How to Test the Germination Rate of Your Old Seeds – Courtesy of You Grow Girl

This is an excellent article on testing the germination rate of seeds. If you are like me, I am always saving seeds I buy, seeds I collect from my garden, seeds I save from other folk’s plants… Sometimes I feel the need to test the germination rate of seeds I buy from commercial seed houses! Occasionally I get no or little germination on a seed packet.

How to Test the Germination Rate of Your Old Seeds

I love to buy, collect, save, and trade seed, but I have to admit that I do not go about it in a particularly organized fashion. While I am careful about where and how I store my seeds and I do have my own “it’s all in my head” system, it doesn’t exactly compare to some of the personal seed banks I have seen. I do not have Excel charts or lists of any kind that track what I have and when I got it. If I’m being honest, I often don’t realize I am out of a particular something or other unless I bother to check ahead of time. However, most years that moment doesn’t come until I am in the act of sowing. Whoops, guess I won’t be growing that this year.  For this reason, it’s not uncommon for me to find packets in my stash that are older than I can remember. Most store-bought seeds have a “packed for” date on them, but I receive a lot of seed in trade, and some of those traders are even less organized than me. The seed of some plants last no more than a year or so. If I find an unmarked, rogue packet of onions or leeks I can be nearly certain that they are junk. Tomatoes seem to last forever, so if I find a packet of unknown origin that I’d like to grow, it’s worth spending the time to test its germination rate.A germination test determines the viability of the seed — how many in a packet will reliably germinate. This is important because the window of opportunity to get some crops sown and growing can be short. I’ve lost the chance to grow a specific variety some years because I sowed and then waited on seed that wouldn’t grow.Germination rate can also provide a gauge of a seed’s vigor. I explain what this is below.

How to Test for Germination Rate
There are lots of ways to go about this. Some people use paper towels. I use coffee filters because I find it easier to see the germinated seeds and their roots should I opt to plant those that have germinated. Fragile roots and leaves tend to disappear in the pile of paper towels.

What You Need:
Coffee filters
Plastic baggies
Water
10 Seeds (per test)
Permanent marker

Cut or tear the coffee filter along the bottom and one side seam. Lightly moisten with water so that it is moist, but not sopping wet. I sometimes use a spray bottle but you can also just dip it into a bowl of water and squeeze it out.

Open the filter up flat and lay out 10 seeds on one half. You do not have to do 10 seeds at a time, but it makes figuring out the germination rate a heck of a lot easier. Spread the seeds out so that they aren’t touching. I do this so that there is less chance that their roots will become entangled should I decide to plant them up.

Fold the half of the coffee filter that does not have seeds over onto the side that does.

Fold the bottom half up.

Place the moist and folded coffee filter inside a baggie and seal. Write the variety name and the date you started the test on the outside of the baggie. I write this onto sticker labels so I can reuse the baggies in further testing.

Place the sealed and labelled baggies in a warm place and check on them every few days to see whether germination has occurred. Some seeds may require more time. Some may also require light in order to germinate, or more heat.

Tip: The majority of the seeds I test do well in a kitchen or utility drawer that is used often. Otherwise I have a tendency to forget about them! I also put a sticky note on the front of the drawer as an added reminder to keep checking the seeds! Hot peppers tend to need more heat, so I keep them on top of a reliably warm (but not hot) appliance.

The rate is determined by the number of seeds out of 10 that have germinated. For example, 6 out of 10 seeds = 60% 3 out of 10 = 30% and so on.

You can go ahead and plant any seedling that have germinated into soil just as you would a seed. Don’t bother trying to remove the seedling from the paper — you risk damaging delicate roots. Instead, tear the paper around the plant. (Note: If your seedlings have browned roots like mine do in the above photo then I would not suggest planting them up. I left those too long and the roots were starting to rot.)

Loss of Vigor: Seeds that fall below 70% germination tend to suffer from a loss of vigor that will increase with each passing year. What this means is that even though many of them will still germinate, the seedlings that develop may not be healthy or develop into strong, vital plants. If the percentage isn’t too low you may decide to take a chance and see how the seedlings develop. It should be easy enough to determine which are suffering. However, if you’re planning to save seed from this plant for future crops then you may want to replace the seed now. Unhealthy plants beget unhealthy plants and since you’re going to the effort, it is worth it to start out with the best of the best.

Please note that some varieties suffer from a poor germination rate even when new and healthy, so it’s important to know your plant/variety.

