Testing Seed Germination. . . what do you learn?

– Posted in: Seeds and Seed Starting, Vegetables

Not much.

As is my habit every spring, I test my seeds to see whether they’re still any good, or if I need to buy new ones. This is a very easy thing to do–you stick half a damp paper towel in a little plastic bag, drop in ten seeds (5 if you’re starting to run short, or if they’re big seeds, like squash). Write the date you started them, and wait to see what sprouts.

Almost every year, 10 out of 10 or 9 out of 10 seeds sprout without fail. I though that perhaps that was exclusive to Johnny’s, but my Fedco seeds had the same result.

My one bug-a-boo is Seeds of Change. (I should point out that I don’t recall having any problem getting their seed to sprout for me the first time around; if I did, it wasn’t enough to burn it into my memory.) From last year, my American Spinach from Seeds of Change only sprouted 2 of 5. Seeds of Change Yellow crookneck squash, from ’04, not a single one sprouted. For the Oregon Spring tomato, I had some seeds from Seeds of Change from ’04, and some from Johnny’s from ’03–the Johnny’s sprouted first, and just as well as the Seeds of Change–4/5. (A Johnny’s ’04 Brandywine tomato sprouted 5/5, and a Johnny’s ’03 New Girl tomato only sprouted 1/5.) On the other hand, my Rueben’s Red lettuce from last year, also from Seeds of Change, sprouted 10/10–and therein lies the reason I continue to buy from Seeds of Change. They’re actually a company based out somewhere south (New Mexico, I think), and so don’t really cater to us Northern gardeners. But! They sell Rueben’s Red lettuce, which I love, and cannot find anywhere else. It’s a red romaine, and not only does it taste great, it takes any kind of abuse you–or at least, I– throw at it. Except slugs. (I hate slugs.)

For this year, I dropped Oregon Spring Tomatoes. We started getting it for our cool nights, but Oregon Spring actually does better in cool weather, and it’s terrible in hot weather. In other words, if we get “squish weather”–cool and rainy, all summer long, then Oregon Spring does well. In hot drought weather, it does quite terrible. As droughts are much more common around here than cool weather, I’m dropping the Oregon Spring. Instead, I’m trying “Glacier” as an early tomato. I don’t know if I’ll have any better luck with it, but it’s worth a shot.

I have all of my seeds now; this is what I got:

  • Broccoli, Arcadia Rugged, good tasting standby
  • Beans, Fortex Green beans that always taste great, no matter how big; withstood the torturous conditions of last year.
  • Carrot, Shin Koruda A carrot that’s supposed to thrive in clay soil, taste sweet, and give good yields.
  • Cucumber, Little Leaf Standby cucumber, very productive; can’t seem to kill it no matter how hard I try.
  • Corn, Fleet (1/2 lb) New variety this year; a bi-color, sugary enhanced, cold weather corn that’s supposed to taste even better that the last variety we were using.
  • Lettuce, Jericho A green romaine, stress tolerant, sweet and productive.
  • Lettuce, Rueben’s Red A red romaine, my best-tasting lettuce I’ve ever found, extremely stress tolerant.
  • Melon, Verona A watermelon; Evan’s going to try it out this year.
  • Oregano, Greek If fresh basil tastes so much better than dried, fresh oregano must be a million times better than dried, too.
  • Peas, Lincoln (1 lb) The best tasting peas I’ve ever found.
  • Peas, Green Arrow (1/2 lb.) Supposed to be earlier and more productive than Lincoln.
  • Potato, Kennebec (10lb.) Reliable potato that makes large tubers, stores well, and puts up with stress better than most.
  • Potato, Dark Norland Red (5 lb.) Early red potato
  • Pumpkin, New England Pie Evan is growing it; real pumpkin pumpkin pies taste best.
  • Spinach, America My favorite tasting spinach
  • Sunflower, Velvet Queen Evan is growing these deep burgundy flowers
  • Tomato, Brandywine The famous, the delicous, huge, meaty sandwich tomatoes. I had a lot of blossom end rot with these last year; I’m going to try putting crushed eggshells in their planting holes this year. I’ve heard the calcium is supposed to help with blossom end rot, so we’ll just have to see.
  • Tomato, Sungold Those sweet orange cherry tomatoes. (They have a tendency to split a lot after rain. The only cure I’ve found is no rain. They will actually grow without much rain, but the rain always makes them split
  • Tomato, Glacier A cool weather, early, early tomato
  • Tomato, Paste, AmishI’m hoping to freeze–not can!–tomatoes this year.

I still have on hand Butternut squash, yellow crookneck squash, basil, parsley, dill and leeks.

When I showed a friend of mine this list, she laughed at how many times “stress tolerant” popped up! Yes, but for a good reason.

If you’ll remember, Mom did a post on Soil Maps and Surveys. I felt she left out some telling information, so I’m putting it here: Our garden is, by the map, either Mardin Channery Silt loam, 8-15 percent slopes, or Volusia Channery silt loam, 8 to 15 percent slopes. Part of the description for the Mardin Channery Silt loam, 8-15 percent slope, reads “Droughtiness in midsummer and the hazard of erosion are limitations for farm use. Seasonal wetness, slow permeability, low fertility, and strong slopes are limitations for many nonfarm uses.” See also, capablity unit IIIe. “Class III Soils have severe limitations that reduce the choice of plants, require special conservation practices, or both.” and “Needed are measures that safely remove excess surface water and conserve moisture for summer crops.”

Volusia Channery silt loam, 8 to 15 percent slope, reads similarly dismally: “. . .the supply of organic matter is depleted, and there are mores stones on the surface than in uneroded areas . . . Wetness and continuing erosion are the main limitations, and midsummer drought is a hazard. The natural fertility is low as a result of erosion. The moisture-holding capacity is very low. Seasonal wetness and shallowness to the slowly permeable fragipan are limitations to many nonfarm uses. ” See also class IVe-4. “Soils have very severe limitations that reduce the choice of plants, require very careful management, or both.”

So, in a nutshell, we have rocky, clay soil, with little organic matter or natural fertility, and has a shallowness for root growth. Its moisture runs in extremes; it floods in the spring and droughts in the summer. Add to all of that our last frost date is usually June 7th, with a first frost is mid-September. I’m pretty sure that reads “STRESS!!!” for just about any typical vegetable garden, and I do my best to find plants that can cope.

About the Author

Talitha spent the last few years doing an absurd combination of work and school, and found it wasn’t very pleasant. Now she’s doing work, school and a garden, and life is a little better! She also enjoys photography and hand feeding her ducks. USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 AHS Heat Zone: 3 Location: rural; Southern Tier of NY Geographic type: foothills of Appalachian Mountains Soil Type: acid clay Experience level: advanced beginner Particular interests: herbs, vegetables, cutting garden, cottage gardening

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

katiedid July 10, 2008, 9:22 pm

i just want to thank Talitha Purdy for her comments about her veggies and especially the seed comments.

Alice Nelson March 23, 2006, 11:38 am

Up here in the U.P. we plant tender stuff after June 1st and don’t usually get frost until thelatter part of September, at least in our area. Near Lake Superior, planting date can be earlier and frost date later. South of us, away from the lake, they are colder, and have had frost almost any month. Our snow cover helps, too, to protect things. A lot of our area is sand (I have sandy loam) though there is a lot of rock and some silt and clay in places. It all has a glaciated past.