- Author: Carmen Kappos
Have you ever found an old seed packet and wondered what to do with it? Seeds deteriorate as they age which can give variable results. Fortunately there is a simple way to see if seeds will germinate. You can use this easy rolled paper towel test to check for seed viability.
This seed viability test takes seven to ten days and will give you an idea of how well your seeds will germinate.
- Lay a moistened paper towel flat
- Place a row of ten seeds starting along one edge
- Roll up loosely
- Carefully place the damp towel in a plastic bag and seal it to hold in the moisture
- Place the bag in a warm spot (On top of the refrigerator is ideal as that area is generally a consistent seventy degrees)
- Check every couple of days: if the paper towel is drying out, gently mist with water, but as the bag is sealed, it should not dry out
- At the end of seven days, unroll the towel and see how many seeds have sprouted. (Some seed will need ten days to two weeks to germinate. The seed packet may have this information.)
The recommendations are that if less than seven out of ten (seventy percent) seeds have sprouted, then you are probably better off getting fresh seed. If seventy to ninety percent have sprouted, it should be fine to plant but sow the seed a little thicker than you normally would. If all the seeds have sprouted, plant as you normally would.
If it is time to plant, you can use the sprouted seeds if handled carefully. Often the roots have grown into the damp towel. If so, cut the paper towel between seeds and plant with a little bit of toweling. That way, the roots and growing tip will not be damaged. If not grown into the towel, handle carefully by the top so not to damage the root, planting right away so that it does not dry out.
I was surprised to see that five- and seven-year-old flower seeds that I tested had germinated. Keep in mind that fresh seed usually gives the best results. Vegetable seeds should be no more than two to three years old with some exceptions. Onion, chive, parsnip and parsley seeds are recommended to be stored for only one year.
- Author: Dustin Blakey
To me December represents the nadir of garden activity. It's cold, the days are short, and frankly I'm too worried about surviving Christmas with the kids to think about plants. As far as gardening is concerned, January is a huge improvement over the preceding month.
Maybe you get them sooner, but the companies I buy seeds from send me their propaganda in January. I can't think of anything that instills more of a sense of optimism and confidence in one's ability to raise a garden than a seed catalogue. Thankfully my lousy soil and uncooperative weather conspire to ensure I am fully humble by August when I'm left with not much more than some basil, cherry tomatoes, and maybe some sunburned peppers.
But today I'm excited! August is a long way off.
This weekend I'll probably put in my order for seeds for 2014 if I don't have to put in too much time toward child supervision.
This is the time of year you need to start thinking about what you want to grow and where you'll get the seeds or transplants. I usually just use what ever tomatoes and peppers I can find transplants for locally, but when I want a specific cultivar, then I will need enough lead time to grow the transplants in order to have them ready in time for spring. The time to sow vegetable transplants is getting close. If your seed order is still a to-do item, you may miss your chance to grow your own transplants. Don't delay! Operators are standing by.
You probably need to sow about 6 to 8 weeks before transplants are set out in the garden. If you grow cole crops from seed instead of buying transplants that means you need to be sowing soon!
Be sure when you make your seed order that you get enough for your fall crops. It is hard to find seeds or transplants in late summer and the seed companies may be sold out of the kind you want.
Remember that seed companies' writers always describe their offerings as amazingly super-awesome, but clearly not all can be. I recommend experimenting a little because that's fun, but don't be afraid to grow tried-and-true cultivars that worked for you in the past. Likewise when you can't find your favorite, don't worry about it. They usually drop poor sellers that either perform poorly compared to their other cultivars, or are just too hard to produce. In other words, there's usually a good reason you can't find it.
You can always ask a Master Gardener or a friend what they grow, as well. In some cases it just doesn't matter at the small scale of a home garden what you pick. I've always been impressed with eloquent descriptions of items like radishes. Is there really a radish worthy of a J. Peterman treatment?
Most seed companies buy many of their seeds in bulk from suppliers and repackage them. If you see the same cultivar available elsewhere–and it's packed for the current year–don't be afraid to go with the cheaper option. Sometimes you're just paying for a fancy seed envelope, shiny catalogue, or great story. (Ask me about kiwanos some time.)
Finally, plant what you like to use. If you don't like turnips, they don't need to be in your garden. Plant more of what you like instead! I find myself planting radishes, eggplant and squash each year because that's what you grow in a garden, but I really don't like them. Every spring I think that this will finally be the year I like squash, but it has yet come to pass. As I'm fighting squash bugs in July I annually conclude that I would have been happier with that space planted in bell peppers.
Maybe this will be the year I only buy seeds for what I like and will grow, and do it early enough to plant on time. But don't bet on it.
I'm sure you'll do better than me.