If you’ve read our previous post covering growing cacti from seed using the ultra-simple ‘Takeaway Tek’, you may remember that we noted that – while still a great set-and-forget point of entry for beginners – we’d personally moved on to a slightly enhanced version of the Takeaway Tek.
We’ve called this the ‘Fruit Tek’ here, for the simple reason that we eat a lot of strawberries and prefer to recycle the clear plastic punnets they come packaged in! Handily, these containers also come with pre-made punched holes, making them perfectly-suited to this version of the Takeaway Tek.
While we’ve chosen to demonstrate with one of our favourite Trichocereus species (a great Australian bridgesii hybrid), this improved Takeaway Tek can be used to grow many other cactus genera. For example, it’s our favourite method of germinating all Lophophora and Trichocereus species. We’ve also heard of many other types of cacti being grown using similar variations on this Takeaway Tek, including Aztekium, Coryphantha and Peniocereus.
Whatever species you decide to grow – whether using a Takeway Tek or other approach – remember that the key is patience and maintaining the correct humidity/moisture balance. Over-watering is not your friend!
Takeaway Tek 2.0 – The Fruit Tek
You will need:
- Antibacterial soap (household is fine)
- Baking dish (or similar; must be watertight and large enough to hold the punnet)
- Cactus seeds (no more than 75 to 100 per punnet)
- Clear plastic fruit punnet (or takeaway container with added drainage holes)
- Clear plastic Ziploc freezer-bags (large)
- Marker pen
- Potting soil
- Perlite (or similar)
- Microwave (optional)
- Microwaveable bowl (optional)
- Moler Clay (or similar volcanic rock)
- Water (tap works fine for us, but boiled or otherwise purified may be used too)
- Remove any larger stones or other debris from the potting soil using the sieve.
- To assure adequate drainage, mix roughly two parts sieved soil with one-part Perlite and one-part Moler clay.
- (This step is optional) – Fill a microwaveable bowl with the soil mix and microwave it at a high temperature for three or four minutes, stirring hallway using a sterilised spoon. We don’t normally carry out this step ourselves (as we’d rather take the chance to weed out less-hardy genetics from our collection right from the start), but it should kill the majority of any unwanted lurking seeds or spores.
- Fill the baking dish five or so centimetres deep with lukewarm water.
- Fill the fruit container approximately five to seven centimetres deep with the pasteurised soil mix.
- Place the soil-filled fruit container into the water-filled dish.
- Take the marker pen and label the freezer bag with the date and the name of the seeds you’re planting. We like to note the source of the seed too.
- Wash your hands with antibacterial soap.
- Wait until the soil has soaked up enough water to make the surface moist but not-quite-soggy, then remove the container from the baking dish.
- Without delaying too long (remember we want the soil mix to retain its moisture content), carefully plant your seeds in even rows, roughly one to two centimetres apart. Don’t press them down at all unless they are larger seeds (and even then only do so slightly), as they need a little ambient light in order to germinate.
- Gently put the container inside the freezer bag and seal it, making sure to expel as much air from the bag as possible before doing so.
- Initially, it’s best to place the sealed container somewhere warm in bright to partial shade (no intense sun), but we move it somewhere sunnier around two to three months after germination. Don’t open the bag (unless you really have to) until at least this point, as the seedlings will be a little hardier by then.
- Around the six-month point you can open the bag to spray a little more water in before resealing it. Use your judgement to decide whether you want to add a tiny amount of well-diluted cactus fertiliser at the same time.
- After roughly one year, gradually open the bag over a period of one week, to enable the baby cacti to acclimatise to the ambient environment outside the container.
- To avoid shocking the relatively delicate plants too much, we usually wait at least they’re quite crowded together before attempting to transplant them to individual containers for the next growth phase.
- Congratulations, you’ve grown some amazing and genetically unique cactus plants – pats on the back all round!
- Balancing the moisture content can be a little tricky at first, but experiment a little and you’ll soon get the hang of it! Just remember that too little water is better than too much and you’ll be fine.
- If you see mould or fungus appearing at any point, open the bag for a day or two until the unwanted intruder dies back from lack of moisture, then reseal it.
- If fungus remains even after letting the container dry out a little, try excising it (and the surrounding area) with a sterilised blade or teaspoon. Make sure to remove all visible traces of the contamination – and a bit more besides!
- If your seedlings start to turn reddish-brown, they’re likely suffering from too much sunlight. If this is the case, try relocating them somewhere shadier until they get bigger, or else tape a few layers of shade-cloth over the nearest window. The discolouration should disappear over time.
- The instructions given here presume you’ll be sowing in the Spring or Summer – if planting later in the year you’ll want to investigate using grow lamps.
- Most cactus seeds require a minimum ambient temperature of 21°C in order to achieve optimum germination and subsequent healthy growth.
- To achieve greater accuracy when sowing the seeds, you can also use a piece of white folded paper.