Tip: I keep all of my seed testing equipment (including the used baggies) together with my seed saving equipment in one of the dollar store containers that I use for organizing seed. That way I have it on hand whenever I need it.

Source: How to Test the Germination Rate of Your Old Seeds – You Grow Girl

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Starting Seeds in March

This has to be the longest winter I can remember. In 2008 we had lots of snow but it didn’t stick around for 3 months as it has this year. We can’t even put up our third greenhouse yet due to snow on the ground! Did I mention it is March 3rd?

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Above are pictures of our tomato babies, as yet unborn. There are approximately 5000 seeds in the various gray cells. We bottom watered them with almost a gallon of hot water for each flat on March 1st and then the were moved to the shelves under the lights. In about 7 days they will germinate. It’s actually quite exciting checking them everyday, most times twice a day, to see if they’ve raised their tiny, green heads.

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This is a close up of some of the cells. I spent several hours every day spreading the tiny seeds in rows of 50 to 35 seeds in each cell. This year I even used tweezers to keep them orderly. Doing it over a couple days saved my back big time!

Once they get their first set of true leaves, I will transplant them into 3.5″ pots and they will go out into the greenhouses.

One very important tip when starting seeds: Use a sterile seed starting/germination mix. It will help tremendously in not getting damping off. Nothing is worse than seeing them lush and healthy one day and watching them fall over the next. Very sad. It doesn’t matter whether you are starting tomatoes or petunias in a greenhouse or inside your family home. Since I started using a sterile mix I haven’t had damping off. You can get it at NW Seed and Pet and possibly other big box stores.

Planting Flower Seeds in the Snow

I started 36 kinds of flowers today, impatiens, petunias, pansies, lobelia, snapdragons, canterbury bells, stock and schizanthus. Was thinking I’d only need 12 seed flats for the pansies, then got to thinking about how much I’d like the other flowers to be blooming if possible and they take a long time from seed to flowering. This year I am starting them a little over 2 weeks earlier. Hard to believe I am in the greenhouse with no coat enjoying the sunshine before the incoming snowstorm…in December no less.

I wanted to start a petunia called petunia grandiflora superbissima  and couldn’t find any seed in the states. Thompson and Morgan used to have some retail outlets here and then for some reason stopped a couple of years ago. Made me sad, they had some really cool varieties. After doing an internet search for the seed, I found them available from three different seed houses in the UK. Two have agreed to sell them to me, I just hope shipping isn’t horrendous. Here is a picture of this flower. Beautiful. 4 to 5″ blooms, frilly with gorgeous and unusual veining in the throat. They are pinks and purples. They also have white but I haven’t had any that I remember. They come as a mixed color. One of my favorites.

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Carolina Reaper, Ghost Pepper, and Trinidad Scorpion Have Been Seeded!

I seeded my super hots and my “just plain hot” peppers over the last couple of days.

The superhots: Carolina Reaper, purportedly the hottest pepper in the world, the Ghost pepper, aka Bhut Jolokia, and the Trinidad Scorpion can take up to 8 weeks to germinate.

The normal hot peppers (ones that are not reported to set your head on fire) that I planted are Thai, two kinds of Habanero, Serrano, Cayenne, Hungarian Hot Wax and Chinese Five Color can also be slow. I do know they are slow to grow, hence my starting them in January. Next week I will sow the rest of them. The sweet bells, non sweet bells and the medium hots like Jalapenos, Poblanos etc.

The funny thing is that I am of hispanic descent yet I don’t like anything even remotely spicy! Wait, I do have a caveat to that statement. I will use the smallest piece of jalapeno that I can get away with in my salsas for flavor. And I mince it to dust at that.

Carolina_Reaper_Pilemaya pepper chinese five color hungarian yellow wax Trinidad-Scorpion-Hot-Pepper

The A to Z Blog Challenge

I just signed both of my blogs up for the A-Z Challenge. Coming up with topics will be harder for my Flowerchild Designs blog than my Tomato Lady blog.

If you are at all interested in learning about different varieties of tomatoes I would suggest you follow my Tomato Lady blog. I have plenty of material for that one. I will showcase 26 tomatoes, possibly more for each letter of the alphabet. You will be amazed how many varieties there are.

Of course, i am convinced that some heirloom tomatoes are called different names while still being the same tomato. For instance, Hillbilly from Georgia may be the same as Old Flame from Iowa. Just called a different name. It depends on what region you live in. Families have been saving seeds of their favorites for many, many years. Color, markings, maturity date, taste and texture all contribute to identify the variety.

