A seed-sowing set-up from Teesside Branch
and absorbing aspect of cactus culture is often overlooked by growers,
yet it needs no special equipment or facilities. Even a window-sill is
acceptable if certain precautions are taken. Producing one's own plants
adds a third dimension to the subject and gives one an improved perspective.
It should be said that the following is a summary of 'best practice' and
not a council of perfection. Take up as much, or as little of it, as circumstances
allow. There are some excellent examples of what can be done, and how, at these sites
Seed Sources - there
are various ways of acquiring seed. The least satisfactory is packets
of mixed seed from a garden centre. A second source is to collect one's
own seed from one's own plants. This is satisfactory if one is not looking
for 'true to type' plants. The 'march of time' has meant that two of our
most reliable nurseries now offer only offer 'mixed seed' packages. Lastly,
and my preference, is for wild-collected seed by a professional collector
so that seed has a known provenance such as plant name, where collected,
when collected, preferably an identity number and a collector's name attached.
The best source for that is undoubtedly Steve Brack's Mesa Garden, in
Belen, New Mexico, USA. See Steve Brack in 'links' for his URL.
Seed Compost - any
compost with a peat or humus content is likely to be unsatisfactory because
of the possibility of damping-off. Chinosol is excellent for preventing
that, see below. Franz Buxbaum makes an interesting suggestion; he recommends
crushed brick-dust. This has the virtue of being inert, it absorbs and
retains water well, and does not pan. It is prepared by collecting suitable
material from new bricks (no moss etc), screening it through a fine sieve
(like a coffee sieve) so that fine dust is removed, and a final particle
size of about 1mm is achieved. However, it is advisable to check its pH
to ensure that the brick dust did not contain lime. If it did, then it
can be removed with a dilute nitric acid solution, and then thoroughly
washed again. A second type of seed compost is washed and sterilised river
sand, not beach (sea) sand as that may contain a lot of crushed shell.
Yet another possibility is fine gravel from a quarry which should be washed
and sterilised in the same way. Washing in plenty of running water, followed
by half-an-hour in a hot oven, or 5 mins in a microwave. Use a plastic
container with a lid for the latter in case some particles explode!
- wherever your seed comes from it has to be properly prepared before
being sown. This means thoroughly washing it and inspection with a X10
eye-glass for any plant tissue sticking to seed (a sure source of fungus).
Such material can be removed by rubbing in the palm of one's hand and
inspect again. This inspection process also has the virtue that seed can
be seen to be viable or otherwise. When this process is complete, sterilise
seed with Chinosol as explained below.
Actual Seed Sowing
- for small quantities of seed a convenient way is to sow in individual
pots which have been thoroughly washed and sterilised using Chinosol solution
as below. Do one type of seed at a time. It is so easy to get interrupted
in the middle of something and loose one's place in the process. Ensure
that labels are written in readiness, showing as much detail as is available.
Fill the pan with your chosen compost leaving about 1cm at the top, then
put the label in. Flood the pan with a Chinosol solution, from below,
until it just shows wet on the surface. Leave for about 10 minutes then
drain. Drop the seed on to the surface but do not cover at all. It is
a good idea to use a fine mist to moisten the surface and at the same
time bed in the seed. Label adequately and put a sheet of glass on top.
The first seed sometimes germinates in a few days but most take a little
longer, sometimes even weeks. Areoles may show in about a month in some
genera. Guard against direct sunshine until seedlings pass the cotyledon
stage. Whether to prick out or not is an open question - it depends on
genera to some extent.
Chinosol - is a
German fungicide available in tablet form. One 0.5g tablet makes up a
one litre solution.