The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

A Seed Starting Ritual for Nourishment, Connection, and Relationship February 10, 2019

All of the potential and possibility of the world is present in a single seed.  That seed has the ability to grow, to flourish, to produce fruit and flowers, to offer nutrition, magic, and strength.  Seed starting offers us a chance to connect deeply with the seeds we plant, and to , from the very beginning, establish and maintain sacred relationships with our plant allies. Seed starting is a truely magical druidic practice, and in today’s post, I want to talk a bit about the magic of seed staring and share a simple ritual that you can do to bless your seeds as you plant them. Some of my earlier posts on seed starting can be found here (a general philosophy of seeds from a druidic perspective) and here (recycled materials for seed starting).

 

Seeds coming up!

Seeds coming up!

One of the most important parts of a druid practice, in my opinion, is integrating sacred activities into everyday life. I think working to live our regular lives in a sacred manner is one of the ways we can stay balanced, happy, and connected in an otherwise unbalanced world.  But I also think that this is part of what living druidry is all about–finding sacred moments, sharing them, understanding that each moment can have its own kind of sacredness. This is important in each aspect of our lives, but certainly, in activities that tie us directly to other kinds of life and allow us to interact with other cycles of life.  To me, there is nothing more sacred than starting seeds. And while this may be considered a “mundane” activity to some, to me, it is an incredibly sacred one. Because the seeds we will start are such a blessing to so many, and are part of the sacred cycle of nature, I think its critical to honor them and support them on the journey that they will take from seed to harvest.

 

Connection, Nourishment, and Relationships: What Seeds Offer

This is the time of year for starting seeds. Right now, we are just over 14 weeks out from our last frost date, and the first of our seeds are being started this upcoming week on the full moon, these include our greenhouse seeds (kale, lettuce, spinach, arugula), our alliums, and some slow-growing herbs (rosemary, lavender, white sage). These seeds will feed us, nourish us, and in the case of the white sage, rosemary, and lavender, also be used for sacred offering blends, smudge stick making, rituals here on our land, and other sacred activities surrounding our druid practices.

 

Last year, the white sage and lavender we grew from seed ended up being shared with members of the grove and other friends, mostly in the form of incenses and smudges.  It continues to be offered in our rituals, both individual and grove.  Last year, the vegetables we grew ended up with over 10 families, as well as in our bellies and the bellies of our animals here on the land. So part of the magic of starting these particular seeds is the magic of community, togetherness, and sharing.  I think that happens a lot when we grow things–we end up sharing the abundance.  The plants give and give to us, and it is only right that we give back to them.  One of the ways we can give back is do rituals that offer them the same thing they offer us: physical nourishment and metaphysical energy.

 

Alium going to seed, Summer 2013

Allium going to seed, Summer 2013

 

But there’s another piece of this too–seed starting is about relationships: establishing relationship with new lines of seeds, or, maintaining relationships with saved seed over a period of time.  Some of these seeds we are starting this week are brand new to me and have entered my life for the first time.  That is, we purchased them from organic seed companies or small sellers. These seeds should be welcomed and honored as friends.  But some of these seeds have been with me for a long time.  One of the alliums I am planing, a Long Red Florence onion, has been with me quite a while.  In fact, if you are a long-term reader of this blog, this isn’t the first time I’ve shown the photo to the right.  I began planting this seed in 2012, and I am planting the seeds of this particular onion’s offspring today.  A seed planting ritual, then, should also connect you deeply with the plants–both those who are brand new, and those who you have cultivated relationships with over time.  And so, a good seed starting ritual should be about establishing and maintaining relationships.

 

Relationships with perennials and annuals are a bit different, and I want to talk about that difference briefly here, as it has very direct relevance on the rituals I’ll share today.  Annuals, in a lot of cases, particularly in cultivated varieties that are not native or naturalized to your region, depend on you for continuing to grow.  It is rare for a lot of plants to come back (or they will come back at the wrong time, like a rotted tomato that dropped to the ground and then starts sending up babies from the sprouts 2 weeks before frost!)  These plants, due to their long cultivation by humans, need us.  Perennials need us too, but in that case, its more to visit, to honor them, to continue to make sure they have what they need to grow.  In either case though, we are talking about interdependency.

