The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Seed germination test

Seeds for a germination testDays when the snow fills the air are perfect for planning next summer's garden and ordering seeds.  The first step is to go through all of my old seeds to see which ones will last another year and which ones need to be replaced.  I've posted previously about how long seeds last, but you have to take that chart with a grain of salt --- we live in a very humid climate and I haven't gotten around to making a good seed storage box, so some of our seeds have less longevity than they should.  For example, some turnip seeds that I thought had a year or two left in them completely failed to germinate in 2010, so those bit the dust and will be replaced.

Meanwhile, I had five species that I just wasn't sure of.  One was parsley that I harvested this year in the garden, but am not sure I matured well enough on the plant.  Another is bean seeds saved from 2009 (or was it 2008?).  Last  year's corn and peanut seeds should still be good, but both can have low germination rates after the first year, so I wanted to try them out.  Finally, I have extra onion seeds from last year, but they didn't germinate well in the spring garden --- did I just plant them when the soil was too cold, or were the seeds a dud to begin with?

Seed germination test containerI placed five seeds of each questionable variety between two moistened cloth napkins in a plastic container for a germination test.  Those of you with conventional kitchens may choose to use paper towels, but disposables are verboten in our household.  Since all of these seeds prefer relatively warm temperatures for germination, I've situated the container on the back of the electric stove where heat from the wood stove keeps temperatures around 70 degrees during the day.  Night temperatures will fall much lower, but I'll just add a few days onto my germination test to take that into consideration.  In conventional kitchens, finding a warm spot is often easier --- just put your germination chamber on top of the fridge or hot water tank.

Now I just need to wait and see what happens.  See this site for optimal germination temperature and time to germination for many common vegetables.  After two and a half weeks have passed, I'll conclude the experiment and order any of the seeds that didn't germinate well, or choose to just double or triple my seeding rate for the spring.

Our homemade chicken waterer takes the guesswork out of backyard chickens.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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What a great tip! I hate to throw out good seeds, but I'm timid about wasting garden space if they're no good. I'll try your germination experiment on the seeds in question.
Comment by Karen Sun Jan 9 12:00:27 2011
You're right to be timid about wasting garden space on questionable seeds. I've done that a few times, and am often disappointed. By the time you realize the seeds won't come up, you've passed the optimal window to plant that species and are stuck with an onionless year (or whatever.)
Comment by anna Sun Jan 9 12:46:01 2011
An unused refrigerator kept in a shady location is a great stand-in for a seed storage box. In fact, that's what we used at the smaller of the two greenhouses I worked at!
Comment by Edward - If You Can Read, You Can Cook Mon Jan 10 00:32:26 2011
An old refrigerator is a good idea on a large scale, but on the small scale, the problem is often humidity more than heat. I need to hunt down some of those crystals that suck up water....
Comment by anna Mon Jan 10 11:58:38 2011

We just did something similar. My daughter asked if it was possible to grow our own wheat, instead of buying it. I wasn't sure if the wheat seeds we buy would germinate, so we put some on a moist paper towel.

It was a great educational experience for her to watch them germinate, and we proved that the seeds are viable and so will try planting some.

Comment by Darren (Green Change) Mon Jan 10 19:22:41 2011
Some tips I've heard for making homemade dessicant is strips of drywall dried in the oven or the crystal cat litter wrapped up in coffee filters. Alternatively, a pound and a half of silica gel is $9 at the craft store.
Comment by Edward - If You Can Read, You Can Cook Mon Jan 10 20:31:46 2011

Darren --- I think I probably find it just as much fun as your daughter does. :-) Our seeds are already sprouting, and I just keep smiling to see those little bits of life.

As a side note, I think winter and spring wheats tend to be different varietes --- it might be worth making sure the kind you're growing matches the season you're in. (Probably gearing up for winter wheat down under?)

Edward --- good ideas! That's just the kind of alternatives I'm looking for.

Comment by anna Tue Jan 11 07:54:44 2011
Yeah, we've got no idea what kind of wheat it is. We're just going to plant it anyway and see what happens. Since we don't get snow or frosts, stuff planted out of season will just grow slowly until its time comes, and then it springs into life. After one or two goes, we should be able to figure out when the best time to plant it is.
Comment by Darren (Green Change) Sun Jan 16 16:12:04 2011
Darren -- I always forget that you're so warm. That's fascinating --- makes it easy to get the seasons right if the plants just sit there until they're ready to grow.
Comment by anna Sun Jan 16 17:51:00 2011

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