4-H Germination: Cleaning Out the Seed Shed

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I learned something new last week. By the time you read this article Minda Daughtry and I will have already held our 4-H STEM workshop on germination. Minda is our horticulture agent and she taught me how to test those seeds I have been hanging onto because I never got around to planting them. If my children were younger and still homeschooling with me we would be testing all my old seeds as a school project. Since two are in college and one is on his high school track I guess I will have to do it by myself. I think you should join me with your kids, grandkids, or just be a curious kid yourself.

Minda and I made a short video showing how to test three different seed varieties from packets of peas and tomatoes that were packaged in 2014. If you want to watch the video you can find it on our Lee County 4-H YouTube playlist. In the video, you will see Minda select ten seeds from her seed packet and roll them up into a damp paper towel. After writing the date and seed variety on a gallon-sized zipper bag she places the roll of seeds inside and zips it up tight. If you are following along with me now is the time to check the seed packet and find out the germination time. The germination time tells you how long to leave your seeds in a warm place, like on top of the refrigerator. During this time you will need to check the bag to be sure the paper towel stays damp. 

The chemistry that is occurring inside that paper towel is nothing short of a miracle. As long as water is the only thing we need to add to initiate germination, the seed coat will begin breaking down. The seed will actually consume itself in order to grow and survive until it can make its own food through photosynthesis. The embryo is kept alive by the starch in the seed. Minda reminded me to call it endosperm. The root will be the first thing to emerge from the seed coat. Minda also told me that it is called the radicle. The seed and emerging plant have exactly the right amount of nutrient materials to sustain it until the plant reaches the surface and its true leaves can begin to process sunlight. When planting seeds it is important to know the planting depth so the seed will perfectly emerge before it starves to death.

Now back to our science project on top of the refrigerator. If your seeds are not short-lived and have been stored in a cool, dry, and dark space you are likely to find many of them germinated, even if they are older. If ten seeds germinated then you have 100% viability. You may plant your seeds as directed on the packet and expect them to grow. If only seven seeds germinated you have 70% viability. You might want to plant more seeds than you need because 30% probably won’t grow. You can thin them after they sprout. How did your seeds do? Don’t waste your newly sprouted seeds. You can plant them in soil if you are careful not to break the stems or roots. You may want to cut the paper towel between the sprouts and plant it all directly into the soil. The paper towel will compost.

After our germination lesson video, we hosted a workshop to plant our tested seeds. Saturday, April 3, 2021, we showed 4-H’ers how to make pots out of recycled materials and they planted tomatoes, onions, and peas. If you would have enjoyed our planting workshop but couldn’t attend, don’t despair. We are offering Lee County 4-H’ers a kit to complete this workshop at home. Send an email to pkerley@ncsu.edu and I will share how you can get a kit for your family or visit Eventbrite.

Pam Kerley is the 4-H Program Assistant for N.C. Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center. 4-H is a positive youth development program offering programs that suit a variety of backgrounds, interests, budgets, and schedules. From in-school to after-school, clubs to camps, 4-H’s programs are available in Lee County and we welcome children who want to have fun, learn, and grow. In North Carolina, 4-H is brought to you by N.C. Cooperative Extension. N.C. Cooperative Extension’s experts and educators share university knowledge, information, and tools you can use every day to improve your life.