 

So from the above, we have four key pieces to a good seed starting ritual: physical nourishment, energy, relationship, and interdependency.  Let’s now take a look at some options for how you can build this into an existing seed starting practice.

 

Seed Starting Rituals

With most rituals, particularly in the druid context (where we don’t have hardly any ancient traditions to go back to), the intentions are what matter most.  You can do a lot of different things to get at the four points above, and you can do different things that go from very simple to fairly elaborate in terms of ritual.  I’m going to offer a few options, but these are by no means the only options you have before you!  But I think the key thing is to think about the principles above:  nourishment, relationship, energy, and interdependency.  Here’s what I like to do:

 

Soil....the beginning of life and abundance

Soil….the beginning of life and abundance

Assemble all of your supplies. Before you start, assemble your supplies: potting soil, pots, seeds, a work area, and so on. Put your potting soil or any other nutrients (like coffee grounds, great for seed starting) in your work area.  Have a bucket or potting tray ready to mix.  Also have labels available and anything else you will need, like a small hand shovel, etc.

 

The Elemental Seed Starting Ritual.  

For this ritual, you’ll need something to offer the seeds from each of the five core elements: earth, fire, water, air, and spirit.

  • For earth, you can offer a good potting mix rich with nutrients, the most obvious thing for planting seeds.  If you can, grab a little bit of the soil that last year’s plants were grown in. As part of the ritual, you will mix the soil with nutrients and your own energy, so don’t fill up your pots in advance.
  • For Air, you have your own breath, which is better than anything else.  You can have incense, feathers, or other air-focused elements to supplement, of course.
  • For water, you can offer standard pure water, or, if you are particularly ambitious and want to build tremendous relationship and interdependency, offer a 90% water and 10% of your own urine in a mix.  I know this sounds crazy, but read my blog post here.  Its pretty simple–your urine is very high in nitrogen, which is one of the core building blocks for all plant life. Your waste product is their life–just as their waste product, oxygen, is yours.  Using your own urine puts you in a direct interdependent relationship that frankly, few other things, can do.  I usually have a pot of pure water for mixing and then the urine/water dilution for watering afterward.
  • For fire, you may use any representation of fire; if the sun is shining, I like to bring the seeds into the sun. If not, I like to have candles available.
  • For spirit, I prefer to use an herbal offering that I grew or some other spiritual offering. Anything you’d typically use as an offering will do.

 

A few notes before I describe the ritual:  You can start your seeds all at once, or you can start each different seed type one at a time, using the appropriate elements as needed.  What I’ve offered is just a suggestion of what you can do for the seeds; please feel free to adjust and add your own creativity into this ritual!

 

Establish a Sacred Grove or Sacred Space.   Many druid traditions, including OBOD and AODA, offer clear instructions for how to establish a sacred grove.  (I described one version of a sacred grove in a recent post on herbalism).  I like to start my seeds in a sacred grove, as a sacred grove in my tradition sets intentions for sacred work.  This helps with both energy and relationship. And so, before beginning to plant, I will establish a sacred grove.  While you don’t have to do this, I recommend it.

 

The Work of Earth: Mix your potting soil.  Begin by putting your potting soil, nutrients, coffee grounds, peat moss, whatever you are using as your typical seed starting mix in a potting tray or bucket.  Even if you are using a completely store bought mix, go ahead and put it in the bucket.  Begin mixing the materials together, and as you do, envision some of your own energy going into the soil.

 

As you mix, you might want to chant or sing.  I prefer to chant the ogham for Oak (strength, stability): Duir (doo-er).  So I will mix and chant.  It is  much easier to seed start with wet soil, so after I chant, I will add some pure water to my mix and mix it all well before putting my soil in the trays.

 

Put your soil in the trays.  As you do so, continue to chant.

