Seeds may look like tiny, innocuous things. But they have the power to explode into life with the least bit of encouragement. Often, a little water and warmth can ignite that spark of transformation.
The Seed Life Cycle
The tiny living being that emerges has no idea what waits on the other side. All it knows is that when the conditions are right, it must try to become.
When soaked in water, the contents of the seed swell. This swelling expands the outer shell allowing the little life inside to begin to breath. As it breaths, it grows and develops until it bursts through the seed exterior.
In the beginning, that little seedling is completely supported by nutrients from the seed and its own will to live. Within just a couple of days though, the seedling loses its independence. Then, it must rely on its environment to provide for its needs.
Tentatively, plant parts start to reach up for sun. Simultaneously, almost imperceptible roots reach down for nutrients in the soil. As the plant feels sun and tastes soil, it begins to grow.
Its original seed-breaking leaves, called cotyledons, eventually give way to true leaves. These leaves are tiny versions of what the mature plant leaves will look like. The delicate, young roots also branch and dig, anchoring themselves into the earth.
The stem of the developing plant is something like a service elevator. Leaves use the stem to send encapsulated sunshine (or sugars) down to the roots. The roots use the stem to send nutrients and water drawn from the soil up to the leaves.
As long as that exchange of energy keeps happening, day by day, the roots grow deeper and wider and the plant grows taller and larger. This growth is very slow at first, but as the plant gains size, the growth speeds up.
Eventually, the plant bears fruit. All plants bear fruit in some way.
Fruit is a metaphor for the plants reproductive method. It may be the actual fruit, like an apple, that contains seeds. It may also be a flower head that produces seeds. Sometimes it is fat roots that store enough energy to send up new plants (e.g. ginger rhizomes and potato tubers).
The dream of a seed is to grow into a plant so that it can send more seeds out into the world. In other words, it wants to be fruitful and multiply.
The Intricacies of Seed Life
That’s a very simple explanation of the seed life cycle. But most people don’t even look that closely at this magical process that forms the basis of life as we know it. When you do begin to pay attention, it becomes obvious that all life starts from some kind of seed which is either nurtured, or not, by the environment around it.
Gardeners know better though. We realize how delicate, hopeful, and incredible seed life is. We respect this process and depend on it to sustain our bodies and our souls.
For example, we know that some seeds will only start when exposed to warmth, moisture, and sunlight. If the outer seed skin can’t feel the sunlight, or something like it, then nothing happens.
Other seeds will only germinate in darkness. They must believe they are enveloped in soil to attempt the treacherous trek from seed to a living, breathing plant form.
Frankly, some seeds are simply too weak to spark to life even when offered the perfect conditions. That’s why we always start more seeds than we need. We are hopeful, yet we are also practical.
We gardeners also know that even the strongest seeds only grow into healthy plants with proper encouragement. We do this by starting our seeds in loose disease-free soil. We add fertilizer and water as necessary for growth. Then we ensure warmth or coolness and sun or shade to make our plants feel at home. Much like taking care of any baby, proper care is essential to plant growth.
The Homesteading Life Cycle
Homesteading is also very much like this. Your dream of homesteading is like the seed. With the right conditions, it can spark a whole new life for you. However, you have to create the right conditions for that to happen.
To sprout the seed, you must commit to start homesteading now. That act alone will generate all the energy you need to break through and actually begin living your dreams.
Yet, to grow the dream from its early development phases to something grand and life-encompassing, you must also feed it. Similar to the way the leaves and the roots work together, in homesteading your mind and body must also work together to grow your dream.
The Mind Body Connection
You must learn new concepts with your mind. Then you must practice them with your body. Many people who want to become homesteaders stop at the learning part. They gather so much information but never put it to use.
The result is basically like sprouts grown on your counter. They start out with all the promise of a new plant. Without soil though, they will never become more than sprouts.
Some people stay at the sprout phase of homesteading. They try a new recipe that is closer to cooking from scratch. Or, they buy some herbs from the garden center and grow them in a sunny window sill until the plants get root bound or light deprived and start to die.
