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Home > Begonian > Volume 67 (September/October 2000, pages 188 - 189)

Startin' Out
by Jim Hannah

Last time we got together, I stressed the need to have a seed-starting mix which would not wind up growing a fine crop of moss or fungus instead of begonias. It basically came down to being careful with sterilization and making sure that you didn't recontaminate the mix with 'dirty' water or containers. The proof of the pudding was to put a new mix through an actual trial run before using it for seeds. A bit on the fussy side, but those wee, tiny little guys need and deserve all the breaks they can get. After all, they're going to grow up to be some of the world's most attractive and interesting plants.

Once you're sure of your seed starting mix and can supply a temperature of about 70 to 75 degrees F (21 to 24 degrees C), you're ready to get under way. The containers you use for germinating seeds can be almost anything handy. We use the containers from soft margarine and cottage cheese. The covers are nothing more than plastic food wrap held in place with rubber bands.

Check your mix for large twigs or other material which might interfere with later transplanting of the seedlings. If there's stuff in it which looks like a potential problem, sieve it out. An ordinary kitchen sieve will work fine. Moisten the mix with clean water and fill the containers to a depth of about an inch. Level the mix surface - the back of a spoon works well. Be gentle. Don't pack the mix down hard.

The next step is getting the seeds from the envelope onto the surface of the mix. A 3x5 index card is the 'tool' we use for handling all fine seeds. Just make a short fold about an inch long at right angles to, and in the center of, a 3 inch edge. That fold is the trough you'll use to guide the seeds onto the mix.

The actual seeding should be done in a place with still air. The slightest breeze can blow the seeds away. A poorly aimed sneeze is the equivalent of a hurricane in the seed's world. We work with small seeds only when we're not in a hurry and there's nothing much else going on around us.

Begonia seeds are often packaged in small glassine envelopes. Chances are that even if the package is the type you find in garden center seed racks, it will contain a small envelope inside. The small envelope is best opened by cutting across it with scissors. Then carefully spread the package sides and tap the seeds out onto the creased 3x5 card. The pure white background of the card will make the seeds much easier to see.

Once the seeds are on the card, hold the card over the container of starter mix. Try to spread the seeds evenly - it will make it easier to transplant them later if they aren't all bunched together. Cover the container with food wrap and secure the wrap with a rubber band around the rim of the container. That's all there is to it. Just supply the right temperature range and some light (We use fluorescent 'shop lights' on a 14 hour cycle.) and the seeds will do the rest.

The first sign of something happening is the appearance of a pair of minute green leaves on the mix. This can happen in four days or several weeks depending on the type of begonia, the freshness of the seed and a whole host of other factors. Be patient and check every couple of days. As soon as the plants have a second set of leaves, you can begin the process of transplanting. A trip to the supermarket, the home furnishings section of a discount store, a stationary store, and a stamp dealer can be useful here.

Huh? Why home furnishings and a stamp dealer? Tell you next time!

Till then, see ya around. By the time you read this, we should be in the midst of a 12 x 16 foot greenhouse to provide more space for begonias. If you're interested in the project, drop us a line and we'll try to answer any question you might have.

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