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Seed Viability Testing

Germination of seed and it’s viability for germination often seems a bit like ‘jibberish’ when quoted on seed packets and does not always seem to apply to the average gardener.

Here at Beautanicals’ Australian Gardener farm we test every crop of seed that we harvest as soon as it is dry and ready to be packed into our seed packets.
To illustrate our process, the image here quite clearly shows the very basic, practical nature of our viability testing.

We sow 100 seeds (in this case Coffee seeds) into 100 tubestock pots filled with seed raise mix and vermiculite. No fertiliser is added as the nature of germination means that it is not needed. We use 100 as a base measurement simply because of the real percentage conversion convenience. 10 seeds tested is only 10, not really 100%.
As you can see from the photo, not all seeds have emerged at exactly the same time and so, within the 100 pots, some seedlings are 21 days old while some are only 3 days old. But 100 seeds have germinated. It doesn’t get more successful than that.
So, consequently, we are very confident that the seed is good for sale. This process happens with every crop of every variety of plant that we sell as seed.
Rarely do we have seed left over from a previous harvest as we budget our planting carefully due to the wide range that we grow, but each previous crop is discarded as a new one is ready.
This is why we are so confident (and sometimes a little arrogant) that you are purchasing seed that will germinate as we, personally, have been successful with it.

There are a few practical considerations before purchasing seed that must be addressed, as they are often used as excuses.
1. Dormancy. Only some seed enters a dormant state. You need to be specific.
2. Floating seed. The idea that only seed that sinks to the bottom is viable is just so much rubbish.
3. Locally grown seed is better. Not always. Seed viability reduces with age. Seed from overseas is most likely quite old as, practically, it is harvested, stored, wholesaled, stored, freighted in storage, eventually stored in a Retail environment and left there until someone buys it. As all plant types are very individual, ‘sow by’ dates that are general due to printing convenience, are just padding. Most seed packets sit in a Retail environment for months to years, so local or not is no guarantee.
4. Testing seed in some wet tissue paper. Never! This technique for conveniently trying to germinate seed in folded paper put into a plastic bag is just a recipe for frustration and disenchantment. We only ever germinate seed the way that nature has carefully prepared the seed to do so. Why some people keep trying to invent new techniques baffles me when the old technique is not broken.
5. Organically grown seed will produce organic plants. No! There is no evidence to suggest that organically grown seed is in any way superior. The organic growing of the plant will produce organically sound fruit or vegetable but it’s the growing that makes the difference. Many Retail Nurseries will buy organically grown seed and then produce their seedlings in a completely un-organic way, but will proudly say on the tag that there is some organic component to the seedling you are buying. Not legally but morally wrong.