Dirt on Gardening

My mail carrier has been busy sorting my mail; the number of seed catalogs that come my way increases every year.

For the past few weeks, seed catalog covers have been in direct denial of the weather outside, boasting perfect, red ripe tomatoes; a farmer’s market bench piled high with red radishes and a wheelbarrow full of onions larger than softballs. It’s enough to make a girl want to garden.

However, before I dive into those catalogs with pencil and credit card in hand, I need to inventory the seeds I have. I already have seeds in envelopes from previous years and seeds I’ve collected from my friends or my own garden plants.

I always keep my seeds in cool, dark place where moisture cannot affect their viability. Not all seeds are ready to go after a year in storage, though. Seeds of spinach, parsley, onion and salsify are known to last only about one year. Beans, peas, corn and okra will survive a couple of years in proper storage.

Seeds from tomatoes, peppers, carrots, squash, watermelon and many others can remain viable in the right conditions for three to five years or perhaps even more. Checking the viability of seeds is the important thing to do before ordering new seeds of the same type or waiting until it’s time to plant older seeds in the ground.

It’s easy to test the viability of your leftover seed with a home germination test. You will need some plastic bags, paper towels or paper coffee filters, a warm location, some water and seed. You will also want to make notes about what you’re doing so you don’t forget which seed is which, etc. It might be helpful to write on masking tape attached to the plastic seed bag or to use plastic bags that have an area where a permanent marker can be used for writing.

Moisten the paper towel or the coffee filter and place a specific number of seeds on it. Ten seeds should work, but any even number will make figuring the germination rate a little easier.

Cover the seeds with another moistened towel or filter. Seal the seeds up inside the plastic bag and place in a warm place. Check the seeds every day or two, misting with water if needed.

When the seeds begin to sprout, count the number of seeds that successfully sprout. Compare the sprouted number to the number of seeds that you tried to germinate to figure the germination rate. Some seed packets will give a germination rate from the grower that you can compare to, but if not, it’s safe to assume that a 75 percent germination rate makes the seeds okay. There’s rarely a 100 percent germination rate.

If the viability of your saved seeds is below 50 percent, you will definitely want to start ordering some new seeds to plant in 2018.

Questions or comments related to gardening? Contact Joleen at missourigardener@hotmail.com

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply