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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Testing seed germination

I have been saving seeds for the past six or seven years.  Much of what I choose to grow are heirloom varieties so the seeds that come from those plants can be saved from one year too the next.  After I collected all the seeds that I saved from this fall, I went to add them to my seed stash.  My brown paper bag that I had begun with more than five years ago was finally torn beyond it's holding capacity. I went out to the greenhouse to collect the cardboard box that I had some other seeds stored in and found that it too had seen many years of abuse.  Then as I turned to head back to the house I saw the brown paper lunch bags where I had collected flower heads, sitting on yet another surface.  It was time for some organization.

I went in search of another box or bag that would work,  I knew there was a shoe box around somewhere, but since the full size brown paper grocery bag was overflowing, I thought I should look for something bigger.  Any container too much bigger wasn't going to fit in the cabinet where I have stored my seeds for a long time.  In my search I found yet another grocery bag full of seeds that were saved by my mother-in-law and her boyfriend.  After they passed I was blessed with the collection.  Some old heirloom corn grown by the Native Americans and  seeds from her boyfriend's homestead in Maine - many undated, some just collected in the outer wrapper of a cigarette package and tucked into the bag.  I  needed two boxes.  After about 20 minutes of searching for the perfect cardboard box, I found a three drawer plastic storage bin in the wood shop.  Two of the drawers were already empty.  I washed off years of sawdust and cobwebs and set to work.

Any seed less than five years old whose packaging was in good shape was inventoried and placed in alphabetical order into a storage drawer  Anything older, with a damaged package or unidentified in a paper bag, glass jar or cigarette wrapper, was added to the original falling apart paper bag to be tested for germination.  Round about mid November I was in between soccer and fall yard clean up, I pulled out some snack bags, some paper towels, a permanent marker and ten seed packets.

Ten paper towels were removed from the roll, moistened and placed on a dinner plate.  From the first seed packet I extracted ten seeds.  If all of them germinated then I had 100% germination rate.  If only two germinated then I had a 20% germination rate.  I rolled the seeds into the moistened paper towel, placed the roll into a snack bag and carefully labeled each bag with the information from the seed packet, including the year.  I set the filled plate in a warmish corner of the kitchen and let them simmer for seven days.  A few sets of tests went to ten days, but those got a little moldy so I tried to keep subsequent tests to seven days.  

It took about eight weeks to get all of the questionable seeds tested.  Amazingly enough, some of the seeds from 2006 still germinated.  Many did not.  Those that were cleaned and dried well had great germination rates.  Some that were just tossed into a bag and stapled remain as yet unidentified, but if they germinated at 80% or better, I kept them anyway.  I was going to throw away everything that didn't grow, but Little man's father asked me to keep them.  He is going to take a corner somewhere with good soil, till it up and dump everything that was left into it and see what happens.

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