How Many Seeds Make a Plant?

My friend Rebecca was thrilled when she joined the Unpaving Paradise P-Patch, a brand new collective garden in Seattle. She had never done such a thing before, and couldn’t wait to grow her own food. Rebecca and her cohort worked up the beds from scratch, distributing 120 cubic yards of compost. They built a shed. That’s a lot of hard work.

Rebecca preparing her bed in the P-Patch

Finally, it was time to plant seeds in her new plot! She called me for advice.

“Why don’t you tell me what you’ve done so far?” I started. She said she had read a lot about gardening, and learned that since it was still early spring she should only plant cold-hardy things like peas, lettuce, spinach and beets.

Good. I asked about quantity. She described the hill of peas; the square of spinach; the four rows of lettuce …

“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “How much lettuce did you plant?”

Four rows.

“I hope you like lettuce!” I laughed. I tried not to sound like I was laughing at her. Mike and I did a similar thing in one of our first gardens, when we planted twenty-eight tomato starts.

“I do like lettuce,” she said (she is a vegetarian, true). “… How much lettuce is that?”

“How many seeds do you think you planted?” I asked. If you’re not familiar with lettuce seeds, they are about as big as the dot a pencil makes on paper. Depending on the length of the rows, unless she used a microscope and tweezers, I would guess she put a couple hundred in the ground.

“Well, I don’t know!” She sounded a titch exasperated. “How many seeds make a plant?”

I’m not a fan of texting-based initialisms, but “ROFL” is appropriate here. Such a fantastic example of how removed urban people can be from nature! Even someone interested in nature! I was laughing so hard I couldn’t ask the volley of follow-up questions running through my head: Did she think the seeds mated? Did they rub against each other, like a Boy Scout trying to start some twigs on fire, until a plant burst forth from the friction?

Rebecca, being a patient person, waited quietly as I collected myself. I explained how germination works and how she would want to thin the plants out as they grew so that they didn’t stunt each other competing for nutrients. “And you can eat the trimmed-out seedlings!” I added, endeavoring to prove I was on her side.

Please don’t let this story scare you into not asking me a question! Get Your Pitchfork On!
is chock-full of dumb things I did and asked. That is learning: asking about things you don’t understand. I promise not to laugh–or, at least not as hard as I did on the phone with Rebecca.

Rebecca persevered and enjoyed many salads!

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5 thoughts on “How Many Seeds Make a Plant?

  1. Rebecca says:

    You’ve been a great resource (and inspiration!) as I try to figure out what the hell I’m doing. Remarkably, I seemed to be muddling through four season gardening with success. My cabbage became slug food, but my broccoli is thriving and ever so purdy. I harvested the first few stems today. Swoon

  2. Diane Rapaport says:

    Succession planting works too with lettuces. A few seeds to start; then a few seeds more the next week; and then a few seeds more the following week. Then you’ll keep having enough before it ‘bolts’ and runs away from your hungry fingers.

  3. How many seeds make a plant is a valid question if the birds like them.

  4. […] How Many Seeds Make a Plant? One of those moments when I was certain there was a place for GYPO in the world. […]

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