Test Those Seeds Before Buying New: Easy Seed Germination Test


Easy Seed Germination Test

We buy a LOT of seeds around here.  Of course, that’s because we grow a lot of stuff.  We do buy many of our seeds in bulk to save some money but don’t always plant all of it by the end of the season.  So, when those seed catalogs start rolling in at the beginning of the year I do an inventory of what’s left from the previous year before ordering anything.  Sometimes I come across seeds in my stash from two or more seasons ago – varieties we didn’t use again right away or a veggie we skipped a year planting.  Thankfully most seeds, if stored properly, will last several seasons.  But their germination rate does drop over time and that’s important to know, especially if you’ve only got space for a few plants in your garden. Before deciding whether to include seeds as part of my inventory, or toss them and order new ones, I do a germination test.  If you’ve got seeds laying around and you’re not sure whether to toss or keep, here’s some help.

Basic Seed Germination Test

Germination suppliesWhat you’ll need:

Seeds
Water
Marker
Plastic baggies
Paper towels

How to test:

1. Tear a paper towel in half and moisten it with water.  I soak it down, then squeeze most of the extra out.  It needs to be moist but not dripping.

2. Fold the paper towel in half and lay flat on your work surface.

Seeds on towel3.  Count 10 seeds from the variety you’re testing.  Spread those seeds out on one half of the paper towel so that they’re not touching.

4. Fold the paper towel over on top of the seeds and press down lightly, essentially sealing the seeds inside.

Marked seed bag5. Mark the variety of seed, the date you started the test, and the number of expected days to germination on the plastic bag.

6. Slide the paper towel with the seeds inside the bag and seal.  If using fold-over sandwich bags, just fold it under itself to keep the towel from drying out too quickly

Seed bags7. Place the bag in a warm place out of direct sun.  If you keep your house cool, like we do, use a seedling starter mat or heating pad to help.  Be sure to put a couple layers of towels between the seeds and the heat source or you risk overheating the seeds and hindering sprouting (essentially cooking the seeds).

8.  Check the bag every couple of days to be sure the towel stays moist.  Spray the towel with water if it gets dry before sprouting.

Check your results

Once the expected days for germination have passed, count the number of seeds that sprouted.  This will give you your germination rate.  If 8 seeds sprouted you have a germination rate of 80%, which is good.  Anything less than 60% is sketchy.

Generally if my germination rate is 50% or 60%, I’ll use the seeds but plant them more thickly than I would if they were germinating better.  70% or higher germination rate, I will plant as usual.

What you’re comfortable planting will depend on how much space you have and the number of seeds leftover.  If you’ve got enough room and enough seeds to over plant, then go for it.  But if you’ve got limited space and need what you plant to germinate with some assurances, you may only want to keep seeds that germinate at 80% or better and replace those that don’t.  Either way, doing a simple germination test before placing your seed order may save you money and prevent more seeds from sitting around waiting to go in the ground next year.  Happy planting!

 

Watch Out for GMO Seeds, Veggies This Spring

We, as a rule, stay away from genetically modified organisms (GMO) in both our growing and our eating.  Yes, it’s impossible to stay away from them completely in any processed foods unless you are purchasing 100% organic food at all times.  I read so many labels and ingredients when shopping, I’m about blind by the time I get to checkout.  But you do what you can, when you can.  I think it’s even more important when buying fresh, unprocessed foods.  That’s part of the reason we started growing our own food to begin with.

Seed catalogsIf you’re anything like me you get super excited when all those seed catalogs start rolling in.  As professional growers (I use that term lightly) we get a ton of catalogs from all kinds of places, including those we’ve never ordered from.  Some of these are strictly for commercial growers – those who order in large quantities not suitable for home growers.  This is where I found the horrible truth that our customers will have to watch out for this season.

Imagine my dismay when, in one of those shiny commercial grower catalogs, I came across three varieties of GMO zucchini, two GMO summer squash and four GMO sweet corn.  We knew these were out there, of course, but the options to purchase these seeds hadn’t yet been in front of my face.  Times they are a-changing.  While most of you won’t encounter these seeds, it’s important you know what to look for when ordering for your gardens this year…and what you’re buying at the farmers markets.

What to Watch for When Ordering Seeds

Any seed that says it’s “Roundup resistant” is GMO.  This will mainly apply to sweet corn (in addition to soy, cotton and a host of other items a home gardener wouldn’t plant).  These have been genetically engineered to be able to withstand having Roundup herbicide dumped on it (often heavily) without damaging the crop.  Ucka.

GMO Zucchini SeedsAny seed that lists “Transgenic” as one of its attributes is also genetically engineered.  These are the zucchini and yellow squash options.  They have had genes spliced into the seeds to make them resistant to specific viruses or plant diseases.  Depending on the type of seed, the gene spliced in may be from another plant or even an animal.  Weird science, folks.

Again, you probably won’t find these seeds in your home-grown garden selections and, if you do see them, they can only be ordered in mass quantities you more than likely wouldn’t order anyway.  It’s just good information to have.

