Start the New Year Off with Native Plant Seeds

Joy in a tiny package.

An easy tranquil way to start off the New Year is to sow some native plant seeds in pots on your patio or out in your yard.

Readers who live in places with snow on the ground right now probably scoffed at the title of this post and clicked the back button. I understand. However, I live on the California Central Coast where late fall and early winter are appropriate times for planting native plant seeds.

Giving native plants a place in your yard or garden adds to the beauty and biodiversity of your neighborhood and connects you to where you live. Once you try growing native plants from seed, you will discover that it is a fun and rewarding experience.

I am a native plant enthusiast and novice (amateur). This is my third year growing native plants from seed.

Becky the California Buckwheat in Full Bloom - October 2019
This California buckwheat that I named Becky is the first native plant that I ever grew from seed.

Our home sits on a small mostly wild patch of land in a Monterey pine forest. Each year, as soon as we receive even a minuscule amount of rain, thousands of itty bitty grass and plant seedlings immediately sprout covering our yard in vibrant green fuzz.

Imagine trying to identify native wildflower and plant seedlings in that crowd.

That is why I use pots for germinating seeds and growing plants until they seem ready to graduate to the yard. This method is helping me learn to identify the plants at various stages of their lives from the time they push their tiny heads through the soil to when they are mature and ready to bloom for the first time.

After reading this post about growing native plants from seed, I hope you will want to do it yourself.

Growing Native Plants in Pots

From the beginning, I knew I wanted to encourage other native plant novices to try growing plants from seed so I made a point of keeping things simple.

The stuff you need to begin growing native plants is minimal and you may already have most of it on hand like containers, potting soil, and materials to make plant markers. You will also need seeds, water, and a place for your pots to reside outdoors. Mother Nature will provide sunlight and hopefully rain.

Let’s talk about seeds first.

Seeds

If you read my October post entitled Go to a Native Plant Society Plant Sale and then actually went to one, you may already have the native plant seeds you need to get started. If not, you can buy native plant seeds at some nurseries, during public days at wholesale native plant nurseries, and online.

Native plant societies, botanical gardens, and master gardener programs usually have members who are experts and are happy to provide advice on what to plant where you live. Or just pick seeds that appeal to you and try them.

My native plant journey began three years ago at a seed exchange hosted by the California Native Plant Society chapter in San Luis Obispo (CNPS-SLO). I recounted my experience as a rank amateur at a seed exchange in the post Growing Native Plants from Seeds is Fun.

This year our native plant seed collection consisted of seeds we obtained at the fall CNPS-SLO seed exchange and several packets my spouse bought at the December chapter meeting. We also had an opportunity to collect native plant seeds during a volunteer day at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve near our home. That day one of the perks for gathering seeds for the Ranch was that we were allowed to collect some for ourselves, too (you always need permission to collect seeds on someone else’s land).

Containers

Look around your home and garage for any kind of containers that will not disintegrate when they are wet and that you can poke holes in the bottom of if they do not already have holes.

3 Arroyo Lupine, 1 Tidy Tips, 1 Purple Needle Grass Plants Grown from Seeds
These are a few of the California native plants that I grew from seed the first year (left to right) arroyo lupine, tidy tips, and purple needlegrass.

The first year I scavenged around our garage and came up with some dusty 1-gallon plastic pots that had previously held plants from the nursery. They already had holes in the bottom.

This year I decided to buy some small reusable galvanized steel pots (top photo) that I hope will make it easier to separate the seedlings once they are ready to move to larger 1-gallon pots to grow and mature. The pots have open bottoms but the trays are sealed so I asked my spouse to drill a hole in each one to allow excess water to drain out.

Soil

Chances are you will have a bag of potting soil tucked into the corner of your garage or sitting on your patio so use it. An advantage of using potting soil is that it will be free of seeds unlike soil you might dig out of your yard.

Not long ago, I read that adding perlite to potting soil can help aerate it which might benefit the seeds so I decided to try it this year. We had some leftover perlite from soaking up water from a leak so we mixed it with potting soil to create a 50/50 mix.

Plant Markers

Any material that you can write on and stick in a pot will probably work for a plant marker. This is so you will know what is planted in which pot.

Another material I found in our garage the first year was corrugated plastic scraps from a previous project of some sort. I trimmed the pieces and wrote the plant names on them with a permanent marker (some of the names faded or washed off after several months).

Each year I wipe the markers off, write new names on them, and stick them in the pots. As insurance, I also make a list (left to right) of what pot holds which seeds.

Location

Select a location on your patio, deck, stair landing, balcony, or some other place outdoors where your pots (and later seedlings) will receive sun and hopefully rain. Picking a place that you see often as you go about your daily life may help you remember to check your pots to see if any seedlings have sprouted, supplemental water is needed, or they are ready to be transplanted.

