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A seed germination test is a simple method of determining if seeds will grow before you go to the trouble of planting. This can save the grower lots of time, money, and frustration. If you are purchasing seeds, a germination test should have already been conducted on the seeds, and the germination percentage will be printed on the packet of seeds. If you are saving seeds or have old seeds, then I would highly recommend conducting your own germination test. A germination test can be done any time of year, but I would highly recommend conducting a test at least a couple of months before planting. If the seeds turn out to be bad, this would give you time to purchase new seeds.
The germination test is simply rolling up 10 or more seeds in a damp paper towel. Keep the towel moist and in a warm place for a few days. The humidity must remain high, so it would be a good idea to put the damp towel with seeds in an airtight container such as a plastic bag. Some growers will roll up the seeds in the paper towel and place in a glass of water. Make sure the end of the paper towel is touching the water but the seeds are just above the water line. The water will wick up the towel and keep the seeds moist. Remember, you are not trying to grow plants at this point, only checking the germination percentage. After a few days you can count the number of seeds that have sprouted and the ones that have not. If you are happy with the germination percentage, then you should wait until optimum planting time and plant. If the germination percentage is lower than you would like, I would recommend purchasing new seeds. If the seeds are sentimental or hard to find, I would recommend planting the seeds in containers and transplanting the ones that sprout to the field. This would take more time, but it may be better than having a thin stand in the field. Our publication titled "Keys to Producing and Selecting Quality Vegetable Transplants" will explain how to grow the transplants as well as listing the average number of weeks it takes to produce quality transplants from seeds. I talk with many people that have planted vegetable transplants too early and have seedlings ready to be set in the garden while it is much too cold. We have a very good publication titled "Soil Temperature Conditions for Vegetable Seed Germination" that list the optimum temperature range for vegetable germination. That publication, along with a soil thermometer, will give you a good idea of when to plant. We also have a publication that lists average vegetable planting times that you can use as a guide. If a transplant takes 5 to 7 weeks to produce, I would start the transplants about 6 weeks in advance of the average planting time. If you have any questions related to seed germination testing or growing transplants, give us a call at the Extension office.
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