 

Establishing and Maintaining Relationship through Planting Your Seeds. Hold your seeds in your hand for a moment, and connect with the spirit of the seed.  Welcome any new seeds.  For those who you already have a relationship with, tell them you are glad to see them.  Pause for a moment to see if the seeds have anything to share with you.  Then, plant each one.  As you plant, sing or chant.  I like to chant the Ogham for birch here (Beith) for new beginnings.  Once you are finished, say “My energy supports you, as you will support me. May the great soil web of life bring you strength.”

 

The Work of Air.  Label your seeds.  As you label, continue to chant Beith or offer other air blessings.  When you are done labeling, blow softly over each of the pots of seeds.  Say, “My outbreath is your inbreath, your breath is my life. May the blessings of the air sustain you.”

 

The Work of Water.  Take your pure water or urine dilution, and sing or chant as you water each plant.  I like to chant the ogham Willow here (Sallie) while I am watering.  After watering say, “My nutrients feed you, as you will feed me.  May the power of the water nourish you.”

 

The Work of Fire.  Sing or chant the ogham for Fir/Pine (Alim) (Aye-lim) and hold up the pots to the sunlight.  Alternatively, move a candle around the pots.  Say, “May the fire of the sun let you grow.”

 

The Work of Spirit.  Sing or chant the ogham for Apple (Quert) (or another ogham as you choose).  As you do this, sprinkle an offering lightly over the pots.  When you are finished say, “My offering today, for your offering tomorrow. May the Nwyfre flow through you.”

 

Additions: Singing and Drumming.  At this point, feel free to do anything else you like.  I like to drum or play my panflute a little for the seeds in a welcome and to raise good energy for them.

 

Close the space. When you are finished, thank the spirits and close out your sacred grove.

 

Trays of small plants from seed!

Trays of small plants from seed!

Final Thoughts

While it seems like a lot above, the ritual is actually quite simple.  I’ve used the energy of the Ogham, of sacred trees, and of sacred chanting to do the work of connecting to each of the elements.  But you could connect with them in any way you want, or replace what I’ve done with other sources of power that you work with (such as deity, etc).

 

If you have any other ideas for sacred seed starting, or if you have things you’ve done in the past, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!  Thank you for reading and blessings of the seeds!

 

Seed Starting and Garden Planning: Reasons to Start Seed, Seed Research, and Seed Starting Setups March 13, 2014

Its that time of year that if you haven’t already started your seeds, and you live in say,  a zone 5 or 6 climate, you really need to start thinking about starting them!  This blog post will talk about what I’ve learned about starting seeds from the last few years–it can be tricky with some plants, but its well worth the experience.

Spinach greens started from seed saved from last year

Spinach greens started from seed saved from last year

Why start seeds rather than buy plants?

There are a lot of reasons to start your own seeds, both practically and more energetically.  Let’s start by examining the problems with purchasing plants from a nursery.

 

First, nurseries have different tricks to get plants to appear healthy, and to make them look good to purchase, but in reality, a lot of the plants sold commercially are in a weakened, stressed state.  If you pick up a nursery plant, and you see it already flowering, that’s a really bad sign.  Why?  A flowering plant means that it has already entered its reproductive cycle, rather than staying in its growth cycle for being planted in the earth. Another way that plants get stressed is when they are root bound in their containers (e.g. the roots are up against the sides of the container, even coming out of the bottom).  They are already stunted, and transplanting them is further shock and stress.  Furthermore,  you also have no idea what chemicals and fertilizers were used to grow that plant–but chances are, they are damaging, and may even be fatal to bees and other pollinators. A stressed out nursery plant is going to have a harder time growing into a healthy, productive plant; that same plant may also going to potentially kill bees and other life in your yard (especially in purchased from big box stores). Finally, moving plants spreads disease and can cause you to have a lot more problems during the growing season.  I had this happen last year–a friend was gardening with me, and he was running late on his garden, and purchased nursery plants (including tomatoes). I never had problems with blight before, but last year, all my tomatoes blighted badly. I know partly there were energetic reasons for this blight (as my linked blog post explores) but there were also practical ones.

