Moringa seeds do not need sunlight for germination. I soaked my seeds for 24 hours and then placed them in nursery bags where daily watering was easy. They are drought resistant when mature but thirsty when young. They should surface between 1 to 2 weeks. I have had some come up even later than that, when I thought no more would come up. I placed the bags in good light under some trees to shade the young trees. They love sunlight but at this stage need protection from scorching heat.
Instead of planting straight off into nursery bags you could place the soaked seeds in a clear plastic bag and store in a warm dark place, like a drawer. This way you can see those that have germinated and those that have not. The see-through plastic will enable you to do this without disturbing moisture levels in the bag. They are viable for a year and have no dormant period, so unless you have old seed you should have a good percentage germinate. Add no extra water when doing this, but check them daily for sprouting. Once sprouted it is easy enough to see which side of the sprout is leaf by the little ruffles. Care needs to be taken not to damage them as they are very fragile at this stage. Plant them in nursery bags one and a half centimeters beneath soil surface. Use the best quality potting soil. They will break surface very quickly. This last time around I lost some at this early stage of growth because bugs find them tasty morsels. In future I will guard against this by placing cardboard tubes over the young seedling breaking ground, and see if this helps.
Plant out at about 8 weeks. This must be done with great care because they hate having their roots disturbed. Should roots tear in the transplanting it can set the tree back some time, or even kill it. Never water just before breaking the bag to plant. Guess how I know this..... This will almost guarantee soil falling away and tearing off roots. Now I leave off watering the day before transplanting - to tighten the soil - and only water for that day when transplanted. I have planted mine in beds built with the lasagna style of layering: Browns, greens, manure and soil in layers, with enough soil on top. Do not put the manure right near the roots after planting; let them establish and mine for it. This is basically like planting them in a compost heap and those grown this way get a head start way ahead of those just planted in the ground. Ensure they get the maximum sunlight you can give them when planting out.
You can plant them out to accomodate full tree size about 3 meters apart, or plant them closer should you be planning on cropping consistantly for leaves. One thing that is important to mention is that they naturally shoot up to as high as 12 meters, and then you just wave goodbye to those precious leaves ...... unless you know how to climb trees as well as the monkeys. : ) You can of course salvage this situation by pollarding [this is merely cutting back at a desired height and allowing shoots to grow]. Coppicing [cutting back at ground level] will give you a very low growing bush. This is not an attractive tree and so more suitable for commercial enterprises. To tame the rapid upward thrust I pinch off the growing tip when they get to about 60cm in height . The pic above is at the right height to start doing this. The tip is so tender you can just use your fingers. This will ensure that the tree branches off and bushes out instead of shooting up. I then further encourage this by harvesting off branches after the second set of leaves on each branch - cut back to about 20cm long. This can be done up to 4 times to keep increasing bushy-ness. Stop then to allow for flowering.
Another way to get trees started is by using hardwood cuttings that are about half a meter to one and a half meters long. These can be planted directly in sandy soil with about one third buried. This is a good way to get many new trees, but the down-side, I have heard, is that they are more easliy uprooted in a storm due to the inferior root development.
Happy growing! : )
Until next time,