23 February 2014

Seed Germination - sprout them in damp paper towel to check viability

There is an easy method I use to check left over seeds from last year (and older) and you can use the same method to get a jump-start on seeds you will plant in this year's garden,


Seeds in several layers of damp paper towel
Last year when Conrad Farms in  Bixby went out of business, I bought several packs of  going-out-of-business sale seeds. 

They were a great deal but that is only true if the seeds sprout and grow into vegetables and the seed packs had no year stamped on them.


One of the seeds I bought was Salsify Mammoth Sandwich Island (Tragopogon porrifolius). They even look tough to germinate with their hard, thick, seed coat. When planted directly into the ground on April 1, they would normally take 3-weeks with constant moisture to sprout and come up.

Since they were seeds from an unknown year and have a reputation for being reluctant, pre-starting seemed like the best option.

Place a sheet of paper towel on a flat surface and moisten it. Sprinkle seeds on top and fold the paper towel over them. If they are seeds that need dark to germinate, cover with more paper toweling or fold over the one you started with. 
Salsify sprouting


Salsify seeds are planted 1-half inch deep and need dark so I put an extra folded paper towel on top of the first one. 

In the ground these seeds are said to germinate at the rate of 50% and then only after 3-weeks and longer.

But, on the counter under damp paper towel, it took only one week
for them to sprout.
Salsify seed coat and sprouts
It is too early to plant these sprouted seeds and they cannot be planted into containers because hey are a root crop with a carrot like root about a foot long and dislike being transplanted. So, these germination check sprouts and the paper towels went directly into the worm compost bin where they will be enjoyed by the red wrigglers.

If Salsify interests you, Seed Savers Exchange is one of the many online seed companies that has the seeds. 100 for $3.

The seeds are ground-planted in the spring, two weeks before the last average frost date so I will sprout another set of seeds late-March. In hot climates the plants need afternoon shade and consistent moisture. In the fall after the first frost they are dug and used in soups and stews. 

Salsify is also called Vegetable Oyster I tasted one of the sprouts and oyster is not how I would describe the flavor. The vegetable Salsify is a close relative of one of the many plants that are commonly called Goatsbeard.

Since coming to the US from Europe several Tragopogon varieties have been discovered growing as weeds.
T. dubius or western salsify, T. pratensis or meadow salsify and the Oyster type T. porrifolius.

Mother Nature hybridized two new ones: T. miscellus and T. mirus.

Many instructions for pre-starting seeds suggest putting the damp towel/coffee filter of seeds into a plastic bag to germinate them but I've never added that step.

I use a similar method for growing tiny seeds but the seeds are not covered with paper because they need light to germinate. I put the paper on damp vermiculite and put the seeds on top. They germinate and root into the vermiculite, making them easy to plant into containers where they will grow on.

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