Saturday, January 17, 2015

Germination Testing

I have a seed collection.  It's like a book collection, hard to let a single packet go.  In the case of old seed, I have to make the cut somewhere.  Germination testing is how that cut gets made.  Any seed that doesn't germinate at at least 80% gets given to a friend or tossed into a bare spot in the garden One Straw Revolution style.  This is inspired by how I test seed for work in January of each year before ordering seed for the year, now applied to my home seed collection.

To test the seed, I sprinkle some out on a damp paper towel.  Then I count them and write this number, the variety name, and the year of the seed packet on the front of a plastic ziplock ("26 seeds Ruby Red Chard 2013" for example).  Don't forget to record the day you start the test, so you know how long it took the chard to sprout, if it ever does!  Then, I roll up the paper towel like a taquito and pop it in the ziploc.  Check daily for sprouting (even for stuff that normally takes a week to sprout, because you need to let some oxygen into the bag).

Put the seed somewhere warm.
Count how many germinate.  This is when you will be glad you know how many seeds you sprinkled (especially for tiny seed such as lettuce) because all the germinating sprouts and roots make it hard to count the total seed number.

I generally don't test seed that is just 1 or 2 years old and is something I know has high germination for several years (brassicas like kale, cabbage, and broccoli, or long-lived flower seed for example).  That is of course, if I have stored the seed properly.  Properly means at least out of intense heat and high humidity.  Seeds store best in cool temperatures without lots of fluctuations.

At Garden Dreams, we store our seeds in airtight Cambro food storage containers from the restaurant supply store.  In with the seed packets we pop a packet of desiccant (those little white silica gel packets that come in new show boxes and are labeled "DO NOT EAT") to keep out moisture and keep the Cambro containers in a spare fridge.  I pull the seed out of the fridge once a week, let it come to room temperature for an hour before opening, seed my flats, and then put the containers back in the fridge.  The rest of the year, they just stay in the fridge.  

At home, I don't use the fridge (except for wildflower or paw paw seeds which need a period of cold). I just use a cool room and old tins for seed packet storage.  

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