Mar 172011


A DIY Germination test

Do you have seeds left from last year or the year before? While some seeds (like parsnips and onions) are good for just year or two, many seeds will still grow when they are several years old, if they have been stored where it’s dry and not too warm. It’s easy to test older seeds to see if they are still good.


You probably have most or all of the things you need to get started. You will need:

  • a paper coffee filter or a piece of a paper towel
  • plastic bag
  • masking tape and pen to label the bag
  • water
  • and, of course, seeds.
Step 1

Write the seed name on a piece of masking tape. Stick the label on a plastic bag.

Step 2

Moisten the filter or paper towel. Don’t get it too wet. Aim for damp, not soaking wet. Squeeze out any excess water. Then smooth the filter or towel.

Step 3

Sprinkle the seeds on the filter or towel. If you are doing a home germination test, use 10 seeds to make it simple to figure the percentage of seeds that sprout.

Step 4

Fold the filter or towel and place in the plastic bag. Blow into the bag to provide some air. Then close the bag.

Step 5

I store my bags in an open show box, near a window.

Step 6

Check the seeds every couple of days until they sprout.

Step 7

After the seeds sprout, you can transplant them into pots or a seed flat. Handle the baby seedlings very gently. You might try a toothpick to lift the seedlings to their new home.

This simple way to sprout most seeds has lots of uses beyond a DIY germination test:

  • You can use this method to start seeds indoors in the winter.
  • It hastens the sprouting of slow-germinating seeds like parsley
  • Try sprouting lettuce and other seeds indoors during summer’s hottest days when the outside temperature is too warm for seeds to germinate.


sprouted pea seeds

Some pea seeds, newly sprouted, with 100% germination


Feb 212011

One of the great pleasures on a cold winter day is browsing through seed catalogs. I love to see the beautiful photos and imagine how different plants would look in my garden.

You can buy seeds locally, but catalogs often carry varieties that are hard to find in the neighborhood garden center or big box store.  For example, I can find cornfield beans that grow in semi-shade, a dazzling array of melons from around the world and peppers sized to grow in containers. A good catalog also provides information about how to grow different plants.

Periodically I need to remind myself that seed catalogs are written by professionals in order to sell products. In order to keep my seed purchases within a reason budget, I developed a few strategies.

Inventory current seeds

Many commercial seeds, if stored well, are usable for several years after they are purchased. Seeds need to be kept from heat and humidity. I store my seed collection in covered airtight containers in the refrigerator. A small amount of silica gel (from a craft store) wrapped in a paper towel, several tissues or a bit of fabric absorbs excess humidity. You can also use the packets of drying material that comes in many vitamin bottles.

However some vegetable seeds only keep one to two years, such as:

  • sweet corn
  • onions
  • leeks
  • chives
  • Swiss chard
  • parsley
  • okra
  • parsnips.

Pelleted seeds also are short-lived.

Think about last year’s garden

What worked? What didn’t? Were there any gaps? Each year I try to keep a running list of the hits and misses in my garden. The Cloud Nine eggplants were prolific, but I wished they were open-pollinated instead of hybrids. I didn’t like last year’s zucchini selection. And last fall I wished for some peppers and tomatoes that were planted in containers that could be brought inside on cold nights.

Plan the garden

A garden plan doesn’t have to be perfectly scaled or incredibly detailed. Even rough sketches indicating major plantings help me decide what seeds are needed and how much to buy.

Prioritize the wish list

Every year, there are more seeds and plants I’d like to try than my budget or garden space will allow. So I fall back on an old-fashioned technique: I prioritize my want list. What seeds do I need? What seeds do I most want to get this year and what ones can wait for another time? After all, as baseball fans say, there’s always next year.