Seeds

Here’s a brief history of the developments of the plants that have been added to our landscape:

Over the last couple years, we’ve added plants to the landscape around the Biological Control Teaching Greenhouse. These “additions” were mostly the result of inspirations of my colleagues Monika Chandler and Dr. John Luhman. First, we planted the east side and north side with design help from a Ramsey County Master Gardener and muscle help from interns working with St. Paul Community Design Center. Metropolitan State University also added a variety of plants on our south and west side that included American plum, hazelnut, prairie rose, dogwood, elderberry, and others. So, slowly, gradually, through this process of addition, we have added around 40-50 species of plants around the greenhouse landscape that used to be little more than turfgrass and common weeds.

Ok, now fast forward to 2008.

During the summer and fall of 2008, Chang (an incredibly hard-working young man from Thailand who worked with us as part of our partnership with the West Side Youth Apprenticeship Project) and I collected a bunch of oodles of seeds from plants growing around the greenhouse as space and time…and timing…allowed.

The basic idea behind our seed collection was to grow as many plants as the space inside our greenhouse allowed, and then give the plants away to schools and youth-oriented gardening organizations as materials for promoting flowering perennial plants for attracting native pollinators and/or for replacing turfgrass to conserve water.

Some of the seeds we collected: wild blue indigo seeds from dried bean pods, wild hyssop and bee balm from dried flowers, goldenrod seeds from dried seedheads, tiny shiny black columbine seeds, and not to forget black eyed susan, cup plants, and what we believe to be liatris. We would have collected more, but at some point you have to know when enough is ENOUGH.

After Chang left, we continued to collect seed in the summer into the late fall . . . with the help of Charlie Menting from Skills for Tomorrow High School and Mai You Yang from St. Paul Open School. After we amassed a massive quantity of seeds, we did what felt like a natural thing to do: we stored them in glass vials and/or in plastic bags or bins.

In October, November, and December 2008, again with the diligent help of student volunteers from local high schools, we planted the seeds in plug trays and other small three-inch pots.

Now, the splendid thing about planted plants is that they become sprouted plants. As of March 2009, many of our seedlings are becoming mature seedlings, and are filling their pots with roots. The challenge during the winter was to sustain our young seedlings during the cold dark months of December, January, and February. To address the problem of light, we used supplemental lighting through most of December and January.

And we experienced one additional have challenge of fungus gnats. The last few weeks we have been trapping huge numbers of fungus gnats whose larvae can feed on germinating seeds and young plants’ roots. (They are not a problem in the spring and summer.) To demonstrate pest management, we used yellow sticky cards to trap adults, and beneficial nematodes to attack the soil-dwelling stages of fungus gnats. Finally, John noticed that a parasitic wasp (Genus: Synacra) was parasitizing pupae in the soil. At first I was skeptical, but sure enough, as winter progressed, our yellow sticky card catch went from almost 100% fungus gnats to almost 100% Synacra. Amazing.

I hope you enjoy some of the images we’ve been taking to document the progress of the native perennials we have grown from seed.

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