 

The benefits to starting your own plants from seed are incredible!  First, it is much more cost effective to start your plants yourself (even with the initial investment of grow lights or another setup depending on what light you have available). The variety of seeds that you are able to start is far superior to what you will find in a nursery–you can grow any seeds you like, and can also grow seeds that you saved from year to year.  I save many seeds, and also purchase new open-pollinated/heirloom varieties to try.  The ones that do well, I keep and over the years, these varieties become well adapted to my garden and climate.  There is also the importance of establishing a relationship with your plants early and maintaining that relationship throughout the growing season.  By starting seed, I am tending that plant through every phase of its life, and there is no greater reward than biting into that first ripe tomato after you’ve started the plant from seed.  Seed starting is a magical, alchemical process that deeply benefits the grower.

 

What do I need to get started?

Seeds. So now that I’ve convinced you to start some seeds this year, what will you need?  You’ll need some seeds–you can get these from a number of reputable seed companies (my favorites are Seed Saver’s Exchange, Victory Seeds, High Mowing Seeds, and Horizon Herbs) and/or ask friends who garden if they have extra seeds (trust me, they do).  You do NOT want to just go and buy seeds off a rack at your local big box store–these seeds are not open pollenated (meaning you can’t save them) and most of the companies that produce the seeds are owned by Monsanto.

 

Growing medium. You will need some growing medium–its best to start your seeds in some kind of seed starting mix.  You can produce your own, or you can buy some locally.  We have a small greenhouse near here who does a nice sphagnum moss/soil potting mix, and I usually use that.

 

Growing flats. You’ll also need some growing flats.  Since the big box stores want you buying their plants, you usually can’t find growing flats at the store.  I usually get mine by the side of the road during “spring clean up” days, where people throw out their trash in giant heaps.  I’ve found most of the tools for my garden and all of the flats I need this way.  If you can’t find them, you can purchase them online or through local farmers in your area.

 

Light and heat. You will need some way for your plants to stay fairly warm (most seeds like to germinate at a temperature between 60-70 degrees). You’ll also need to make sure they are getting adequate light (12-16 hours a day, direct light).  Some seeds require light germination (like many herbs) but once they germinate, all require light.  If you have a nice southern-facing window, you can put your seeds there (just check that they don’t get too cold at night).  If you are like me and have practically no southern windows, you might need a grow light setup (see next area).

 

Seeds in small cups from my sister's growing setup!

Seeds in small cups from my sister’s growing setup!

Water.  Your seeds will also need water, so keep this in mind when you are setting up your seed starting area.  Seed flats can be doubled with a solid flat on the bottom to avoid having water spill onto the floor.

If you had, say, a spare greenhouse in your yard, this would all be a lot easier.  Since most of us don’t have such a thing, we make do with what we have!

Two Sample Seed Starting Setups

Since I’ve been starting seeds for several years, each year I have worked to expand my seed starting operation a bit.  I’m pretty happy with what I have now, and I think this is enough for my needs for the foreseeable future (until I get a greenhouse someday!)  The seed starting setup I have now has six LED light panels (purchased online, they only give plants the blue and red spectrum and are highly energy efficient), two T5 lights (which use up a lot more energy) attached and housed to a metal rack.  I also have two heat mats (my den is cold in the winter and I have trouble with germination without the mats). I have all of the seeds on a wire metal rack inside doubled flats so the water doesn’t drip out.  This setup cost several hundred dollars, but I justify it because I use it every year and when I’m not growing seeds in the late fall and winter months, I’m growing microgreens and sprouts using the LEDs!  So this setup gets about 8 months of use a year–hence the investment in the LED lights.  I wish I had a sunny window in which to grow these kinds of things, but with the way my house is setup, that simply isn’t the case.

My seed growing rack - colorful!

My seed growing rack – colorful!

LED lights with onions growing

LED lights with onions growing

Timer keeps my plants happy

Timer keeps my plants happy and well lit.

