By Mikal Jakubal
For some people it’s February 1st, for others March 1st and for others, Daylight Savings Time. Some people start their seeds by the phases of the moon or by astrological signs.
There is one school of thought that suggests that starting seeds later—around April 1st—will provide the same yields with less work, since the plants will catch up—in the longer late-spring days—to plants started months earlier. Then there are those who start their seeds whenever they happen to get back from their winter vacations.
Whenever you choose to do it, the process is similar. Select your seeds and place them between sheets of cloth or paper towels soaked in warm water on a plate. Place in a warm place—some people use a seedling heat pad—and check frequently to ensure that they don’t dry out.
This time of the year, the small talk of the town, the casual conversation starter among friends is, “started your seeds yet?” It is no different than what farmers in any agricultural society ask themselves at certain times of the year. It’s what this community does. The question is often followed by inquiries about strains, availability of seeds, how many are being started and so on. “I heard everyone wants O.G.” “Blue Dream is being overproduced, so it’s hard to sell.” “Know anyone with any high-CBD strains?” “I started in January because I’m doing an early dep.” And so on.
Well, okay, that’s not the only pot-related thing people are talking about. Many people still haven’t sold last year’s harvest yet, or still have a lot left to sell. Such a conflict: to face plummeting prices, a flooded and rapidly changing market and an uncertain future while sitting on pounds and pounds of pot…and then to be starting more seeds. That is the downside of living in an economy and culture where pot is “what this community does.” Elsewhere, if the market is not working for you, grow something else. But here, there is nothing else and no other jobs. So the planting begins again and somehow it will all work out.
I’ve been talking with people a lot lately about seeds and the future of the marijuana culture and economy here. I’ve also been pestering my main doc participants to endure just one more filming push this spring so we can include seed starting and transplanting in the movie. It’s clearly on my mind, because last night I had a minor nightmare about it! In my dream, I had filled tables full of plates, each full of rare pot seeds, soaking under bits of cloth. I’m not sure where my dream-world self got them, why I had so many or why they were so irreplaceable, but all that made it highly disturbing when I lifted the cloth coverings off and, one after another, found that the root tips had all dried out! This can easily happen in real life and it usually kills the newborn plant. The dream didn’t wake me, but was upsetting at the time. I don’t remember exactly what I ended up doing.
Sleeping, I guess.
After one to five days on the plate, the seeds will crack and the little white root tip (“radical” in botanical terms) will emerge. They can and should be planted individually in pots at this stage. Each day the new root grows double or more in size, snaking to and fro, frantically searching for a substrate to penetrate in order to anchor the new plant and begin drawing nutrients. They can’t continue long this way before the seed exhausts its considerable reserves of energy and dies. Often, if left too long on the paper towels, the roots will puncture the paper, requiring considerable care to cut them out when planting. They also become susceptible to molds in this warm, damp environment.
This pre-sprouting method has a couple advantages. First is that it lets you gauge seed viability and saves planting dead seeds in a pot of soil for nothing. Any careful breeders or anyone who buys seeds will want to monitor viability closely. Pre-sprouting also allows more control over the environment when the seeds are most vulnerable. There are fewer pathogens and seed predators on a clean cloth soaked with clean water on a shelf in your house. The seeds are famously high in oils and nutrients, so mice are notorious for sneaking into greenhouses and carefully excavating every single seed in a flat the first night after they were planted. They are less interested in young, growing seedlings.
The next step, once the seeds have cracked, is planting them in a specially-prepared seed mix. Everyone has their own favorite, some store-bought, some homemade. But that’s another post.