Pots Planted with Native Plant Seeds on Wood Deck
We have a lot of critters roaming about our yard so we put our pots at the end of the deck outside of our dining room.

For extra protection, my spouse made metal mesh covers to deter raccoons, turkeys, squirrels, birds, and other wild neighbors from digging in the pots looking for seeds to eat. (We did not have covers the first two years so perhaps this extra measure is unnecessary.)

Water

Native plants are considered native to where they live because, over time, they have adapted to the climate, terrain, soil, rainfall, and wildlife of a specific area or region.

Generally, I try to allow rain to water my seed pots and seedlings. However, a pot is not a natural habitat for a plant so in our drought-prone area I keep an eye on soil moisture and add water if needed.

Journal (Optional)

Last year I started a native plant journal. The idea is to keep track of which seeds germinate and grow best so I can repeat what works and change what does not.

The first entry for this year’s batch of seeds is a list of the seeds we planted and a U-shaped diagram of what seed is in which pot.

Planting and Growing Seeds

If this is your first year trying to grow native plants from seed, start small with just a few types (species).

Make sure you have everything you will need before you get started and do your planting on a day when you do not feel rushed.

This year, we planted our pots over the course of several hours on a day near the end of December.

Native Plant Seed Planting Materials on Wood Table
Our seed planting materials included seed packets, containers, potting soil, perlite, plant markers, a permanent marker, buckets, garden trowels, and a watering can.

After my spouse mixed the potting soil and the perlite together in a bucket, I spooned it into the pots, moistened the soil, placed a few seeds on top, covered the seeds with soil (about ¼”), sprinkled the pot with water, and wrote the plant name on a marker that I stuck in the tray.

We planted several pots of each type of seed. Once a tray or larger pot was finished, I placed it in its new home on the deck. Once all of the pots were filled, we spread the remaining seeds in our yard outside of our home office window.

It began to gently rain about ten minutes after we finished our planting. That seemed like an auspicious sign to me.

Arroyo Lupine, Tidy Tips, Elegant Clarkia Sprouts in Ceramic Pot
The arroyo lupine, tidy tips and elegant clarkia wildflower seeds I sprinkled in this ceramic pot are beginning to sprout.

Three years ago, when I saw the first tiny native plant seedling poke its head above the soil, I felt giddy and joyous. There is something magical about growing a plant from a tiny seed with your own two hands. I felt connected to the rest of nature and it reminded me that I am part of nature.

See, it is simple to grow native plants from seed. Now it is your turn to give it a whirl.

Featured Image at Top

These tiny arroyo lupine seedlings sprouted a few days ago in the galvanized steel pots on the deck outside of our dining room.

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If You Have Not Tried Plant-Based Meat, You Should

Plants. It’s what’s for dinner.

Eating less animal meat is good for the environment. Luckily, you can switch to plant-based meat for some or all of your meals without compromising on taste.

There are many reasons to consider eating less or no animal meat. This includes the massive amount of land, water, and food crops required to raise livestock animals, the enormous volume of greenhouse gas emissions and waste they produce, and the ever-growing quantities of animal hormones and antibiotics in our food. Adding to this is the horrendous treatment of people and animals throughout the industrialized meat system from factory farms to slaughterhouses.

Beyond Burger Life Cycle Assessment Infographic Sep 2018
Click here for the infographic – source Beyond Meat.

Plant-based meat is not new. Veggie burgers, tempeh, and tofu meat substitutes have been around for years. But now there are plant-based meat products on the market that look and taste a lot like their animal-based counterparts such as burgers, sausages, and nuggets.

About two months ago, I was wrapping up a trip to Oregon where I had been visiting with two wonderful longtime friends. On the way to the Amtrak train station, we stopped to eat a late lunch at the Red Robin restaurant. The Impossible Burger was featured on the menu so I decided to give it a whirl.

That experience got me thinking about revisiting the topic of meat.

It has been six years since I researched and wrote the two posts entitled Environmental Impact of Eating Meat and Vat Meat, Cultured Meat, In Vitro Meat – Would You Eat It?

Rereading those posts reminded me that my children have significantly influenced what I eat, now. In some cases, I changed what I eat because of our discussions about things like the environmental and ethical issues associated with eating meat or that over 80% of food in the U.S. contains corn. Sometimes I was persuaded by their personal food choices.

For instance, one night at dinner during a visit from college several years ago, my younger son announced that he was no longer eating pork as he pushed the baked beans with bacon to the side of his plate.

When I asked him why he told me that pigs are intelligent animals that take care of each other and he did not want to eat them (or something like that). He did not ask or demand that my spouse and I stop eating pork but we chose to follow his lead.

Pork chops and roasts were easy to stop eating. Baby back ribs not so much. Giving up bacon was hard. The local Cookie Crock Market cures and sells the most delicious bacon I have ever tasted, thick but not too thick, with just the right amount of smoke and salt. Even years later, I still miss bacon. If some company comes up with pig-free bacon that looks and tastes like the bacon I remember, I am in.