A second setup is something I helped my sister and brother-in-law with.  They live in the city, and have limited space for growing things and limited light.  This was their first year starting seeds. They had an eastern window, so what we did was plant seeds in small styrofoam cups cut short with holes poked in them (they picked the cups up in the garbage, new).  We labeled the cups and placed them on a metal tray with some foil to protect it.  Then, to protect from cats and to further trap sunlight, we put  box around the cups in the window.  We put a small thermometer in the soil, and monitor the soil temperature. If it dips below 35 at night, the window will radiate cold, so they put the plants on a nearby radiator (radiating low amounts of heat).  The Styrofoam does provide a good deal of insulation, however.  I like this setup a lot because it uses existing energy flows in the house and repurposed existing materials.

Seed starting setup with box to trap heat and keep cats out

Seed starting setup with box to trap heat and keep cats out

Setup without box (note the weights in the corners to hold the tray on the windowsill)

Setup without box (note the weights in the corners to hold the tray on the windowsill)

Researching Seeds & Determining Plant Times

One of the things that can be challenging about starting seeds is figuring out when to start them, how many to start, and what care is needed.  Seed packets often contain very general information, and I would recommend researching each plant that you are starting (sub-varieties don’t need to be researched; i.e. all tomatoes are started the same).  Knowing something about plant families helps too–for example, I start most alliums (leeks, onions, chives) in late January to get a jump on their long growing time (garlic, of course, is started in the fall).

 

I’m not going to lie–this process can get overwhelming.  I’ve met quite a few novice gardeners (and remember my own experience years ago) with trying to figure out what to plant and when to plant.  However, to aid in this process, I have a few suggestions.  First, there are seed planting guides out there on the web that can talk you through the basics.  In my opinon, however, the web is no substittue for an experienced farmer/gardener–so seek out advice from experts (or really, anyone who has done any growing–we all have knowledge to share).  A friend this year gave me her whole biodyamic planting guide (see below), and that was super helpful.

Second, it helps to take the seed research process in stages.  Don’t start researching seeds in March when you need to get seeds going–research them in December, by the fire. I love to do this close to the holidays–its the perfect time of year to think about new growth. Then, by January, any new varieties I have researched are done and I have a planting plan moving forward.

The other thing you can do is create note files and spreadsheets. When I helped my sister with her herb garden, we looked up each seed she had and created a word file with information found on the packet and online.  Here’s a screenshot of that file.  Notice at the very top of that file, we also have a list of her last frost dates.  This is critically important to know when to plant (because it tells you when you can set plants out).  You count backwards from the average last frost date, and that tells you when to plant seeds.

Sample plant info file

Sample plant info file

After we had this file (which turned out to be 10 pages for 15 different herbs, still a bit overwhelming because we also compiled growing and harvest info) we broke it down into a more simple spreadsheet with growing and planting instructions.  Here’s a screenshot of the spreadsheet.  Once the seeds were started, we highlighted them in green.  Some of them had to be started a little later or cold stratified (e.g. set in the refrigerator for some time) so they didn’t get started on that day.

Spreadsheet

Spreadsheet

Planting by the Signs or Planting by the Moon: Biodynamic and Biointensive Seed Starting

If you are a gardener interested in the more esoteric side of things, you might also want to consider how the movement of the celestial bodies impacts plant growth. There are two approaches that I am aware of to this–biointensive and biodynamic. The biointensive growing approach advocates seed starting on the full moons or the new moons.  The biodynamic approach advocates examining the relationships of the planets (using astrology) to determine planting times (among other things).  Since the astroweather changes from moment to moment, you need to find a biodynamic calendar (unless you know enough about astrology to calculate it yourself!)  I have experimented with both of these approaches, and both have merit, IMHO.

Nurturing Seeds

After I plant my seeds, I spend time with them each day monitoring their progress and watching them grow.  I find it pleasant to meditate near them, and they also respond well to music that I play from my panflute.  Enjoy these early days with your seeds–soon they will be healthy vegetable and herb plants in your garden!

I hope that the ideas presented to you in this blog post can help you make the most of your garden this year!  Happy growing!