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I have a date!

Actually, I have several dates.

You see, my mother likes dates. Medjool dates, specifically. So when I started my ‘oddball’ garden of all the out-of-zone plants I wanted, she asked if I could include some dates. Off to the researching I went.

Now, I live in zone 8a. We get some mild freezes, but usually not for extended periods. And, surprisingly, Medjool dates are considered hardy in my zone! Neat! But, they are a dry/desert plant and my area is notoriously wet…so planting direct in my yard won’t work. The poor things would drown in my swampy ground.

That’s okay, too, though. I’m working on building a large hugelkultur berm across the front of my yard using the trees I recently had taken down as the base. I’m not using them all – some of them were truly massive trees – but I am utilizing a good number. In fact, I spent the past two weekends moving logs.

Berm beginnings

So when I get the berm finished, I’ll have a high spot on my yard where I can plant things that prefer drier feet – like the medjool date.

So! That’s sorted. I can grow my mother some dates. Now I only have to buy some small plants to transplant in…What the….!!

I won’t be buying any Medjool date palms.

The cheapest price I found for a Medjool start…was $250. And that didn’t include shipping, which was another $100+. Not only that, Medjools are sexed plants, so I’d need at least two – male and female – and no nursery that I found said anything about being able to pick the gender of the plants you buy.

So at a minimum, growing dates for my mother would be a $600 investment, possibly more if I happened to get two of the same gender in the first order. Which I probably wouldn’t know for years until they flowered/fruited.

Yeah. Don’t think so.

So how about growing from seed instead? They begin fruiting at 4-7 years old, so that’s not too terribly long. Not like a nut tree that can take decades.

And come to find out, they are supposedly pretty easy to sprout. Nice!

So off I went to find a package of organic dates with the pits. Harder than you’d think. But Imperfect Foods came through for me and I got a whole bag – about 20 dates. I pitted them, gave the remains to my mother, and proceeded to try and germinate the seeds with the tried-and-true “damp paper towel in a baggie” method.

Tip #1: Dates take a LONG time to sprout. It was probably a month or more before the first seed showed its first tiny white root. It’s a rather woody-textured, thick thing, compared to many first roots. And if you leave it in the bag a few days, it develops an almost corkscrew growth habit. Don’t leave it too long, though, because it will grow right through the paper towel and may break when you try to extract it to plant.

Tip #2: Even if you put them all in the same bag at the same time, date pits do not all sprout at the same time. I had one sprout after about a month. Then about two weeks later, another sprouted. Then several weeks after that, a couple more. So don’t remove ‘unsprouted’ pits too soon. As long as they’re not rotting in the bag, leave them. They may eventually get around to it.

Tip #2a: I noticed a pattern with my seeds. With such a limited sample pool, I can’t say if it was coincidence or not, but…every time I re-wetted the paper towel in the bag, I had at least one more seed sprout within two days. That’s not to say the toweling should be soaking – I think they actually need the dry-ish period, too. But when the towel has dried out to barely-moist, add more water to it and you might spur another seed to sprout.

Tip #3: When you plant the sprouted seed, it takes another long time for any green to show above the soil. Dates apparently prioritize root growth before anything else. Logical, I suppose, for a desert plant needing to reach whatever underground water it can find. Don’t expect to see green for several weeks.

But eventually….

Medjool date palms – no bigger than a Solo cup

I have dates! Those in the picture are the first ones to sprout. I actually have about five more that have rooted but are not yet showing any green. Out of half a dozen palms, I should get at least one of each gender, right?

I’m very excited to see these, considering the cost of buying the palms already growing. Who knows? Maybe I’ll make a side business sprouting pits and selling the seedlings. They certainly are pricey enough to make it worth a little effort, though the length of time it takes them to sprout rather cuts the income-per-hour to be made.

But regardless, I now have some date palms growing!

They will take a bit more cajoling to fully grow in my area. In addition to the damp, they also prefer slightly alkaline soil and my local soil is more acidic. It may be that I’ll need to keep them in giant outdoor pots with appropriate soil instead of directly in the ground. We shall see.

In the meantime, though, try sprouting some date pits! It has been really fascinating – and an exercise in patience. If I can get them all the way to fruiting, however, I think it will be worth it. (And if I end up killing them somehow…well, at least I will have learned something, right?)

Welcome to Spring! And happy homesteading!

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