Direct Sowing of St Johnswort
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: J Sodini
Posted on: August 17, 1998

In a previous response to a question about direct sowing of St Johnswort, you discussed the need for germination of seeds prior to sowing of the seeds. You suggested that after the seeds have been soaked for one day in water that they be mixed with sand. What proportion of seed to sand is recommended?

We are considering the use of a Stan-Hay (sp?) seeder for planing the SJW seeds in a row. The belts will be punched to drop 3-5 seeds per drop. Is this type pf planting viable? What would be your estimate of the amount of SJW seeds required to plant a 10 acre carden?

Also, what is a "French intensive raised bed system?"

You also noted that SJW fields require large cultivation for the next two years. Please explain. If it is for purposes of weed control, are there no chemicals which can be used to facilitate weed control within the field?

My last responses on the planting of St. John’s Wort was based on limited personal background. While my approach to setting up a field of St. John’s Wort was limited to transplanting, I do know of one farmer who was able to easily set up a field of St. John’s Wort directly from seed. Getting the right germination ratio from the seed is essential.

With Richters, I know that one of the very first tests conducted is to determine the germination rate. Purity is another, of course. Also, there apparently there are many different techniques for getting the best germination from your seed. Be sure to check with sales on recommended protocols when purchasing seed for large field productions.

My recommended germ protocol was for hardy perennials. As a general rule when dealing with small seed, equal portions of sand are mixed with seed to allow more easily in handling of the seed with specific, or specialized equipment. The sand also acts as a "heat sink" for the germination process when refrigerated.

I’m not familiar with the "Stan-Hay" Seeder, but would offer my thoughts with more information. In situations like this my background in Physics is often very useful. The farm which used seed for establishing a St. John’s Wort field experienced a 96% germination rate, so 3 to 5 seeds per drop would give you a certainty of 3-sigma (99.99%). That should be more than viable.

French intensive gardening is for raising seedlings in a raised beds during the summer. The plants are then removed and transplanted into fields in the early fall, allowing time for them to establish root systems before the winter. Most farms usually have this done in greenhouses during the winter, hardening them off in May for an early Spring transplant.

When transplanted this way as a row crop, usually most perennials average about 10,000 plants per acre. This unfortunately leaves room for annuals and grasses to establish, requiring some row-crop cultivation techniques to be necessary until "mother-blocs" are established. Most perennials are slow growing, thus requiring cultivation for the first two cuts while the field establishes itself.

St. John’s Wort usually has three to six stems per tap-root when first put into the ground as a transplant. After the first cutting, it should then be cut to the ground and given a drink of water. This will cause it to stole, where there are now 40 stems to each tap-root. This is often enough to eliminate most grasses and other annuals.

Farming and gardening techniques are often confused with field sizes and the types of equipment used. This is especially true when comparing California farms with those from Iowa. The farmer who used seed to establish St. John’s Wort used about three pounds per acre, although this may be "thin" and require some further cultivation during the first year of establishment. St. John’s Wort is a slow grower and grasses will reduce the hypericin content.

As far as using chemicals to eliminate cultivation, my experience is that they don’t really work, or they are too costly for feasible establishment. Sinbar, used to control grasses in most mint-like crops, remains in the soil forever. This limits what can be grown in future years. The best way to establish a new field is probably "organic," and uses labor to rogue the new field until it can support its own weed control. Row cropping techniques allow cultivation until then.

On the West Coast, most St. John’s Wort fields are grown from wild infestations (800 to 2,000 acres), and then farmed to enhance yields, purity, and continued harvests. This concept will be part of my new forthcoming book, "Forest Farming", a sequel to "Native Plants of Commercial Importance".

Rather than demanding a field to grow a specific crop, ask it what it wants to grow on its own. Often the noxious weeds already on the field will dictate what is best grown. This is a foundation for successful herb and spice farming. Marketing, of course, must be part of the overall farm program. This is also part of why a given crop is selected for a specific field.

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