Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Week After Planting

One of the reasons that I love fall gardening is that, with the soil still warm from the summer, seeds germinate quickly.  Within a few days of planting, cracks appear where seedlings are about to push their way through the soil.  A week after planting, several rows of green cross the garden.  Even from a distance, and even though they are surrounded by soil on all sides, each green row has its own, distinct character.

Front-yard garden one week after planting

The first seeds to germinate are the Brassicas, the cabbage-family plants in the genus Brassica.  Brassicas include Brassica oleracea (kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi), Brassica rapa (Chinese cabbages and bok choy varieties), Brassica juncea (brown mustards), and Brassica napus (rutabaga and canola).  The fact that kale, bok choy, and mustard are all closely-related plants explains why their seedlings are indistinguishable from each other.  Each of the two cotyledons on a Brassica seedlings look like half of a four-leaf clover, giving each seedling a split-four-leaf-clover appearance.

Kale (Brassica oleraceae) seedlings at one week

Brassicas are not only fast at germinating, they are also very reliable at germinating.  I've had low germination with spinach and lettuces (soil too warm), with beets and chard (insufficient soil-to-seed contact), with carrots and parsley (didn't keep soil moist for long enough), and with just about any other kind of seed that was from a year-old or two-year-old seed packet.  But I've never had trouble with the Brassicas.  In fact, the cabbage-family plants germinate so readily compared to lettuces that I now shy away from buying "salad mix" seed packets that contain a mix of the two, because the mustard, mizuna, and arugula always take over, leaving little room for the lettuces.  This year I am growing Asian greens in rows separate from the lettuces.

Asian greens (Brassica rapa) seedlings at one week

This fall I also planted fenugreek seeds.  Fenugreek is commonly used in Indian cooking, both as an herb, using the leaves of the young plant, and as a spice, using the dried seeds of the plant.  I love the smell and flavor of fenugreek, but I have never grown it before, so I am not sure what to expect from the plants.  I was surprised to discover that fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is in the bean family.  I soaked the seeds overnight before planting, as instructed on the seed packet, and they germinated quickly as a fat row of mini-bean seedlings.

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) seedlings at one week

I have a fondness for spinach (Spinacia oleracea) seedlings.  They have long, strappy cotyledons that grow quickly after emerging.  To me, spinach seedlings appear earnest, honored to have a place in the garden and ready to get to work quickly.  The past couple of times that I have planted spinach, I planted in September, when the soil was still at summer temperatures, and, as a result, germination was low.  So this week I have been happy to watch a healthy row of spinach seedlings emerge.

Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) seedlings at one week

Shortly after the spinach germinates, the beets and Swiss chard, botanical relatives from the same family as the spinach, germinate.  Because beets and Swiss chard are varieties of the same plant, Beta vulgaris, their seedlings are very similar.  The cotyledons of beets and Swiss chard seedlings are capsule-shaped, longer than they are wide, but not nearly as long as spinach cotyledons.

Beet (Beta vulgaris) seedlings at one week

Next to germinate are the lettuces, many varieties of Lactuca sativa.  Lettuces are in the sunflower family, as are dandelions, daisies, ragweed, tansy, and so many lawn and garden weeds.  As a result, lettuce seedlings look a lot like common weed seedlings until they grow their first set of real leaves.  Lettuce seedlings are tiny and each of their two cotyledons are round ovals that are almost circular.

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) seedlings at one week

The next plant to germinate is another that I have never grown before, sorrel (Rumex acetosa), a buckwheat-family green that is a relative of rhubarb.  Sorrel seedlings are tiny, the same bright, yellow green of lettuce seedlings, and have oval-shaped cotyledons.

Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) seedlings at one week

The last plants to germinate are those in the carrot-family.  Many times I have lost patience with carrot or parsley seeds and given up on them, only to find a few seedlings germinating a week later.  Carrot (Daucus carota) seedlings, in contrast to the feathery, twice compound leaves of the adult plants, are long and thin, resembling blades of grass peaking from the soil, except that carrot cotyledons, unlike those of grass, emerge in twos.

Carrot (Daucus carota) seedlings at one week

Cilantro, a.k.a coriander (Coriandrum sativum), also a carrot-family plant, has cotyledons that look almost rectangular at first glance.  Cilantro is much more reliable at germinating, and grows more quickly, than carrots or parsley.

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) at one week

One week after fall planting, I am still waiting for two other representatives of the carrot family -  fennel (Foenicucum vulgare) and parsley (Petroselinum crispum).  Fennel is just starting to emerge, with tiny, wispy cotyledons that remind me of carrot seedlings.  But, parsley, oh, reliably late parsley - I even double planted that row, with this year's seeds and with some leftover from last year, expecting a long wait.  But I will continue to water, and to wait, and hopefully, in another week, I will have a mix of flat-leaved and moss-curled parsley seedlings to photograph.

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