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


Jul 212010

How much food can you grow in a tenth of an acre? In 2010, the Dervaes family grew 7,030 lbs of vegetables, fruit and herbs in urban garden. They raise about 350 different kinds of vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, nuts and other products.

How do they manage to grow so much food in such a small area? The family uses every bit of space they have in both the front and back yard. Their lot is a fifth of an acre. Half is devoted to the garden. Trees and shrubs used to landscape their property bear edible fruit. They garden intensively, spacing plants fairly close together, Vegetables climb up trellises and their homemade arbor. Their animals provide fertilizer.

Animals? Yes, in addition to an extensive garden, the family keep a few chickens and ducks for eggs, bees, a pair of miniature goats named Blackberry and Fairlight and plenty of red wiggler worms. This makes sense. Animals traditionally provided both food and fertilizer for families. In small settings, animals can be tended humanely and their waste is an asset, not a disposal problem. As late as the 1940s, backyard chickens were not uncommon in American cities. It’s great to see this environmentally-friendly practice continue.

The Dervaes family lives in Pasadena, California, which has a twelve-month growing season. However, by using season-extending techniques, many of us can harvest fresh food year-round.

The family’s ingenuity doesn’t stop at raising food. They are working to increase their energy independence. They’ve built a solar shower, a solar oven and solar food dryer. Two years ago, they built a backyard cob oven that cooks food using wood scraps. The Dervaes Family also turn used vegetable oil, collected from local restaurants, into biodiesel to run their car.

With imagination, time and hard work, small spaces can be bountiful.