A simple germination test
EAT YOUR VEGETABLES: Carrie Lyle posts on vegetable gardening each Tuesday.
Like most vegetable gardeners I know, I accumulate seeds. When the catalogs start to arrive in January, I've been starved for months of anything green. The vibrant photos and mouthwatering descriptions of vegetables sucker me in. Before I know it, I've ordered a new variety of summer squash, despite the five perfectly good seed packets I have left over from previous seasons.
This year, in the interest of saving money, I'm resolving to use up my seed stash. Many vegetable seeds can be viable for up to 5 years, as long as they've been stored in a cool, dry place. Most seed packets have the date they were sold printed on the package — but not all do. (I'm looking at you, John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds.) But even if you do know how old the seeds are, it's still a good idea to do a simple germination test.
First, moisten a paper towel and arrange 10 seeds on it. Fold the paper towel onto itself, so the seeds are covered, and seal it in a plastic bag. Don't forget to label the bag if you'll be conducting more than one germination test. Place the bag in a warm spot, out of direct sunlight. (Mine is on top of the fridge.) Check daily to make sure the towel is still damp and to see if any seeds have sprouted.
The percentage of seeds that germinate will give you an idea of how many to plant in the garden. If 50% germinate, you'll want to plant twice as many to make up for the lower germination rate. Consider buying new seed if your rate is lower than 30%, as the seed may be too old to produce healthy plants.
If you do plan to order seeds, check in next Tuesday for a rundown on favorite vegetable seed catalogs.