Category Archives: Seeds

Where Does Baby Corn Come From?

A few weeks ago, one of my vegetable gardening friends asked me where she could buy seeds to grow baby corn.

She thought the tiny rows of corn stalks would look cute growing in her elevated garden bed.

I thought about it for a minute before telling her, “Baby corn comes from the same place as baby carrots.”

She looked confused until I explained what I meant. Then we both had a good laugh.

The baby corn found on appetizer plates and in stir-fry recipes isn’t a special variety of sweet corn. The tiny ears are the second ear from the top of regular sweet corn that’s been handpicked before the plant’s been fertilized. The top ear is left on the plant to keep growing into full size.

Because handpicking little ears of corn is especially labor intensive, almost all the baby corn we eat is grown and harvested overseas in countries like Thailand. Of course, there may be a few industrious U.S. growers who grow and harvest the baby ears of corn to sell in their husks at farmers markets.

But large farms steer clear of the early harvest because it can’t be mechanized.

The packages of baby carrots at the grocery store aren’t a special variety of carrot either. Baby cut carrots start out as full-size, slightly imperfect carrots that are sliced into smaller pieces, run through a mill and then polished into perfectly round “baby” carrots.

The idea for baby cut carrots came from one creative carrot farmer who was trying to find a way to increase carrot sales and reduce the amount of carrot waste from irregular or “ugly” carrots.

The leftover carrot scraps from the milling process don’t go to waste either. They’re usually composted, used as animal feed or turned into carrot juice.

The good news for vegetable gardeners is there are real baby carrots we can plant and grow in our gardens. These miniature varieties of carrots are sold in seed packets with names like ‘Romeo’ baby round carrots, ‘Baby Little Fingers’, and ‘Short ‘N Sweet’ carrots.

As for growing baby corn, you can always plant any variety of sweet corn and then start picking those little ears just after the corn silks emerge and before they have a chance to grow.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Starting Seeds Indoors

It’s only January, but seed catalogs are arriving in the mail and gardeners are dreaming of summer. One way to get a head start on your vegetable garden is to start your own seeds indoors. It is relatively inexpensive to create your own seed-starting set up. In the long run you will save money because seeds are cheaper to buy than plants. If you want to take it a step further, you can save even more money by saving seeds from your favorite plants to start next year.

One of the great benefits of starting your own plants indoors is the amazing variety of seeds available at garden centers and in catalogs.  It’s great fun on a cold, snowy day to browse seed catalogs and find new and interesting varieties of your favorite vegetables to start for your garden.

Each type of seed has its own germination and growing requirements, but most seeds need to be started 6 -8 weeks before they will be planted in the ground.  To get seeds to germinate, you will need adequate light and soil temperatures above 70 degrees.  A warm sunny window may be adequate, but to ensure good germination and sturdy plants some extra help is often required. Cool soil temperatures and too little light will result in poor germination and spindly, weak plants.

To provide good light, use two four-foot florescent shop light fixtures suspended close

Shop light suspended from chain.

Shop light suspended from chain.

over the seedlings. The key to using florescent shop lights is to have one cool white and one warm white tube in each light fixture.  The combination provides the proper light spectrum for growing plants. Keep the lights on for 16 hours a day using a simple light timer. To avoid leggy, weak plants, keep the lights very close to the tops of the plants. This can be accomplished by hanging the lights from chains that you can adjust up or down.

To get the seeds to germinate you will need a warm, moist (not wet) environment. To ensure the proper environment for germination, use peat pots placed in seed starting trays with clear plastic covers.

Seed tray and clear cover

Seed tray and clear cover

The plastic covers keep the peat pots warm and moist until germination. Use a seed starting soil mix in the peat pots. Regular potting soil and soil from your garden are too heavy for starting seeds. Most seeds need soil temperatures of 70 degrees or above to germinate. To ensure adequate soil warmth, use heat mats under your seed starting trays.

Heat mat for starting seeds.

Heat mat for starting seeds.

Once the seeds have germinated and are growing, the heat mats and clear covers should be removed. The trays, covers, pots, starting mix and mats are all available at local garden centers.

Partial set up showing on light fixture.

Partial set up showing one light fixture.

Two four-foot shop light fixtures placed side by side fit perfectly over two standard 10.5” x 21” seed starting trays set end to end. Each tray holds 32 – 2.5” peat pots.

