Even while singing Auld Lang Syne, all of us question how good our expensive vegetable seeds are. The ultimate goal is 100% germination—if only it happened always. When it happens, is it luck?
Starting with the obvious, most seeds like warmth and moisture, in most cases in moderate quantities. To take lettuce as an example, they germinate best if sown only a fraction below the soil surface. This means you have the challenge of keeping that topmost layer moist, even when windy and hot. Many say lettuce do not germinate in hot weather, but they do! It is simply that it is difficult to keep the top layer moist in high summer.
Good fresh seed helps, too. Bought seeds are obliged to have a minimum germination rate from a low of 65% for carrots, up to 80% for cucumbers—under laboratory conditions. These figures still don’t stipulate strong germination, that 65% can be weak, sickly plants that will fail in garden conditions. The seeds we save ourselves come up noticeably stronger than bought seed.
I had fun with some ‘Green Marble’ Brussels sprout seeds last summer: each seed cost 35p. They were sown in modules of compost next to other varieties of cauliflower and Brussels. All did well except the expensive Green Marble—only 3 of 10 seeds showed up! I went to all the trouble of moaning to the company who, with little grace, sent me another packet of seed, a month too late for sowing this year. And some January King savoy cabbage, which came up well but are not January King!
Speaking to other gardeners, we all have issues like this, all the seed companies get themselves into a hole at times, and people do make mistakes. If you have tried to save your own seeds, you will know that some are complicated to save and must be grown in isolation from other varieties etc.
That’s enough of being unfair to the seedsmen. There are many variables, such as soil or compost drying out for a few hours, seed sinking through cracks in the soil, pests eating them, waterlogging, cold nights and even sowing when too cold.
Carrots are notorious. Over the years it has become evident that, as with all small seed, they need to be sown near the soil surface. And yet they also must never dry out in the two weeks they take to germinate in cool soil. My best results seem always to come from daily light watering. Its much the same for parsnip, but we have much better germination now we are saving our own Tender and True seed.
Was that too much of a moan? Well, I have only one New Year’s resolution: to rediscover the difference between wants and needs. May I have all I need such as good seed—and want all that I have.