a recipe for trees

I meant what I said. About trying to grow a tree.

Right now, on the condiments rack of my fridge, there are six neatly labelled clear plastic bags, each containing a handful of different tree seeds. Meanwhile, in my north-facing back garden, in an assortment of cracked, tagged and colour-coded pots, lies another batch of seeds. These ones have been mixed together with compost and sharp sand and covered with mesh to protect them from hungry birds and rodents.

All these seeds are undergoing a process known as cold stratification. Tree seeds are programmed to germinate in the spring because they would not survive if they sprouted in wintertime. The idea of stratification is to simulate the effects of a cold winter to give the seeds a better chance of producing roots and shoots when the weather turns warmer. I’m using two different stratification methods (fridge and north-facing outdoor wall) to hedge my bets. It’s all about patience, as some of my seeds may require two winters before they can be persuaded to show signs of life.

If my efforts are rewarded, and I get some tree seedlings, I will sow them in milk cartons on my windowsill and eventually donate them to Haringey Council for planting in local parks and school grounds.

Seed mix

I collected my seeds a few weeks back during a guided walk around my nearest local park, Downhills Park in Tottenham, with Tottenham Trees – a new community group and a branch of the Tree Charter. We had been inspired by The Tree Council’s annual autumn festival, Seed Gathering Season, to gather the seeds of native trees with a view to growing them into the trees of the future. Collecting local was essential because baby trees have a better chance of reaching maturity if they have been grown from the seeds of trees thriving in local conditions.

The squirrels had beaten us to the acorns but we came away with an impressive hoard nonetheless:

Beech, hawthorn, field maple, hornbeam, alder, alder buckthorn (no relation), silver birch, wild service tree and spindle

Some of these seeds I soaked in cold water for 24 hours before drying and placing them in the fridge. To prepare the berries for stratification I had to mimic what happens inside a bird’s digestive tract by extracting the pip from the flesh with a potato masher, a sieve or just my fingers. The alder buckthorn berries stained the most beautiful deep purple.

I haven’t done anything with my silver birch or alder cones yet – they’re stored away in a warm, dry cupboard, where with a bit of luck they will release their seeds naturally. Nor with my spindle pips as they need to be kept warm for a few months before chilling.

If all this sounds a little complicated, it isn’t really. Just a bit messy. Like baking a cake. Except I’m going to have to wait a few months to find out if I’ve got a good rise or not.

Wish me luck!

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the recipe instructions came from The Tree Council’s Good Seed Guide with a few extra tips from The Conservation Volunteers’ website.

Top images courtesy of Noel from Tottenham Trees

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