In the garden, seed is everything. Seeds represent potential, hope, and rebirth. Every gardener knows the feeling of sowing seeds in the garden, seeing them sprout, and nursing them along throughout the growing season. In this episode, we explore the basic science behind seeds. We’ll also hear from April Shelhon at Botanical Interests about how the seeds you find in packets at the store get there, and she’ll also share some tips on starting seeds at home.
Marketing Horticulturist, Botanical Interests
April has nearly two decades of horticultural experience ranging from; the horticultural work she does now, writing seed packets, articles, and blogs, to landscaping, nursery work, organic, diversified farming, organic farm teaching, as well as agricultural and wildlife research. Trained as a Wildlife Biologist she has taken a holistic gardening path, beyond organic, treating the farm and garden as a habitat to be nurtured and where biodiversity is welcome. She has lived many places, from the East Coast to the Midwest, but her home is in Northern Colorado where she enjoys hiking, camping, snowshoeing, foraging, and identifying native plants along the way.
What Are Seeds?
Most organic plant life starts out as a seed. What is a seed? It is technically described as a ripened ovule, but it is so much more than that. Seeds house an embryo, the new plant, nourish and protect it. All types of seeds fulfill this purpose, but what do seeds do for us outside of growing new plants? Seeds may be used as food for humans or animals, spices, beverages and are even used as industrial products.
Plant life starts with seeds unless the plant reproduces by spores or vegetatively. Where do seeds come from? They are the byproduct of a flower or flower-like structure. Sometimes seeds are encased in fruits, but not always. Seeds are the primary method of propagation in most plant families. The seed life cycle starts with the flower and ends with a seedling, but many steps in between vary from plant to plant.
The uses of seeds are as diverse as the seeds themselves. In cultivation, there are heirloom, hybrid, and GMO seeds just to add to the confusion. Modern cultivation has manipulated many seeds, but the basic makeup is still the same – the seed houses the embryo, its initial food source and some sort of protective cover.
Cotyledon - a seed leaf that stores food in the form of starch and protein for use by the embryo. An embryo of a monocotyledon (monocot) plant has one cotyledon, while that of a dicotyledon (dicot) plant has two cotyledons. A monocot stores the bulk of its energy in the endosperm. A dicot stores its food in the two cotyledons.
Germination - the development of a plant from a seed or spore after a period of dormancy.
GMO - A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques (i.e., a genetically engineered organism).
Heirloom - denoting a traditional variety of plant that is not associated with large-scale commercial agriculture.
Hybrid - A hybrid vegetable is created when plant breeders intentionally cross-pollinate two different varieties of a plant, aiming to produce an offspring, or hybrid, that contains the best traits of each of the parents.
Hypocotyl - the attachment point of the radicle to the cotyledons. Also, the hypocotyl is sometimes further divided into the hypocotyl and epicotyl. They are also sometime referred to collectively as the plumule. (Confusing, right?)
Plant Taxonomy - the science that finds, identifies, describes, classifies, and names plants.
Radicle - the embryonic root of a plant.
Seed - a flowering plant's unit of reproduction, capable of developing into another such plant.
- Seed Coat - the protective outer coat of a seed.
There is a kind of idealism that seems to be native to farming. Farmers begin every year with a vision of perfection. And every year, in the course of the seasons and the work, this vision is relentlessly whittled down to a real result–by human frailty and fallibility, by the mortality of creatures, by pests and diseases, by the weather. The crop year is a long struggle, ended invariably not by the desired perfection but by the need to accept something less than perfection as the best that could be done.
from The Tobacco Harvest: An Elegy, 2004 by Wendell Berry