On the opposite side, I’ve grown Hillbilly for several years and each year, they are different. It depends on whether the seeds came from Tennessee or Arkansas. Brandywine is another that has different characteristics depending on the region it comes from and who grew it. Sudduth, Landis, Platfoot, Quiesenberry are all words used to describe the various strains. If you are intereseted in learning more about the Brandywine, here is a link to a site detailing the history written by Craig LeHoullier.

http://www.webgrower.com/information/craig_brandywine.html

I hope that makes sense. Hope to see you reading me!

Tomato Terms: What Does It Mean When I Say…Early, Main and Late Season?

ImageSiberia This might be the earliest tomato ever – only 7 weeks from transplanting to table. Capable of setting fruits at 38 F on sturdy dark green plants. The fruits are bright red, 3 to 5 oz. and bunch in clusters. Also good for a patio. Determinate, 48 days

Along with these words usually comes a range of days in which you can expect to start eating tomatoes. (The days are from transplanting not sowing the seed).

Where I live, it can be colder in some areas than others. For instance, Deer Park, is about 10-15 miles north from Spokane. It has predictably colder weather and earlier frosts than we do. Their growing season is a lot shorter than ours and we aren’t geographically that far away. Cheney is colder plus they always have a lot of wind. Different growing conditions is a small area.

After reading my descriptions (www.thetomatolady.com) on my tomatoes or peppers, one of the things my customers ask is if it really will be ripe in 45 days or 60 days. I have to be honest with them and say I can’t give a definitive answer. There are so many variables involved in growing a garden. Weather, soil temps, amount of watering and fertilizing, where did they site the plant and variety.

The biggest one is  the weather, which we have no control over. Last June, it seemed like it rained avery day and was cold. That will keep plants sitting there, in the ground,  just waiting. (The only good thing about that is the plant is working on root development so that when it gets warm they have a good foundation to shoot up). I think I remember having a light frost in early June.

I would like to change my descriptions to early, mid, late and really late. It’s true that a Siberia or a Fourth of July will produce fruit before a late season variety such as Orange Russian or a Gold Medal.

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Gold Medal These are fabulous, reminiscent of Big Rainbow. A Ben Quisenberry tomato. Wonderful, 1-1/2 lb., yellow and red bi-color beefsteak tomato with pink marbeling in blossom end, thin skin and luscious sweet, well-balanced flavors. Indeterminate, 85 days

That being said, I have seen some early varieties (48-60 day) that are only about 2 weeks earlier than a 70-75 day tomato. There again it depends on a lot of variables.

It must be nice in the South where have you a longer growing season, if you have to wait longer to get them into the ground it’s ok because you won’t get a frost until November.

There are many ways you can extend your season. Some years  if you wait until all signs of frost are gone you won’t have any tomatoes. At some point you have to get them into the ground. Especially if you live in an area the gets an early fall frost.

I will discuss some ways in later posts

First Seeds of the Year

Aside

I planted Candy onions in plug trays and Walla Walla Sweets in a broadcast method, the way I have always done them. We will see which does better when it comes to transplanting.

I also seeded some Lisanthus, Lobelia, Crytal Palace and Blue Wings,  pink Brugmansia, snapdragons and several varieties of Impatiens, including the uber expensive rosebud type.

Interesting Trivia About Tomatoes: Tomatoes From Outer Space?

In 1984 12.5 million tomato seeds (Rutgers California Supreme), were sent into space where they circled the earth for 6 years aboard a satellite, until the crew of the Columbia retrieved them. Back on earth they were distributed to more than 3 million school children, 64,000 teachers and others around the world. When planted, no significant differences were found between them and their terrestrial counterparts. Although there were no worrisome mutations, there were however, casualties.

“Dear Nasa,” wrote one participant, “My name is Matt. I am in grade 2. I really enjoy growing my plants. Here are my results. My earth seed did not grow. My space seed grew but it fell off my desk. It died.”

Hmmm…these tomato seeds have traveled more than I have!

Interesting Trivia About Tomatoes: Fruit or Vegetable?

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Is it a fruit or vegetable?

In 1887, the US Supreme Court ruled that tomatoes were vegetables even though they are specialized reproductive structures that contain seeds. They said:

“Botanically speaking tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans and peas. But in the common knowledge of the people…all these are vegetables, which are grown in kitchen gardens, and…are usually served at dinner in, with or after the soup, fish or meats…and not like fruits generally as dessert.”