I remember a couple of years ago planting an acorn with my grandson. A couple of days later he dug it up to see if it was sprouting. Having restored it to its soil bed I have no idea whether it ever grew or whether it was discarded as I haven’t been able to go back to France since! I was expecting him to have to wait, even be disappointed but I had no idea about how long an acorn takes to germinate or what conditions they need. His expectations were that it would grow quickly and in his world a couple of days was a long time. I am now a little better informed. They take 2-4 weeks to germinate and develop roots first. They also need a cold period so a hot French summer wasn’t the best time to sow his find. I also needed to check if the seed was undamaged.
Many of us have had experience of sprouting seeds in school, easy ones such as cress, broad beans and sunflower seeds. These seeds usually germinate both quickly and well. They are also quite forgiving of the conditions they get. Other types of easy germinators are those we see sold as microgreens or sprouting seeds - kale, sprouting peas, fenugreek, wheatgrass and peas or mung beans. We have little knowledge of the variation in the needs of seeds prior to germination apart from moisture and some warmth.
In this age of instant and immediate gratification, sowing and germinating takes us back to a different more uncertain time when weather and seasons were more relevant and when we had less control and needed to develop patience. Our sense of control now is created by trade, electrical advances and gardening innovations which are used to give us a wide variety of food and flowers throughout the year rather than the seasonal ebb and flow of our forebears.
We receive quite a few enquiries as to why seed isn’t germinating. I have discovered in my gardening journey that it is often, as in my case, user error. This year I have managed to dry out one set of tomato and pepper seedlings which had mostly sprouted due to leaving them untended in my heated propagator!
I also have several pots which I keep in the hope of one day they may decide to germinate - but my expectation is low. On one packet it advised giving it at least 2 years before discarding if it hadn’t germinated. I have tried various changes of environment but 3 plus years on maybe it is time to do just that! It was an experiment with some seed from a botanic garden - so I was expecting it to be a bit more challenging than cress!
So how do we get the most from our seed? What affects seed germination? What can I expect?
I am investigating these questions whilst examining different species or types of seeds to give some elementary advice on how you and I might improve our success rate.
More next month ..................