Preparing Heirloom Seeds for Germination

February 20, 2013

Twenty-four tiny tomato seeds soaking in Granny's dish.

Twenty-four tiny tomato seeds soaking in Granny’s dish.

Tomorrow is a BIG DAY!  Twenty-four of the three hundred and four heirloom tomato seeds I “inherited” from my grandmother will be put in potting soil.  I cleaned a tray and added organic potting mix, combined with some of my own compost, and am eagerly anticipating tucking these tiny babies into the “birthing chamber,” my metal rolling cart with the garment bag-like plastic covering that houses a couple of grow lights.  Since these tomato seeds are about thirty years old, I want to give them every possible opportunity to grow, so after consulting people I regard as “expert” seed starters, several online sources and a stack of print resources, I decided to soak the first batch of seeds.

Soaking seeds before planting can “trick” the seed into thinking it has been in soil longer than it actually has, so germination is a few days faster for seeds that have been soaked.  Too much time in the water, however, can cause the seeds to sprout and, for tomato seeds, this is undesirable, since tomato seedlings need air to breathe and soil provides a better growing environment than water, where the newly emerging plants can drown.

I remembered a small glass dish I found in Granny’s antique dresser, so I pulled that out and washed it.  After carefully filling the dish with warm (not hot) water, I counted twenty-four of the precious seeds and added them to the dish.  When I swirled the water, some of the seeds immediately sank to the bottom and I take this as a good sign.  When saving seeds from mature plants, I put seeds in large glass jars, filled with water; the seeds that sink are usually viable; ones that float will not germinate.  Perhaps this is not an indication of “live” seeds, but I hope it is.

I also spent some time today planning where spring crops will be planted.  Richard and I practice crop rotation and, with our seed potato shipment due to arrive any day, spring planting will soon begin in earnest.  Last year, we planted four hundred tomato plants and realized we overextended ourselves, so this year, we promise we will have only as many plants as we have cages to contain them.  I have promised Granny’s tomato seeds special “homes” at the farm, if they will only thrive.  Please, join me in encouraging them to do so!

This is part of one day's harvest from Heart & Sole Gardens in August, 2012.

This is part of one day’s harvest from Heart & Sole Gardens in August, 2012.