As the seedlings grow, raise the lights little by little to keep them just above the plants. Water just enough to keep the peat pots moist, but not soggy. The pots should not be sitting in standing water. Too much water will lead to poor germination and weak plants. You can also use a spray bottle to mist the plants to add moisture.  Once the plants are growing and develop true leaves, a weak solution of a Miracle-Gro type fertilizer will promote strong plants. Put two or three seeds in each peat pot to make sure at least one plant germinates per pot. As the plants grow,

Trays under lights after germination.

Trays under lights after germination.

keep the strongest plant in each pot and thin by snipping the weaker seedlings near soil level.  Always snip, don’t pull. Pulling out the weaker plants can disturb the roots of the remaining strong seedling.

Happy plants.

Happy plants.

About two weeks before you plan on putting the plants in the ground, start hardening off the plants by placing them outside for part of the day. Start off slowly! The leaves will be tender and susceptible to damage from too much sun or wind.  Start with a few hours in dappled shade on a mild day. The daytime temperatures should be above 55 degrees. Day by day, the plants will become stronger and can be left out longer and in more direct sun. Do not leave them out overnight if the temperature will dip below 50. Peats pots are small and can dry out very fast.  Make sure the plants have adequate water while hardening off. One way to avoid plants drying out while they are hardening off is to transplant the seedlings from peat pots to 4 ½ inch or one gallon pots with regular potting soil. The plants really take off with the extra room and the larger pots are not as prone to drying out.

After two weeks or so, your hardy plants are ready to go into your garden.

For more information check out these publications from CSU Extension:

Plantalk 1034: Starting Seeds Indoors

Fact Sheet 7.409: Growing Plants from Seed

Fact Sheet 7.602: Saving Seed

Written by Mark Zammuto, a Denver County Master Gardener

Seed School

You may be familiar with the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa. As a member you can buy or exchange seeds with other members.  They encourage heirloom seed saving.  You can grow the same variety of Hollyhock or Sunflower that your grandmother grew because people have saved the seeds and passed them along for other gardeners to grow.  seeds

A relatively new organization is the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance.   The founders of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance spoke at the Denver Botanic Gardens in September 2015 – “Seed: the Future of Food”.   Seeds saved from successful plants are uniquely adapted for the local environment which makes local or regional seed groups important.

Both of these organizations offer “Seed Schools” where they teach best practices in seed harvesting and preservation.   The Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance offers webinars on seeds and has a seed school in Aurora, CO in August 2016 

If you want to see some interesting videos about International Seed Banks see my earlier post on this site.

Seed Research in Fort Collins, CO

Staff at the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, preserve more than 1 million samples of plant germplasm. Here, technician Jim Bruce retrives a seed sample from the -18 ºC storage vault for testing. Photo by Scott Bauer.

Staff at the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, preserve more than 1 million samples of plant germplasm. Here, technician Jim Bruce retrieves a seed sample from the -18 ºC storage vault for testing.
Photo by Scott Bauer.

The Plant Germplasm Preservation Research Unit, is part of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).   The  National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP) is in Fort Collins, CO.  They collect, store, test and research  both plant and animal genetic resources.

The National Seed Storage Laboratory is part of the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation.

The seed storage lab “opened in 1958 and was expanded in 1992. • Seeds are packaged in moisture proof foil bags for cold vault storage (-18°C; 0°F). • Cryogenically (liquid nitrogen, -196°C; -320°F) stored seeds are sealed in polyole n tubes.”

“The testing and storage protocols developed at NCGRP are shared with other researchers and genebanks and our expertise is used worldwide.”  “Seeds are evaluated for viability (tested for germination or dormancy) before and during storage”.

They recently sent seed to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway which “included a wild Russian strawberry that an expeditionary team braved bears and volcanoes to collect.”

Field collection of seeds can be a very adventurous scientific career.  Collecting seed from your own garden is usually less exciting — but equally important.  I hope you saved some from last year for use in your garden this year.  Please subscribe to this blog for continuing stories about seeds.

What is a Seed Bank?

A seed bank is a secure, climate controlled collection of seeds that are saved in case of annihilation of all plants, at least that is how I currently understand it,

There are two international seed banks.  These are a back-up for National Seed Banks.

Most countries have a National Seed Bank.  Unfortunately, these can be, and have been, destroyed by natural disasters or wars.  Recently, one of the international seed banks sent Syrian seeds to other countries that are not currently affected by war; so that there is a regional source and so that seed scientists can continue to grow, test and collect the seed.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault  is buried in a mountain on an inland in Norway, close to the Arctic Circle.  This TED (Technology, Education, Design) Talk is a good place to start.

The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership in London has a slightly different philosophy.  This TED Talk is an excellent explanation.  

Can you identify the difference in the philosophy behind the two international seed banks?