How to Grow a Perennial Food System Part 1: Seed Propagation

As part of CFI’s Plant Nursery project, we will be sharing our adventures in propagating plants (or reproducing) by seeds, cuttings, potting up and transplanting. We will provide you with the “how to” so you can try it for yourself and learn with us. We will share our process in production, design, implementation and evaluation of perennial food systems at Whaelghinbran Farm which will include fruit orchards, food forests, and berry production. Our aim is to share the idea that a food system can restore land, provide habitat, and feed us by creating a ecological food system for Whaelghinbran Farm’s Rural Innovation Campus. We can take the risk so you don’t have to.


How to Germinate Native Shrubs and Trees

First there are two words you should be aware of when looking up how to propagate seeds:

Stratification: Native seeds throughout Eastern Canada will go through a period of cold (winter) and a period of warm (spring) before they will sprout. This is called internal dormancy and it protects the seeds from sprouting too early.

Scarification: Native seeds across North America sometimes have a very hard seed coat that must be broken down before the seed will sprout. This can protect seeds from drought, ensuring perfect conditions and better chance of survival. The seed coat is broken down by soaking it in water or acid, or by using abrasive materials. The method used will depend on the seed type.

There is lots of information about this here


 Native Berry Shrubs  

This year, we are focusing on growing three useful, edible and medicinal shrubs in our nursery:

Elderberry or Common Elder (Sambucus canadensis)

Uses: berries edible when cooked, good for cough syrup, jelly and wine. A great plant for pollinators and birds and it supports biodiversity because it’s native to this region.

Germination requirements: elderberry seeds need stratification to break internal dormancy. In other words, seed need both a period of cold and warm to sprout and it can take up to 18 months (sprouts the second spring)! You can clean the seeds well or simply macerate (break and smush it) the ripe berries with your hands and plant in trays in the fall.

Chokeberry or Aronia (Aronia melanocarp

Uses: another great berry for jams, jellies and wines. Often it is too tart to eat on its own, hence the name. This berry is high in Vitamin C and antioxidants – a new superfood! Chokeberry is easy to grow, will spread and it is another useful native plant to support biodiversity.

Germination requirements: These seeds also need to be stratified but will readily sprout in the spring. The seeds must be well cleaned because the pulp will slow down sprouting. (see more below)

Highbush Cranberry  (Viburnum trilobum)

Uses: berries edible when cooked, good for jellies or made into a cordial. The bark is medicinal and flowers are great for pollinators!

Germination requirements: Seeds need a period of cold and warm and can also take up to 18 months to sprout. Macerate berries in a bag or blender and plant right away or clean them first.


Cleaning and Planting Seeds

Step 1: Either clean protective coating off seeds with your hands (tree seeds) or put berry seeds and a blender or bag to begin to remove the seed from the berry pulp (about 1 minute). The seeds will remain intact, just don't over do it.

Step 2: Add enough water to the pulp mixture to allow pulp and dead seeds to float, allow live seeds to settle (30 seconds). Pour off the floating debris without pouring off live seeds (I used a strainer just in case). This will take a few rounds.

After many rounds the live seeds have sunk with just a bit floating debris to be poured off - almost done!

Step 3: Chokeberries have sticky pulp and some will remain on the seeds after blending. Float off as much as possible and lay out the rest to dry on a parchment paper, wax paper or a baking sheet. Do not add heat which could harm the seeds – you don’t want them to completely dry out! After the pulp is dry (about 1 day) place seeds and pulp in a bowl with water. Allow some settling (30 seconds) and pour off floating debris, pulp and dead seeds. Repeat until seeds are clean (see finished product below).

Dried Chokeberry seeds and pulp

Step 4: Plant the seeds in trays in a mixture of compost and garden soil and cover with hardware cloth (found at a hardware store) so the little critters cannot steal your seeds.

Step 5: Put the trays in a cold frame or place mulch (straw or woodchips) around trays to prevent too much variation in temperature throughout the winter. For seeds that take up to 2 years to sprout, water soil regularly throughout the summer.

Finished products from left to right: Viburnum trilobum, Aronia melanocarpa, Sambucus canadensis

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