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Chapter 5: Selecting and Germinating Seeds

It has been said that one of the most marvelous of all natural phenomena is the transformation of a single cell into a mature organism. A transformation that includes growth (increase in cell number) and development (differentiation and organization of cells). Differentiation is carried out by genetic information stored in the cells of each individual seed. It is important to remember that this information is turned on and off by the cells of the seeds themselves and signals obtained from the outside environment. What you do with your seeds is of prime importance, as important as what they are. You can provide optimum growing conditions for the seeds so they will grow optimally for you.

All soils, containers and a place for the residence of the young shoots should be provided before attempting to germinate the seeds and plant them. They must be germinated very quickly after they are ready or they will lose their vitality. The seed should be red and not more than three weeks old before germination. The fruit, which is basically the seed with a thin protective covering, is a light greenish yellow when first formed. As it matures it will turn to a deep red or vermilion and will then resemble a small oval cranberry when ripe. If it is permitted to remain on the bush, it becomes dark brown or black and shrivels to the irregular oval shape of the nut.

When choosing the seeds for germination, all fruit that is obviously decayed should be discarded. In fact, any seed that is not red should probably be discarded. The balance of the fruit should be placed in a sufficient amount of water to float them. Those that are light enough to float should also be rejected. The remainder are then rotted in a cool damp place. The seed is then extracted, washed and dried in the sun. In order to preserve the seed for any length of time, the fruit should be sun dried so the fleshy portion will form into a thin protective coating.

The plants that we have started from seed originate from the East Andean Montana of Peru. Availability was then one of the considerations in selecting the Truxillo variety of Erythroxylon coca. But, even though there is a somewhat lesser concentrate of the cocaine alkaloid, the higher concentrate of the other alkaloids add much to the ingestion. The Truxillo variety is also generally tastier when chewed and seems to be less harsh on your system, or rather, more mellow.

On cocal plantations the seeds are generally germinated by keeping them in a heap three or four inches deep and saturated with water until they germinate. The sprouts are picked apart very carefully and planted in hills, though they are sometimes strewn on the grown to grow until they are moved to a hill. The young, tender shoots are kept well protected from the occasional but harsh sun and covered from the rain.

This can be simulated quite well by germinating the seeds between two pieces of bandage gauze (several layers of paper towel can be used equally as effectively) and placed in a damp saucer. We keep our saucer right in the greenhouse where they will finally reside. With the sun filters drawn, of course. It is important that the seeds are kept damp during this sprouting period or they will dry out and die. The precaution of keeping them in the greenhouse until they sprout is not absolutely necessary. They have been sprouted by simply keeping them damp in the fashion described above and at a slightly cool room temperature: 18C to 20C, or 64 F to 68 F, much the same conditions as needed by the growing plants

As soon as the seeds have formed sprouts, which might be anywhere between a day and two weeks, they should be placed slightly below the surface of the soil about 1/8 inch and certainly no more than1/4 inch with the soil loosely packed around them. To insure maximum success with each seed, proper placement in the soil can be important. The sprout would be underneath with the seed pointing slightly up, at about a 45 degree angle. This will allow the newly formed sprout to raise toward the surface of the soil quickly without having to bend and face the possibility of breaking itself. It will also give the sprout the shortest possible distance to travel to the surface of the soil, allowing the process of photosynthesis to begin as soon as possible.

The sprout should break the surface of the soil in a week to ten days. Of course, when the sprout is visible and the process of photosynthesis begins, the young plant will have to be placed in the greenhouse cocal. If the seeds are started in Jiffy Pots or 2 inches clay pots, care should be taken to keep the humidity high and keep them sufficiently watered, for these small pots will dry out quickly, and a dry pot will mean a dead seedling. The 2 inches” pot should be sufficient for the young plant for several weeks, depending on how fast it grows. When it reaches two or three times the height of the pot it will be ready for its first transplanting.

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