Head Start

I had mentioned in a previous post that I had a “secret weapon” for my garden this year – I built a seed starting station in my basement. It’s a pair of fluorescent tubes in a simple fixture, suspended over a wire shelf by a set of chains that I can draw up or lower down so I keep the light just above the sun-thirsty baby leaves.

I worked out the math: because I’m running the lights on a timer, only at night, I only use something like $2.80 a month in electricity – a bargain considering the cost of plants at a garden centre. I might make one improvement next year – a warming pad or something to keep the seeds toasty. It gets cold overnight in the early spring and germination happens way faster with some direct heat.


I grew up surrounded by farmer’s greenhouses, so I’ve got green tech deep in my subconscious. I’d like to explore building some greenhouse boxes outside for early spring planting. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for spare windows on kijiji.



I wanted to share a neat observation from my planting this weekend. When I soaked my basil seeds they developed a sticky, gelatinous goop ball around them. The goop is mucilage – you might remember it from your primary school craft project glue. The seed surface is covered in polysaccharides, long sugary molecular hairs that tangle up water molecules and become a sticky mucus (similar to the way long chains of lactose make yogourt firm and polyglycerides make body wash slimy).

Why would a seed want to surround itself in gross plant snot? A lot of desert and Mediterranean plants, like Basil, or Chia, don’t want to be spread far and wide on the landscape – because they grow in really inhospitable areas. Better to stay close to home, where your parent plant originated, because at least you’re guaranteed a shot at growing up in its place. This sticky reluctance to travelling is called Myxodiaspory, or “mucus spreading”.

It also greatly increases the water available to the seed during germination – in areas where water may be scarce, capturing rain water and holding it close gives the seed a chance to survive short-term droughts while it’s getting a foothold into the soil.

There’s a neat paper about basil seeds here!