Did you know that in the 1970s just 29 per cent of people got their gardening knowledge from books, magazines or TV? Instead, 73 per cent of gardeners relied on information off seed packets.
This is probably why most people have a few packets of old seeds in the shed, previously kept for reference and now languishing on a far-back shelf. But if you do happen to find some in your own shed, don’t immediately throw the seeds away just because they are past their expiry date – they still might be good to use.
It’s hard to tell from a glance whether you will be wasting your time on duds that won’t germinate. However, there is one sure-fire way you can use to test out whether the seeds are okay to grow – a germination test that’ll determines the viability of the seed as well as providing you with a gauge of the seed’s vigour.
Gardeners often use different base materials for this test, such as paper towels or thick tissues, but coffee filters work really well and are the perfect size for the seed testing. Before you get started, you will also need zip lock bags, water, permanent marker and your old seeds.
Begin by tearing your coffee filter along the bottom and up one side seam. Dip the coffee filter in a bowl of water, then squeeze it out until it’s moist – you don’t want it to be dripping wet.
Open up the filter, laying it flat on the table, then lay out the 10 seeds on one half of the filter. Make sure they are spaced out evenly, so any roots that grow – which they hopefully will – don’t become entangled. Using 10 seeds will give you a better idea of the average germination rate as opposed to two or three.
Now, fold the empty half of the coffee filter on top, covering the seeds. Fold the bottom half up to touch the top of the coffee filter. Place the filter in zip-lock bag and completely seal. It’s a good idea to write the date and species of seed on the bag.
Put the bag in a place that gets warm regularly and check on the seeds every couple of days to see if they have any sprouts. Some seeds may require more time to germinate than others and some might require more heat, so if you are not getting any results try and leave the bag in a place of greater warmth for some extra time.
Once sprouts begin to form you can measure the germination rate to see if it’s worth planting your seeds. For example, if only four out of your 10 seeds sprout, you have a 40 per cent germination rate. Once you have determined your germination rate, you can go ahead and plant a few of your sprouting seedlings to see if they will grow further.
Just tear around the seeds rather than removing them from the paper–the roots are delicate, so it’s best to plant them this way. A word of warning, though – the fact the seeds germinated doesn’t necessarily mean they will become successful plants. The general rule is that any seeds with a germination rate below 70 per cent will usually produce plants that are weaker and less robust.
If the percentage isn’t too low you can always take a chance on the seeds, but it’s not recommended you try to reproduce the plant as it will have the same genetic make-up as your original plant.
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