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September 6 ,2018

Dear Skyliners,


Here we are in September, the final month of the dry season.  We're still mopping up pockets of Scattergrass and Spurge, and there's a bit more to go with them.  Then, we'll be on to mowing and raking our new areas, caging young oaks, and more - there's still lots to do before the rains.


We'll be out again at Skyline on Sunday morning at 9:30 am, hunting down more of those weedy ones.  Please let me know if you can make it.


Over the last two weeks, we've spent two sessions cleaning and sowing seeds in flats for the new year.  We've been collecting seeds of target species all spring and summer, and now's the time to plant the perennials.  We find that most native seeds are ready to sprout by mid-August - all they need is soil, light, and water.  If we plant these seeds by early September, they will have two balmy months of warm weather to put on good growth and be ready to plant out in December, when the rains have hopefully soaked the ground.  Using this method, we get a very high (over 75%) survival rate in the field.  (We plant special annual species in flats in October, with the coming of the rains.)


Last Sunday, ten of us gathered at my house for seed planting , so let's go through the steps with some pictures (special thanks to Cynthia, Margaret and Josh for the photos).  First, here's our box with the year's bounty of seeds:

bounty of seeds.jpg

There's about 30 species of native seeds here, all from the Skyline Gardens area.  We only plant local, Skyline seeds in our restoration work there, to keep the genetics pure.  The seeds in these packets mostly been cleaned and are ready to sow.  


But some of them still need cleaning.  For this, we use a set of soil screens with different size mesh.  Here's some Squirrel-tail Grass seed before cleaning:

Squirrel tail grass before cleaning.jpg

To remove the chaff (the long, needle-like awns), we rub the whole mix against the fine screen and most of the seeds will fall through to the pan below.  In this case, we needed to break off some of the tough ones by hand.


Here's some Cobweb Thistle seed that we also cleaned on Sunday morning:

Cobweb thistle seed.jpg

These were really easy, as the seeds were big and the dander was light.  Any of the light fuzz that gets through the screen can be blown off the seeds with a gentle breath, if you are careful.  It helps to use a steep-sided pan like a pie tin to hold the seeds while you blow away the chaff.  Then, the clean seeds go into the labeled envelope.  (By the way, these small envelopes are called 'coin envelopes' and you can get them at a stationary store.)


Once all the seed has been cleaned, we set up the flats where we will plant them.  Here I am pouring potting mix into one of the seed flats:

one of the seed flats.jpg

We pour the potting soil on to the flat, spread it out, tamp it down, top up any open cells, and tamp again.  These flats hold 192 plants in one-inch square compartments that are about two and a half inches deep.  This is enough space to develop well-rooted little pyramid-cubes for later planting.  We use Ultra Potting Mix from American Soil in Richmond.  It's a good blend of humus, sand, and red lava pumice.  In this photo, you can also see another pair of hands using an eraser to clean off the plant labels from last year.


When the flats are ready with soil, we divide up into teams and get ready to sow:   

get ready to sow.jpg

First, we check the soil level and then write the new plant labels, spacing them according to how many plants of each kind we want and how much seed we have.  


Then, we put several seeds in each cell, like this:

seeds in each cell.jpg

At the top, we have two rows of Yampah; in the middle, we have three rows of Squirrel-tail Grass, the same grass we were earlier cleaning.  We put several seeds in each cell to insure that we get at least one good sprout in each.  Once the seeds are sown, we cover them with a thin layer of potting soil.  The general rule of thumb is to bury a seed about three times its depth in soil.  For very fine seeds, like Sticky Monkey, which you can hardly see, we mix them with very fine sifted soil and then dust the soil-and-seed mix over the flat.


Once the flats are all seeded, we take them over to the plant table and mist them carefully:

mist them carefully.jpg

We use a mister so that we don't blast out the seeds with a strong jet of water.  Here we have the seeded flats under a 50% shade cloth.  In Berkeley, with our cool foggy mornings, we need to water them every other day, to keep them moist on the surface.  Growing the plants our of doors, in the fresh air, with the daily changes in temperature, is an easy way to avoid the fungus problems of more closed areas.


Overall, we planted about 600 cells with a total of 15 species of native perennials.  Besides the ones already mentioned, we planted Silver Lupine, Woodland Lupine, California Poppies, Woodland Sanicle, Blue Larkspur, Phacelia, Woodland Pea, Purple Sanicle, Sticky Monkey, and Wild Rye.  


With good luck, the Poppies and the grasses will be up within the first week.  The bigger seeded ones will take several weeks.  


For these lucky ones, the rains have already come, and we will cheer them on.  For the rest of us, we'll have to wait a little longer.


Happy Trails,




PS.  We're up and running again with our rain pool.  Guess the date of our first good rain (half inch or more) and win a special prize (last year's was a hand made Black Walnut walking stick).  So far, October 7 and 15 are taken. 

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