare. “One trick is to put a gentle fan near the seedlings to get them used to the wind, which will allow the stem to harden off,” she suggests. “Getting into the habit of turning off the lights at night also helps get them used to day/night variations.”
8. Transplant fuller plants
When plants are too crowded (think tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant) and feel smothered, it’s important to transplant them. “When the root system invades the entire container and the plant feels cramped, transplant by moving to a larger container: from a 4-inch to a 6-inch pot,” she gives as an example. “Be sure to use transplanting soil or the same starting soil to provide it with all the nutrients afterwards! Depending on the advice you get from your nursery consultant, you may need to add fertilizer if the potting soil you are using is deficient. It is best to choose organic potting soil!”
9. Get seedlings used to the outdoors
Should you put your seedlings out on the first day of good weather in full sun? Your plants will end up with a nice sunburn on day one. Instead, the seed producer suggests taking a gradual approach by first putting the seedlings in the shade for a few hours every day. You can then expose them to the morning sun (not at noon!) for a few days to help them get used to it. For the first two weeks, take the seedlings out during the day and bring them in at night.
10. Repeat every year!
Your seedlings didn’t do very well last year? Don’t give up! Since when does one learn something so complex after one go?” exclaims Lyne. “Seeding is something you learn and once you’ve mastered it, it becomes easy. Every year, depending on the weeks’ selections, new discoveries are made!”
To learn more
Small-scale seed production seeds.ca/books
Booklets and seed sets: demaindemain.co/en/collections/semences