Testing Stored Seed for Viability

Last January I wrote a post about testing your stored seeds for viability. I used paper towels and lots of plastic baggies. This year I have refined my technique. Here is what I did:

I divided all of my stored seeds into categories:
1. Those that were too old to be viable – some of these seeds were from 1994! Toss ’em!
2. Those that were a year or two old and are reliably viable – these went back into the refrigerator.
3. Those that might be viable or were so interesting (think perennials). I wanted to test them before giving up on them.

I gathered my seeds, a one quart baggie, a black sharpie, and a package of Melitta coffee filters I found at Goodwill for $.50. If you don’t have coffee filters paper towels will be just fine.

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Choose a seed to test and write the name of the seed and the date on the outside of the coffee filter. Put several seeds into the filter – I try to use 10 seeds when I test so I will know the percentage of viability meaning  if 5 seeds germinate you know you have 50% germination, etc. It ultimately depends on how many seeds I can spare – for this squash I used only 5 seeds.

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Hold the filter under running water and then gently squeeze out excess moisture. I used this photo of a dampened filter  holding  great big beans seeds because I wanted the seeds to be visible in the photo. Fold the filter in half . .

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and then in half again . . .

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Place all of your seeded, labeled, dampened filters in a plastic baggie.

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Place the baggie in a warm, not hot, place. In about 5-6 days begin checking for germination. Simply open each filter and see what is going on. Remove the packets that have good germination as you find them. In 10 days to 2 weeks seeds should have germinated. This year the pole bean seeds molded and got very smelly – I tossed those into the compost. The other seeds either had good germination or did nothing. Now I know for sure which seeds to save and which to toss. You might also decide to save seeds that germinate at 50% or less and plant them thickly or toss them and buy fresh seed.  Below are pea seeds that will definitely be used this year – I see 80% germination.

germinated pea seed

All of my beet seeds germinated well. Yay! If you look closely you can see that each beet seed is not simply a single seed. Each seed is actually a group of seeds and when the ‘seed’ germinates it will grow 2-3 beets. This tells you that if you want beautiful, well-formed beets, you must thin out the excess plants to 3-4 inches apart.

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January is the perfect time to drag out those stored seeds and figure out if they are usable. All you need are seeds, baggies, coffee filters or paper towels, a black marker, and a few minutes of time.  Spending those few minutes now will eliminate wasted time and frustration this coming spring. Plus, you will have a much better idea of what you need to order.

Hey from the farm,
Fran         The Country Cousin












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