In the meantime, there are plenty of plant-based meats to try.

Plant-Based Meat Taste Tests

I do not remember when more plants and less meat began appearing for dinner but it has been at least five years, maybe longer. In the past year or so, my spouse who is our family cook has ratcheted it up so our consumption of beef and chicken has continued to decline.

After I returned from Oregon, I announced at dinner one night that I wanted to try different plant-based meats and then write a post. My spouse gamely agreed to participate. There was a decided lack of enthusiasm from our sons but they did say that they would try whatever was put on the table in front of them.

Plant-Based Meat and Meat Substitute Section at Soto's True Earth Market - December 2019

Soto’s True Earth Market one of our two small-town grocery markets carries a decent variety of plant-based meats and meat substitutes like tempeh and tofu look-a-likes. The Cookie Crock Market only carries tofu.

Whenever my spouse was ready to make a plant-based meat test dish, I photographed the product and read up a bit about the company. Sometimes I remembered to photograph the actual dish but not always.

The companies varied from well-established organizations to startups. Ingredients included GMO and non-GMO soybeans, peas, beets, wheat gluten, chickpeas and a wide variety of additives. Most products contained a sizable percentage of the recommended dietary allowance for protein and contained a lot of salt. Prices varied but were consistently higher than factory-farmed ground beef.

Below are my findings from the five plant-based types of meat that I have tried; one at a restaurant and four in meals prepared by my spouse. I suggest you do your own taste test.

Impossible Burger
My Impossible Burger with Sweet Potato Fries at Red Robin
This is the Impossible Burger and sweet potato fries I ate at a Red Robin – photo credit Carrie Ciak.

So far the only plant-based burger I have tried is the Impossible Burger I mentioned earlier. The burger looked and tasted like a basic McDonald’s beef hamburger. It ate like a hamburger but was not juicy. To me, the main drawback of this product is that it is made from soybeans that are grown from herbicide-resistant GMO seeds thus contributing to the proliferation of pesticide use in the United States.

Beyond Beef
Beyond Beef Plant-Based Ground Package

My spouse made a casserole dish with Beyond Beef. It looked and tasted similar to ground beef. Beyond Beef does not contain GMOs. I can see myself eating this product on a regular basis.

Edward & Sons Jackfruit

The photo on the front of the Edward & Sons Trading Company Jackfruit Meatless Alternative looked good. My spouse included it in a pasta and cheese dish. The product looked okay but it had kind of a bitter aftertaste. Chewing it reminded me of artichoke hearts. I like that the product is USDA Organic but not that it comes from far away in India.

No Evil
No Evil Pit Boss Pulled 'Pork' BBQ Package and Pouch

We tried No Evil in a skillet dish. The tiny meat bits were chewy but did not resemble meat. The taste was so-so. I like that the company pays its employees a living wage and is involved in worthwhile programs in their community.

Lifelight

The Lifelight Smart Ground Meatless Original Crumbles were used to make a taco salad. I thought the plant-based meat looked, chewed, and tasted a lot like a crumbled ground beef. Lifelight has been around for many years and their products do not contain GMOs. I would eat this again.

The Bottom Line

All in all the taste tests were a success and there are a lot of other plant-based meat products we are interested in trying.

One of the most exciting things about the newer plant-based meats is that they make a surprisingly burger-like burger. Tens of millions of Americans eat beef hamburgers every day so a tasty plant-based burger could seriously disrupt the animal meat industry and I think this is a good thing for the planet, people, and even the animals that we raise for food.

I do worry that these companies are using the current environmentally harmful and inhumane industrial food system to scale up their operations.

I want to learn more about the companies making plant-based meats in hopes of finding at least one that is making a delicious product and working to transform the food system. If and when I do, I will buy that product thus making a minuscule contribution to building a better food system. Imagine what we could accomplish if everyone did the same thing.

Homemade Beef Hamburger with Hand Cut French Fries

I will admit that if I am craving a hamburger I am either going to In-N-Out (there is one in our county about 30 miles away that we rarely go to) or more likely eating one of my spouse’s yummy juicy homemade beef hamburgers accompanied by hand-cut French fries.

Eating less meat and more plants is a journey. I am glad I tried the Impossible Burger because it sparked my interest in plant-based meats. During the taste tests, I discovered that plant-based meats can be tasty. My spouse and sons think so, too which means plant-based meat dishes will frequently find their way to our dinner table.

Now it is your turn. Consider ordering a plant-based meat burger at a restaurant (they are widely available) or making one yourself from plant-based meat you select at your grocery market.

Featured Image at Top: Vegetable peeler and meat cleaver – photo credit iStock/Studio_Serge_Aubert.

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