In the Garden:
Middle South
January, 2002
Regional Report

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The math is easy when you test seeds for viability in groups of 10.

Faith in Seeds

Like most gardeners, I love getting caught up in the mystery of growing plants from seeds. This time of year, I sort through the plastic box of seeds I keep stashed under my bed, submit aged packets to germination testing, and order new seeds for this year's garden.

Shelf Life of Seeds

When stored in a cool, dry place, seeds of several vegetables and many flowers will remain viable for up to 5 years. Cucumber, melon and spinach seeds are the longest keepers, while beans, peas, and members of the cabbage, squash and tomato families remain viable for about 3 years. I rarely bother to keep leftover corn, onion, and parsley seeds since their germination rate is always very low after only one or two seasons in storage.

Testing

Before planting any seeds more than two years old, I check the germination rate of a small sample of 10 seeds. The procedure is simple. Place 10 seeds on a wet paper towel, fold it so that the seed is snug, and place the packet inside a sealed sandwich bag. If more than half the seeds germinate within 5 to 7 days at room temperature, I keep them for planting. Otherwise, they go in the compost heap.

I test herb and flower seeds the same way. With very tiny seeds, I use a magnifying glass to look for the tiny slip of root that emerges from the seedcoat first. If I can catch them on just the right day, before the delicate curved stems appear, I have good success transferring the hatchlings to small containers filled with damp soilless seed starting mix. To make sure the planted containers remain moist, I enclose them in large plastic bags for several days. At the first sign of green, the bags come off, the grow light comes on, and the new season's garden is up and growing.


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