There’s nothing wrong with doing these things. However, if you really want to grow to your full potential, you need to follow the entire life cycle of your dream, from seed to seed. You must germinate your ideas, feed them, and give them the care they require to be fruitful.
For today, it is enough to understand the magic contained within the seed. Soak in this idea of how seeds become plants, how dreams become realities. Revel in the absolute wonder of the fact that something so small and seemingly inert can be the basis of an entire new life.
Time to Try
If you are feeling adventurous, and have the time, then why not also try to sprout some seeds to begin developing a deeper understanding of how things grow.
Don’t just go through the motions. Pay attention to the process.
Write down observations like how long you needed to soak your seeds until they swelled or how long it took them to germinate. Also, notice if any of the conditions in your home seem to have an impact on the seeds. Did most of the seeds sprout during the day when your house was warmer or at night when it was cooler?
Observation is one of your best tools for becoming an effective homesteader. Start practicing it every day.
How to Grow Sprouts
Most of us are used to seeing or eating the mung bean sprouts from the grocery store. However, that’s just the beginning of what you can sprout. If you can eat the leaves and seeds of a plant, then you can generally eat its sprouts too.
What to Sprout
For this exercise, you probably don’t need to buy anything.
Do you have any dried whole beans in the pantry (pinto, Northern, kidney, cranberry, turtle, black-eyed peas, lentils, etc.)? Start with those.
If you don’t have any whole beans, then you may need to buy those. But you can get them for a couple dollars at any grocery store and most convenience stores.
Easy Sprouting Tray
Next, do you have any plastic take-out food containers or other inexpensive plastic storage container to sacrifice to this project? Flat, rectangular containers work really well. However, any container will do.
Because your seed begins to breath from the moment is saturated with water, poke a couple holes in the lid of your container to allow for airflow. Those takeout lids tend to crack when you poke them with a knife, so I typically only make one hole on each side of the lid.
Other than that, all you need is a fine sieve to strain your soaked beans.
If you don’t have one of those, a colander lined with a thin towel or part of an old sheet will work too.
Basically, you just need something that will allow you to strain the excess water from your beans without damaging them.
As with any food preparation, wash your hands and clean up your kitchen work area and utensils before getting started.
- Wash your beans thoroughly by putting them in a fine sieve, or towel-lined colander, under your running faucet for several minutes. Cold water is fine.
- Spread your seeds in your container and cover them with water to soak for 4-12 hours or until they plump.
- Once your beans are plump, strain away the extra water using the sieve or towel-lined colander. Then wash them again.
- Spread the beans out in your container so each bean gets good airflow. Put your punctured lid on top to increase the warmth inside the container and help maintain the humidity.
- Twice a day, transfer your beans back into your sieve or colander, run water over them, and then spread them out in your container again. Washing keeps the beans moist and prevents mold and bacteria from building up.
- After a couple days of doing this, your beans will start to sprout. At this point, stop transferring them to the sieve or colander. Instead, just add water to your container and then carefully tip it sideways to drain completely.
- Within 1-2 days of germination, your sprouts are ready to eat. Shake lose the seed shells and enjoy.
Similar to eating any uncooked vegetable product (e.g. lettuce, spinach) that has come into contact with potential soilborne pathogens, all seeds may contain E. Coli, Salmonella, Listeria, etc.. As such, your sprouts may be a potential source of foodborne illness.
I personally eat them raw all the time. But, food safety experts say the only safe way to eat a sprout is fully cooked. Please use your own discretion on eating raw agricultural products.
One Skill, Multiple Uses
Once you have an understanding of how seeds germinate, you can use this information to start an entire garden or food forest. There are a few more steps involved after starting seeds. However, it begins with a seed and the courage to start something new.
Down the road, when you add livestock to your homestead, you can use your knowledge of sprouting seeds with water, warmth, and light to grow fodder for your livestock. The only difference between growing sprouts on your counter and growing it on a grand scale for your livestock, are the tools used.
In homesteading, all skills are simple, sometimes they are just scaled up to a level that makes them appear complicated. Sprouting seeds on your counter is only the beginning of something much bigger.
Tomorrow, continue your journey with The Importance of Observation.