I almost never throw away seed packets.  Every year I buy some more, so I wound up with a pile of seed packets.  I've kept them stored in my storeroom, which is cool and dry.

I want to see what is viable before planting them.  If a packet proves to be nonviable, I'll compost it.

I do this every couple of years.  I like it as a winter ritual.  Not exactly Solstice, but January is colder and more gloomy here, than December, so a ritual of impending Spring is good.

This method works for me.  I sprout them on a labeled paper towel.  Ballpoint pen works as a marker.  The size of paper towel that we use, is a good fit for a ziplock sandwich bag.  Just using the paper towel is hard to handle, so I cut a piece of kitchen wax paper the same size, and lay the paper towel on the wax paper before beginning.

I don't care about the exact percentage that grow, so I don't count the seeds.  I place a few in each square.  Then I moisten the paper towel with a spoon of water, over each bunch of seeds.  That makes the seeds stick to the paper towel.  The spoon makes the water easy to dole out in small amounts.

Then i fold the paper towel over, moisten more so the entire towel is moist but not super wet.  Then fold over the wax paper too.

It all goes into a zip lock bag.  In this photo it's held up to the light.  The moisture holds the seeds in place.

Now they go onto the heating mat.  When I checked last year, it ran about 80 or 85 degrees F.  In the past, I used a heating pad - the kind you use for aching joints - set on low.  Mine ran about 85 degrees as well, so it worked.  I was concerned it might short out or something.  But it didn't.  I've used the top of the fridge, which is warm, as an alternative.  Some hot water heaters are warm but not hot on top, so that might work too.

Here are some I finished today.  This is after 4 days.  This method sprouts some seeds really fast.  Since I'm just testing, and it's too early to plant outside, they go into the compost bin.  Except the radish sprouts, which I ate.

These were more 50/50.  The tomato seeds and cilantro seeds haven't sprouted yet.  They may take longer, or may not be viable.  I removed the Tavera bean and butternut squash sprouts, ate the radish sprouts, and returned the rest to the mat.  I'm not sure - cilantro might require cooler conditions.  

I like doing this.  Most seeds last several years in reasonable storage conditions - not attic or hot garage, not damp hot kitchen.  Some people freeze them.  Some types last longer than others.  This way I know what's viable before I plant them.

A 2,000 year old Judean date seed was germinated in 2005 and is now old enough to bear pollen.  Unfortunately, it's a male tree.  If it can be cross bred with other date palms, then 50% Judean dates hybrids an be grown.  Then, back cross to the original male, and they're 75%.  One more back cross gets them to 87%.  By the time those are mature, none of us may be around to taste them.  But it's interesting to think about.

My oldest seeds to sprout were some dried hot peppers my partner carried in a package from China.  They were in the kitchen cabinet for 10 years.  I managed to grow plants from seeds removed from those peppers, but unfortunately didn't save seeds from the resultant peppers.  They were about the same as Thai peppers, so probably not much loss.  I've also used 7 year old tomato seeds and 5 year old bean and radish seeds.  I found a 10 year old packet of radish seeds, and am testing those now.

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Replies to This Discussion

Sentient what an interesting experiment you do with the seeds. I am intrigued by your discussion here. Enjoyed it.
The date palm article was very interesting. Thanks.

Great method. Thanks for sharing I have quite a collection myself I need to test. We had a beautiful day here Friday and I couldn't help but start cleaning out the garden. Ripped down the dead Morning Glories after gathering the seeds and cut the Rose Mallow to the ground, felt so good to be in the sun and play in the dirt.

Thanks Sentient, that was a good lesson and I'm happy to follow your example!

I like your method, easy, not expensive, it uses old seeds that might have been thrown away. Happy January gardening!

Paper towel method is very nice. Seeds only need above 80% humidity and arround 25C temprature, a little light and air to germinate. They don't need any nutririon from outside untill food stored in cottyllidens is fully utilised. People use different things like paper towels, cotton balls etc to provide the atmosphere.

Its amazing about 7 years old tomatoes seeds. They must have remained in a very dry, cold and dark place. Any one of light, humidity and temperature make seed unviable. Usually seeds in perfect conditions like cold stores of seed companies become unviable after 3 years.

People dealing costly seeds never sow in spring or summer. Its easiest to control temperatures both for germination and seedlings with very little use of energy. One should use winters in faviour of his plants. How, some other time. My Messa Garden's seeds have seeds just arrived and spring is almost a month or so away. Its alredy very late.

WOW! You go to a lot of effort to do this. When I try germinating seeds (in my basement), the results are at best, mixed--usually a disaster. But then, I try to transplant the actual plants in the garden later--normally a failure. I might try again in mid Feb (after returning from two weeks in Fl.). Enjoyed reading your post!

Here's a chart from another sourceon how long some garden seeds can be expected to last.  Individual results will vary.  I read that some weed seeds last 50 years in the soil

It wasn't falsifing, it was just a surprise. Yes seeds can remain viable for long periods, but it is rearity. Nature usually don't allow that. Factors effecting viability (temperature, humidity and light) are so abundent that rarely a seed escapes them.

There are no hard and fast rules for viability time of seeds of any specie, it is simply condition dependent. In seed along with small plant there is stored food which it uses prior to development of roots. It is chemical process in that food molecules which kills or develops that small plant. If all conditions are satisfied, germination occures. Incomplete process kills it.

Seed coat stands in between environment and food store. May be seeds with better coats survive long. But even hardest of coats can't provide protection for long time in unfaviourable conditions. small plant takes only some hours to die.

I like your method and will try it.  And thanks for the chart.

I got a personal apology that  I failed to grasp the main idea behind the discussion and derailed it with viability of seeds. Infact testing method and its pictures were so eye catching that no one bothered considering "testing before sowing" was a great idea. Inspite of many problems I face after sowing, I honestly admit that it never came to my mind earlier. I am realy thankful to you for that.

One more thing on testing method, any method Sentinent in which plant have to be transfered with tender roots is not considered good. But for testing viability its an excellent technique with many advanteges. One can test a lot of species at one go. It can provide me good analysis of mediums I use for germination. Actually I am the person who gained a lot from discussion. Thanks sentinent for a wonderful practical idea.

Great response Amer. The benefit of writing things down, we have an opportunity to discuss, correct, add or delete errors to a body of knowledge. You add much to our discussions. Thank you.


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