I was digging around the pantry, trying to clear off the garden bench to make room for the whole seed starting business when I came across a box I didn’t recognize. Trying to dig out is also a synonym for “get rid of junk” so I opened the box and discovered a box full of old seeds. Not only were they old seeds but they were seeds I had no memory of putting into that box. From the dates on the various packages those seeds should have been fed to the chickens two years ago during the “great dead seed purge” but instead they hid out in the pantry.
Now a box full of seeds – even a small box full of seeds- is a lot of seeds to just throw away or feed to the chickens. After the last “great seed purge” I learned that many of the seeds I assumed were dead mostly likely were not. That the chickens had quite an expensive snack. (and enjoyed every bit too!) This time I decided to be a *real* gardener and test the old seeds. hurray (insert sarcasm)
I bought some sturdy plastic sandwich bags & some paper towels, plugged in the heat mat and set to work. The seeds I tested ranged in age from 2002 – 2011 and included beans, corn, melons and a couple of odd items. I got the paper towels wet and began counting out seeds. Do you know how that works?…
How to test:
- count out 10 seeds (cause that’s way easier later) or more if you have a lot of seed to spare
- place them neatly on a damp paper towel
- fold the towel over and place it in a sandwich baggie. Leave the baggie open enough to keep from molding but closed enough to keep from drying out.
- Place the baggie containing the damp paper towel wrapped seeds in a warm place – my warm place was a heating mat with folded cloth under the seed tray.
- wait for the average sprouting time for the seed type being tested. In this case the average was 5-7 days and I waited a week. (Seven days for the math impaired.)
- carefully unwrap the paper towels and count how many sprouted. The term for sprouting is germination.
- IF you tested 10 seeds then each seed is 10% so 5 seeds = 50% germination rate.
- If it’s early, early, early throw away the paper towels & sprouts. If it’s not you *could* plant those sprouts but you also just ripped off delicate roots and they might not recover ever. Grow yes, grow their best no. Be brave & throw them on the compost heap.
Now about those rates. There’s a lot of info on the web about what % means what and that is something a gardener has to decide for themselves. For 50% I’d be willing to plant twice as think *if* it was a lot of seed, was expensive or was rare. For <50% it gets harder, kind of, but usually those seeds are fed to the chickens. Unless they are treated with fungicide. For >50% the higher the percent the better chance the seeds have of being kept and planted THIS YEAR. Weak seeds can mean weak plants so it’s really a judgement call based on personal preference.
How did mine go?
Well xtra sweet corn – the little tiny seeds – do not last much past a year in good storage conditions and being left in a box on a shelf in a pantry is about as far away from good storage conditions as you can get. Dark…it was dark so we get good marks for dark but that’s all. ALL the seeds of any xtra sweet corn were dead. However, corn seeds from older style corn were just fine with good to great germination. Golden Bantam was a champ and good seed viability gets added to all it’s other good qualities.
Melons were a mixed lot. Ginger’s Pride – a heritage seed from Baker’s Creek in 2009 and 85% germination rate. One seed was in the middle of growing a root and one seed was maybe, just germinating. Still that’s exceptional! The rest were for all purposes dead with 0-10% germination. Those are will be chicken feed.
Peanuts – dead. Not just dead but dead and gross. A warm, wet, dead peanut five days later is a smelly, slimy mess.
Razorback Southern Pea – well it’s the exception to any rule. The germination was about 10%. There were a couple that looked like they might be germinating but maybe not. However, this seed was developed here in Arkansas by an avid gardener. The seed was offered to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and they offered it in smaller quantities that sold out early in the season. Two years ago there was a drought and for spring 2011 the catalog said “coming back next spring”. Last year there was another drought and this year’s catalog did not even list the seed. When I typed in the catalog number the website did show “not available.” So I am going to put two or more seeds is a pot and start them inside. I do not expect very much but any seedlings will be better than none & I will use any that do grow to produce seed to save for next year. It seems a shame to lose a seed that was grown for this area.
Earlier this year I tested some seeds with a slightly different story. Two years ago I planted seeds – moth beans from Bountiful Gardens and then drought came. Now moth beans are small plants and I just assumed they died in the drought. Imagine my surprise when I went out in October and found bean plants with dried bean pods full of seeds. Slender tiny pods but still pods. Either those seeds I planted hung on until fall rains OR they re-seeded themselves. Doesn’t matter cause I collected the pods, put them in a decorative flower pot thingy and promptly mostly forgot about them. Occasionally I’d see and think “I need to do something with those seeds” but the reality is I’d forget again. When I found them this time I did a seed germination without the heating mat. Instead I just plopped the poor things on the water heater because “it’s supposed to be warm” (it isn’t) and when I checked it was almost 100% germination. Yes, after two years of truly cruddy treatment in the garden and in the house they still grew!! So those are getting planted AND I ordered more. Drought & heat resistant – they are from India after all.
There you go – the germination test for this year. I do not test tomato or pepper seeds, old seeds just get planted thicker in the pots & separated if they all grow. I’ve seen what a tomato seed can go through and these seeds have been down right pampered comparably speaking.
Apparently Baker’s Creek isn’t selling Ginger’s Pride this year but I did find a link with a picture. Looks good doesn’t it?
If I find the camera cord I’ll post a picture of my pantry set up there’s quite a lot going on for such a small space. I’m pleased with how it’s doing & just have minor tweaks left to do.