What to Watch for at Market

GMO Sweet Corn SeedsHere’s the rub.  These seeds are being offered to us, a small-scale grower who sells mainly at farmers markets.  Which means any of the growers at any of the markets you attend could be growing these.  Plus, three of the varieties of sweet corn have the SAME NAME as three varieties that were previously not GMO!  If you’ve shopped  for sweet corn and asked the name of the corn you may have heard a farmer tell you “Obsession”, “Passion”, or “Temptation.”  If you hear any of those varieties you MUST ask the farmer if it’s “Obsession 2,” “Temptation 2,” etc.  The 2nd generation of these varieties are the modified ones.  When shopping for zucchini or yellow squash most customers don’t ask the name, so you’d never know if you’re buying GMO squash or not.

It’s important to know your grower and their growing practices.  Ask them if they use GMO seeds.  Visit the farm, if you can.  Ask what organizations they belong to.  If they’re part of groups that require grower agreements to not use GMOs (like the Kansas City Food Circle), it’s a good bet they’re not using them.

As a rule of thumb, always ask the seller if they are growing what they sell; never assume.  You may be surprised that many of them are not.  They may be purchasing from multiple other farms and reselling it.  That, in and of itself, is not bad.  They are simply distributing goods grown by other local farmers.  What’s important is whether they know these farmers personally and know of their growing practices.  Ask them the names of the farms they purchase from and whether they’ve confirmed the farms are not using GMO seeds.

Many sellers purchase their goods from local produce auctions.  Again, that isn’t a big deal as long as you as the buyer know that’s what they’re doing and are okay with it.  The buyer has access to the list of who is selling and can individually verify these farms aren’t (or are) growing GMO crops.  It’s getting a bit more tricky, though, with so many new options for fresh foods grown from genetically engineered seeds.  At the auctions now, they may announce the corn they’re selling is “Temptation.”  An uninformed wholesale buyer may not know to ask if it’s “Temptation 2” and the auctioneer (or seller) may not make the distinction.  It’s becoming an even more slippery slope, folks.

Bottom Line: Know Where It Comes From

If you’re ordering seeds for your own garden, start with companies that vow to never sell GMO seeds.  Two of our favorites are Baker Creek and Johnny’s.  And always read the entire description to look for keywords.

IMG_20130608_071758-1Now, I can’t stress this enough.  It’s time to get to know your grower or seller.  Make sure you’re asking questions of your farmer.  Know their growing practices and the types of seeds they’re using.  If the person you buy from regularly is a reseller, make sure you know them well enough to trust their purchases.  If staying away from GMO foods is important to you, don’t leave that decision to just anyone.  Know where it comes from, period.



Spring is Sooner Than You Think (yay!)

I can’t tell you how happy that headline makes us.  We’re just tired of the cold.

I’ve been filling my days with, among other things, doing inventory, ordering supplies and getting seeds started.  Yes, the seedlings are being started already.  We get a nice jump on the season with the little plants (some started by us, some with the help of suppliers) so they are large enough to move to the greenhouse by the first week in March and start transplanting.  By then the temperatures should be high enough that the wood-burning stove will be sufficient to keep the young plants from being damaged during cold nights (look for an update on the greenhouse in the next few posts).

So what’s already in store for spring?  The usual veggies have been started: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, specialty lettuces, peppers, tomatoes and lots of herbs – basil, oregano, thyme, cilantro, parsley, rosemary and stevia.  Many of these plants will end up being sold in packs, pots or planters at our market stands for you all to put in your gardens or on your patios.  The remainder go into our fields.  Much of what we plant on the farm is grown straight from seed in the ground, but we still start some in 4-packs to sell to our customers, like cucumbers and squashes.  This year I’ll try some kale in packs, too, since that was a highly requested item last year for folks to transplant into their gardens.  We’ll also be offering some of our strawberry plants for sale this year…yum, yum!

One of 2014's trays of portulaca (moss rose).

One of 2014’s planters of portulaca (moss rose).

For flowers we’ve got celosia, marigolds, portulaca, Gerbera daisies, and Marguerite daisies, plus coleus and Wandering Jew for foliage.  We’ll sell these in 4-packs, pots and decorative planters.  We’re also adding to our hanging basket and planter selection this year with some new color combinations of calibrachoa, lobelia, verbena and petunias, and a mix of shade-loving impatiens for those of you who don’t have a good sunny spot on your porch but want some color!

We’re up in the air on the perennials for this year.  They were quite a bit of work last season, so we’ll see how the beginning of the season goes to make that determination.  Let us know if there is something specific you’re looking for to put in your garden this year.

We’re adding a new asparagus bed this year, about 1,000 more strawberry plants, blueberry bushes and black raspberry canes.  It will be two years or so before all but the strawberries begin to produce, but our patience will yield some delicious fruits.  We’re super excited!

Although we are still in the clutches of winter, spring is much closer than you think.  We’re counting the days, and watching the temps, until we can really get out and dig in the dirt.  Until then, think warm thoughts with us!