A Seed Starting Diary: Tomatillos + Ground Cherries

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last seed starting diary entry, so if you need refresher you can find the other entries here, here, and here. I’m picking up today with the last two members of the solanaceae family that I am starting from seed this year: tomatillos and ground cherries.

A Seed Starting Diary: Tomatillos + Ground Cherries

A Seed Starting Diary: Tomatillos + Ground Cherries

Despite the difference in size (ground cherries are about half the size of tomatillos), these two garden fruits have a lot of similarities.  Both have similar husk-covered fruit, similar-looking plant growth, and similar-shaped small, yellow seeds, but when it comes to seed starting, I had two very different experiences.

A Seed Starting Diary: Tomatillos + Ground Cherries

The tomatillos were a piece of cake; the seeds were surface sown at the same time as the tomatoes at the end of March and they germinated within about 10 days or so.

A Seed Starting Diary: Tomatillos + Ground Cherries

The ground cherries on the other hand, were a little more particular about their circumstances for germination. After two weeks, there were no signs of germination, so I reseeded them. More time passed, and still nothing from either set of seeds. For the third round of seeding, I tried to address every variable I could: I covered and uncovered the tray with a germination cover. I left some under the lights, and some out of the light. I used fresh starter mix.  I covered the surface sown seed with a light layer of vermiculite. After reading one garden forum, I even put some seed in the freezer for a few days to cold stratify it. Not one of them did the trick.

But there was still one last trick I wanted to try: the coffee filter (or paper towel) method. I started with a coffee filter, wet it with a spray bottle, and carefully added a few seeds to one side of it. Then I folded it in half, and then in fourths, and placed the coffee filter in a small ziplock bag. I placed the bag at the end of one of my seed starting trays, where it could still benefit from the heat mat and the lights and waited.

A Seed Starting Diary: Tomatillos + Ground Cherries

All four seeds germinated within a week!

I carefully transferred the ground cherry sprouts into a newspaper pot filled with fresh starter mix. I used a spray bottle to settle them in a bit, and sprinkled just a pinch of very light, very loose starter mix over each sprout and sprayed one more time to make sure the sprouts had good contact.

A Seed Starting Diary: Tomatillos + Ground Cherries

Within a day, I had ground cherry seedlings!

A Seed Starting Diary: Tomatillos + Ground Cherries

This year I am once again growing Rio Grande Verde Tomatillos, a determinate variety that is a more reasonable consumer of garden space than some of the other indeterminate varieties I’ve tried before.  The plants are more compact, but they still produces a good crop. The seedlings are still a little small, considering how long ago the seed germinated, but I suspect that, like last year, they’ll take off quickly once they go in the ground and experience a few days of hot weather.

The ground cherries, on the other hand, are a completely new growing experience for me. I have enjoyed them many times before fresh out of [someone else’s] garden and in jam form, but I’m looking forward to trying out a savory application or two (an appearance during Salsa Week is not out of the question). The seedlings are still really small, but they’re growing at a good rate, so I’m not too worried about the weeks I lost yet. I’ll have to wait and see how they grow from here, but perhaps it might be worth starting them a couple weeks earlier (with the peppers) in the future (or perhaps this is exactly why they recommend starting them as early as they do).

6 Responses to A Seed Starting Diary: Tomatillos + Ground Cherries

  1. Samantha says:

    I’ve had the same trouble starting ground cherries! I’m enticed by the idea of making jam with them, but haven’t been able to get them to start! I’m on my 3rd attempt and have yet to try the coffee filter method. Looks like I have plans for later today! Thank you for recording your trials!

  2. Daina says:

    Thanks so much.. giving this a try today.. hoping the sprout :)

  3. Janelle says:

    I’m a little late in starting seeds this year, my ground cherry seeds should be arriving any day now. I’ve been enjoying them from a friend’s garden and want to grow my own (in a topsy turvy on my deck, even!). I would like to give these guys everything I can, so I’m going to use your coffee filter method. I was wondering, though if you used a heat mat for these? I know it’s good for tomatoes/peppers so I figure it’s good for them too. What do you recommend?

    • Maria says:

      Hi Janelle, Yes, I did use a heat mat. Just put the bag with the coffee filter in a germination tray over the heat, just like you would if the seeds were in a pot. Good luck!

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