If the holidays have pretty much wiped you out, here is a simple activity that will not only save you money but will help organize your garden for the upcoming year.
Like many gardeners, my stash of seeds has accumulated over the years to the extent that I often forget what varieties I’ve bought. Some of these seed packets date back several years so before I take a chance, basing my whole crop of sweet corn on that package from 1997, I do a germination test. A test can be done on as few as 5 seeds but a more accurate prediction of germination percentage requires at least 20 seeds.
I use a very low-tech method of germinating seed: damp paper towels and plastic bags. Moisten one towel and arrange your seed on the sheet. If the seed is large (peas, beans, corn), apply another moist towel on top and roll the 2 sheets together into a tube. If the seed is small, the sheet can be folded over and then rolled onto itself. Once rolled, the paper towel should be placed inside a plastic bag or Ziploc to keep it from drying out. Finally, place the plastic bag in a warm spot (on top of the VCR, in the kitchen, on top of the fridge).
Before rolling the sheets, make sure the seeds are not too close to each other. Seeds that don’t germinate can begin to mould and this mould will infect nearby seeds if they’re too close or touching.
After about 2 days, check the paper towel at least once a day to see if the seeds have started to germinate. If the towels have started to dry out, re-moisten them with a couple of drops of water. Most seeds will germinate within 5 days at room temperature.
The majority of vegetable seeds will keep for at least 3 years if they’ve been kept cool & dry. The types of seed that don’t store well include sweet corn, parsnips, Swiss chard, spinach, and members of the Allium family (onions, leeks, scallions, chives).
The percentage of seed that do germinate in the towel will give you a pretty good idea of how they’ll do in the garden. If only 50% of the seeds germinated in the towel, you may want to consider planting the seed closer together to compensate for the seeds that don’t emerge. Alternatively, you may want to peruse your favourite seed catalogue and replace that seed package.
Finally, being the frugal gardener that I am, I hate to see a germinated seed go to waste. I pot-up whatever I can and keep them growing under lights. In the case of root crops, I plant the pre-germinated seed directly in the garden. I get a much better stand by doing this, especially if the soil is still slightly cold and would have caused un-germinated seed to rot.
Arzeena Hamir is an agronomist and President of Terra Viva Organics. When she’s not planting peas or picking zucchini, she answers questions about organic gardening at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read her gardening articles on Vegetable Gardening at www.Suite101.com