How to Check for Seed Viability – MOTHER EARTH NEWS

When in doubt, test seeds out! Here’s how to perform a seed viability test: Moisten the paper towel or coffee filter. Fold 10 seeds into the towel or filter. Seal the paper seed-filled towel in a zipper bag and then be sure to mark the bag to identify the seeds. Place the bag in a location where the temperature is around 70 degrees. (We test exactly 10 seeds because easily correlates to a percentage. If 8 seeds sprout, you will know you have about 80 percent viability for that particular plant variety.) Wait 7-10 days. Be sure the paper towel or filter does not dry out during this time. Count the number of seeds which germinate and calculate the percentage. If less than 70 to 90 percent (less than 7 of your 10 tested seeds) have germinated, then planting with those seeds would not be worth the effort. If 70 to 90 percent have germinated, use them but sow them thickly. Performing seed viability tests makes seed saving a less risky endeavor.

More on seed germination from All seeds contain specialized cells that mobilize and grow when the germination process is triggered by moisture, temperature and sometimes light. Moisture and stored nutrients energize the embryo, which contains the latent structures for a plant’s root, stem and leaves. Most vegetable seeds that germinate quickly (such as cabbage and tomatoes) enter their dormant state with mature, fully formed embryos. The carrot family is at a disadvantage, however, because most Umbelliferae seeds (think parsley, fennel and dill) need time for their underdeveloped ovaries to grow before they can sprout. Other slow sprouters — spinach, for example — have compounds that inhibit germination in their seed coats. These compounds have to break down in the soil before the root and sprout can burst forth into the world.

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