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Planting Native Seeds with a New Generation

May 11, 2017

May Lee holding tray of seedlingsMaster Gardener May Lee stands about a head taller than the third-graders at Farnsworth Elementary she is teaching to plant native seeds this March morning in east St. Paul. Clearly, she is in her element.

Equal parts agronomist and grandmother, she demonstrates how to plant the native seeds for the species butterfly milkweed:

  • add water to the planting soil so that it will make a small ball in your fist;
  • spread out the soil evenly in a flat;
  • sprinkle native seeds that have been 'stratified' (refrigerated for the past two months in vermiculite to simulate winter) on top of the soil;
  • add a bit more soil and vermiculite;
  • spritz the seeds with water, as well as the inside of a dome top for the flat;
  • place the covered flat under the grow lights.

Lee has spent the last four years helping teach others – both elementary students and young farmers – what she grew up doing in Laos: growing vegetables organically.

But she notes that when she came to the U.S., in 1981, she "didn't know how to hold a pencil." Inspired to become a master gardener to learn the English words for the horticultural practices she already knew, she is now not only mentoring and teaching, but also running a certified organic farm, "Mhonpaj's Garden" (named for her daughter) at Wilder Forest near Marine on Saint Croix.

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