How To – Garden Seed and Understanding Seed Quality

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    Many plants in our flower and vegetable gardens can be grown from seed. Although you may choose to purchase packs of plants at your local garden center to add flowers or early start vegetables like tomatoes it is often easier and less costly to grow a variety of plants directly from seed.

    If you are planting a larger garden or supporting a small farm you can purchase your plants just like a home gardener would however they are provided to farmers in a way that allows mechanical planting by a tractor attachment rather then planting by hand.

    For everyone else growing from seed is the best solution but how do you know that your seed will grow?

    How to select good seeds for your garden

    The first suggestion that I can give a new gardener is to look for a reputable seed seller when purchasing your seeds. Whether you are buying seed in bulk at a local supply store or buying small quantities of seed in packets at your local store you want to opt for a well known supplier when ever you are trying a new plant.

    Once you have tried and successfully grown seed to the point of harvest you can decide if a lower cost brand is worth trying but if you are harvesting food be rather skeptical of sources that do not provide information about the seed and resulting plant.

    With that in mind the most important thing you want to look for on your seed packets is the germination percentage.  Many dealers will give you an inflated germination rate while those that actually have testing labs may be lower the results are normally more accurate. Very low cost seeds most likely won’t have a germination rate or percentage.

    Germination is the ability of the seed to grow. It does not say that the seed will grow well into a full plant that can provide a good harvest.

    Because seed for many plants are normally collected in dryer areas of the USA the testing centers for the plant may not provide the same results for people living in different climates. For this reason you need to find information about the plant that will let you know if it will grow well in your area. You may want to look for sunlight needs if listed or climate zone charts which are less popular but very useful.

    For the best results find see that has been Certified by an outside agency.

    Seed Vigor if provided tells you if the germinated seed will grow into a plant.  It is very common to find seeds with very similar germination rates that have quite different vigor rates. The number is a percentage of seeds that will not make it to plant stage and if you can not find a better quality seed you may just need to over plant your garden beds to get good results.

    If you purchase seed from your local seed supplier then there will be a number of other tests listed on the back of the seed.

    Grass seed sold to commercial customers has some of the listings such as

    • kind and variety
    • pure seed percentage
    • lot number
    • net weight
    • origin
    • inert matter percentage
    • other crop seed percentage
    • weed seed percentage
    • germination percentage for each kind and or variety of seed
    • hard seed percentage
    • month and year of germination test
    • name and number per pound of restricted noxious weed seed
    • the name and address of the individual or company labeling the seed (the vendor).


    Visual appearance of your seed

    Smaller seed like radish or lettuce seed is difficult to examine without a microscope but larger seed like bean, corn and similar crops can be visually inspected.

    You want to make sure that your seed is not cracked or split and that its shell is not cracked..

    It should look large and healthy rather then shriveled with wrinkles.

    Coloration should be uniform.




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