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
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


Tomatoes For Container Planting

Some tomatoes are more ideal for containers than others although you can put any tomato in a pot. Just be sure to make it a big pot. It will be constrained by the size of the pot. Determinates, meaning they grow 2-4 feet, are good choices. It will have plenty of room to grow and the pot won’t require as much watering due to it’s mass. A half wine barrel size is perfect. For those with small spaces that can’t accommodate a pot of that size, there are a few tomatoes that will grow quite nicely in a smaller pot than that just mentioned. Or you could try a hanging pot. One note: don’t expect to pick enough to put up 25 quarts of tomatoes. You will have enough to put into your salads and meals and if it’s a cherry tomato, enough to share with your friends. Below are few that I recommend:

 Better Bush Small, compact bush for patio, deck, or balcony containers; fruits to 8 ounces, with old-fashioned tomato flavor; from 3 to 4 feet tall; requires staking. Indeterminate, hybrid VFN, 68 days to harvest.

 Bush Early Girl Small, compact plants with top yield of 6- to 7-ounce fruits and very good flavor. Determinate, hybrid VFFNT, 54 days to harvest.

 Early Wonder Compact plant produces round, dark pink fruit to 6 ounces; full tomato flavor, great taste. Determinate, open-pollinated, 55 days to harvest.

 Patio Perfect for container gardening or limited space. Vines are extremely compact, yet produce medium-sized, deep oblate fruits that are smooth, firm and flavorful. This was a nice tomato and had surprisingly large fruits for a plant this size. Determinate, 70 days

 Mountain Princess  This early tomato from West Virginia has been grown for generations in the mountain climate of the state. Bright red and mildly  flavored, the 8 ounce fruit is round, smooth and solid.  A good short season variety that is also very productive. First introduced in the United States by Heirloom Seeds. Determinate, 68 days

 Season Starter Always grow the first tomato on the block with this super-fast determinate variety! It sets huge yields of juicy-sweet 6 oz fruits. Resistant to cracking, they hold on the plant very well after ripening. A great choice for northern climates, where the growing season is short. Determinate, 60 days

 Green Grape  – Personal Favorite These are the first, fully ripened green cherry tomato. You don’t expect them to be as yummy as they are when you bite into them. Fruits are delicious, juicy and sweet. They turn a lovely golden green when ripe and are wonderful straight from the vine. Mix with Sweet Million and Sungold cherry tomatoes for a rainbow  salad. Use in a large container planting on your deck. Determinate, 70 days

 Hundreds and Thousands  Hundreds Yes. Thousands? Not really, but you won’t go short of tomatoes with this variety. A single plant in a 13” basket produced a very impressive 504 fruits from the start of August until the end of September. The sweet, mini-cherry fruit measuring just 15 mm in diameter and are very flavorful. 

 Tumbler  Specially bred for hanging baskets. Bushy plants look fantastic mixed with lobelia and alyssum. Sweet, bright red fruits. Determinate, 45 days

 Polar Beauty  Developed in Alaska for colder climates, it bears small to medium-sized oblate tomatoes with a good, full tomato taste. Short, bushy plants are productive. Determinate, 63 days.

Siberia 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 day.

Bushtsteak This surprisingly compact (20-24”) plant is just loaded with large, flavorful tomatoes. Well-suited for a patio, small garden and containers, the dwarf plants offer big meaty fruit (8-12 oz.) and early maturity. Determinate, 65 days

Cougar Red  This is a new red tomato that has been grown and tested for cool summer temps with a short growing season. This meaty, medium sized fruit is good for home processing. The flavor is a good mixture of sugar and low acid. Plants of Cougar Red are vigorous and semi-determinate

Glacier Extremely early, cold-tolerant, high yielding special strain of tomato plant. Begins flowering when only 4” high. You can expect 2 to 3 oz. fruits with outstanding flavor for such an early tomato. Semi-determinate, 45 days


Pictured is a green grape cherry tomatoImage


Whew! Tomato Transplants Are All Done, 6500!

Took me almost four days but they have been relocated to their own little patch of heaven, a 3.5 inch pot! Better yet, I got the website up and updated with all of my 2013 varieties, all 161 of them. My peppers have been updated too, 41 varieties. If you are interested in tomatoes and peppers, check it out. There is a lot of info on how to plant them and grow them to great heights. Plus, you will be amazed how many kinds and colors there are.

the website address is:


Watering Tomato and Pepper Plants


Watering Tomato and Pepper Plants

After an initial watering from the top, we bottom water so as not to encourage damping off. They will wick it up from the bottom getting right to where it needs to go – the roots.


Starting Seeds Under Lights in the House


Starting Seeds Under Lights in the House

This is a shelving rack with ordinary fluorescent lights hovering just above flats full of tomato plants. The lights need to be close to provide light and warmth otherwise the plants will get leggy


Starting Tomatoes and Peppers From Seed


Starting Tomatoes and Peppers From Seed

When growing for your home garden, start seeds 8 weeks prior to the last frost date. Always use sterile seed starting mix and sterile pots. Buy them new every year or sterilize used pots with a 10% bleach solution. Sometimes I run mine through the dishwasher on the top rack and toss a little bleach in before I start the wash cycle (damping off can be a real problem if you don’t.)

Place the seeds on top of the medium; cover with about 1/4” inch of mix and press down with your hands to smooth. Sprinkle with water from a “gentle” watering can to avoid washing the seeds away. I then fill my flats with hot water until they start floating, they will absorb this.

Put them in a warm place. Mine go under ordinary fluorescent lights, about an inch away from the flats, in the dining room. The heat from the lights keep it warm. (You can use bottom heat such as a heating mat or the top of refrigerator if you like.) Bottom water as needed, don’t let them dry out. In about a week you should start to see germination. Grow them under the lights until you see the first true leaves, a pair of true leaves. Transplant into larger pots.

Peppers seem to take forever to germinate, sometimes as much as 3 weeks. Tomatoes can be up as early as 4 days from planting.

Key points for maximum success:
sterile seed starting mix
sterile pots
warm location for germination
water from the bottom
good ventilation

These basic instructions work for just about every seed you want to start in pots to get a jump on the season. I will post more on starting different kinds of seeds and their needs in other posts so stay tuned.