“Life is a process of planting seeds for the future. This is how Adam (from adama, the Hebrew word for earth) got his name. For the virtue of earth is found in the plants that grow out of it and in their seeds. From these seeds will come more plants and more seeds and then more plants and seeds, and on and on. So, too, a human being, whose seeds are thoughts and actions from which new thoughts and actions will sprout forth, from one generation to the next, without end.”
The above simile, likening human beings to earth, and thoughts and actions to seeds, was written in the early years of the 20th century by Ya’akov Moshe Harlap, a Jerusalem rabbi. But now, what if our thoughts and actions were centered around planting actual seeds? What then?
Sometimes I have this thought: if every man and woman on Earth were to plant a few seeds each day, world peace would soon prevail. I simply cannot imagine that people who regularly plant seeds would become criminals or terrorists. There is no more uplifting experience, no more magical or mysterious encounter, that witnessing germination of seeds you have planted. Once the baby plants start to grow, your curiosity grows along with them. Your zinnia seeds came from a packet of mixed colors and you wonder what will be the colors of the flowers that develop. Or you have planted seeds of an heirloom tomato variety whose taste is from a distant time and place and you can hardly wait to bite into history along with the ripening fruit. Mostly, though, you are a proud parent following the progress of your offspring, visiting them many times throughout the day.
The process is miraculous, after all. Some seeds are so small that you could fit many of them on the head of a pin. Consider that 250,000 petunia seeds weigh one ounce or that 11,000 tomato seeds, gigantic by comparison, weigh the same. So from these tiny bits of protoplasm grow waves of flowers or bushels of fruit. Moreover, there is an even greater mystery involved since no two seeds are the same and you never know what might grow from them, perhaps a flower color or form or a fruit shape or flavor that has never been seen or tasted before. Seeds are like children, after all, with potentially great surprises in store. In germinating seeds and following the growth that develops, you really do feel like a partner in creation.
Whenever possible, purchase seeds in pelleted form. Pelleted seeds are covered with inert clay and dyed in a light color so they are easily seen and spaced when planting. In addition, they are universally spherical in form which eases handling. Use the edge of the seed packet for making your trench.
The most effortless method of planting seeds is by seed tape. Seed tape is a thin strip of bio-degradable paper in which properly spaced seeds are glued or embedded. You just roll the tape out into your planting trench or furrow and water. Park Seeds (parkseed.com) has a large selection of seed tapes, including carrots, radishes, many types of lettuce, spinach, beets, scallions, chard, and zinnias, but you can make seed tape yourself, too.
Speaking of seeds, I recently received the following email:
“I’m curious to know why the seed pods of my bird of paradise flowers are empty. Is there a period of time required for seeds to form once the flowers start wilting?”
George Perros, New York City
I am assuming you are growing your bird of paradise indoors since the New York winter would instantly kill these sub-tropical plants from South Africa. But even those of us in Southern California who grow birds of paradise as garden ornamentals are likely to find similarly seedless pods. The reason for this is that the birds that pollinate these plants are native to South Africa and are not to be found in North America. The birds are nectar seeking and their beaks attach to pollen while they are foraging in the flowers. Then, when they visit another flower, the pollen rubs off on female stigmas, leading to seed formation. Since these birds are not found locally, pollination cannot occur here without our personal intervention.
Whether you are growing your birds of paradise indoors or out, you must have two distinct plants growing from their own rhizomes (bulb-like underground food storage structures) to successfully produce seeds. You simply rub a finger or a small paint brush on the anthers where the pollen grains develop and, if they stick, you rub them off on the stigma of a flower on another plant. You may not get seeds with every attempt, but you should get some. Now that you have the seeds, you need to plant them in rich, composted soil and be prepared to wait. It takes up to a year for the seeds to germinate and up to seven years until flowers appear. Bird of paradise seeds are widely available through Internet vendors throughout the United States but, including shipping, they cost around 50 cents each, which speaks to the time and effort involved in producing these seeds outside of their native land.
If you have a bird of paradise clump, the easiest method of propagation is to divide the clump through the roots. Make sure that each division contains at least one rhizome. Here, too, you will need patience before the longed for result is seen as it can take several years or more for flowers to develop in the new divisions. Birds of paradise seem to flower best in crowded clumps so I would not be quick to divide them unless you are fully prepared to go flowerless for an extended period of time.
Tip of the Week: The biggest mistake people make when planting seeds is to plant them too deep, whereupon they rot. Seeds should not be planted deeper than than a depth equal to their own length. Keep in mind that, in nature, seeds germinate where they fall, which is on the soil surface. I have found that most seeds will sprout if sprinkled over the soil surface, as long as they are covered with a thin layer of water-retentive compost to keep them hydrated until germination occurs. It is advisable to water daily until at least three true leaves (not including cotyledons or seed leaves) are seen, if not beyond, depending on the weather.