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  • Pre-germinating old seeds, best method?

    Hello, first time poster here.

    I have some old seeds of my dad's that I would like to try to grow but I'm not having much success. He passed away a few years ago and while none of these seeds are non-replaceable varieties - I like the thought of regrowing something that came from his garden. The seeds vary from 6-20 years old. Mostly beans and corn.

    I've tried planting directly in the ground, in pots, and starting in ziplock bags... no luck. I read some tips in another thread that I would like to try but I have some questions about pre-germinating using the ziplock bag method.

    Should the ziplock bag be sealed? I am having a problem with mold but if I leave the bag open won't it dry out too quickly?

    How much sun should they get? I taped them in the kitchen window where it gets morning sun only.

    What temperature should I be looking for?

    Lastly, is there a better method altogether?

    Thanks so much!
    Matt

  • #2
    The ziplock bags can be sealed but when I use them, I open them once or twice a day and put some fresh room-temperature water in, then let it drain out before I seal them up again. And at the same time you can check for any seeds that have begun to rot and remove them before they affect the healthy ones.

    The seeds should not be in the sun at all while they are in the ziplock bags. Heat builds up inside the bag very quickly and will cook the seeds. It doesn't take much heat to kill them.

    Have patience, sometimes very old seeds take longer to germinate. It might help to soak the seeds for a few hours or overnight in room-temperature water before you sow them or put them in the bag.

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    • #3
      The top of a TV cable box is what I have found to be the best seed sprouting "heater". I would also soak seeds in diluted seaweed extract w/ water.

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      • #4
        Oh, Ok! So no sun just a little heat? Also, where can I buy the seaweed extract.

        Thanks!
        Matt

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        • #5
          http://www.highmowingseeds.com/ carries it.
          "Neptunes Harvest". This is available everywhere.

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          • #6
            For old beans, I have had good luck using a "nitrate soak" method. I first boil & then cool some water, to sterilize it. Add 1 teaspoon of a high-nitrate fertilizer (such as seaweed emulsion) per gallon of water; if you have any doubts about the sterility of the fertilizer (such as manure tea) boil it along with the water.

            Then plant the beans in a sterile soil-less medium, either seed starter or plug mix. I usually use peat strips for this purpose. Place the planted pots/strips in a leak-proof plastic flat, and add enough of the solution to soak them completely. Let soak overnight, then carefully pour off any excess solution. Place the flat on a heat mat, or where the temperature will be close to 80 F. degrees. Do not cover, since the dead seeds will rot, and if enclosed, mold/mildew can spread to other pots. If any further watering is required, use plain water.

            Nitrogen stimulates bean germination, so this method can be highly effective. I had some half-dead bean seed, which initially (without the nitrogen) had zero germination out of 50 seeds. When attempted again with the same seed, one year later & using the nitrate solution, the germination was better than 60%.

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            • #7
              That is awesome, thanks for sharing!

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              • #8
                Originally posted by WI_HO_C View Post
                For old beans, I have had good luck using a "nitrate soak" method. I first boil & then cool some water, to sterilize it. Add 1 teaspoon of a high-nitrate fertilizer (such as seaweed emulsion) per gallon of water; if you have any doubts about the sterility of the fertilizer (such as manure tea) boil it along with the water.

                Then plant the beans in a sterile soil-less medium, either seed starter or plug mix. I usually use peat strips for this purpose. Place the planted pots/strips in a leak-proof plastic flat, and add enough of the solution to soak them completely. Let soak overnight, then carefully pour off any excess solution. Place the flat on a heat mat, or where the temperature will be close to 80 F. degrees. Do not cover, since the dead seeds will rot, and if enclosed, mold/mildew can spread to other pots. If any further watering is required, use plain water.

                Nitrogen stimulates bean germination, so this method can be highly effective. I had some half-dead bean seed, which initially (without the nitrogen) had zero germination out of 50 seeds. When attempted again with the same seed, one year later & using the nitrate solution, the germination was better than 60%.
                Great info, thanks!

                I was able to get some seeds to sprout. Some 6 year old beans and some 12 year old cotton. I haven't had any luck with the corn or tomatoes though. I'll keep trying.

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                • #9
                  Hey everyone. I just wanted to revisit this thread and let people know I've been having great luck with the "nitrate soak" method. The oldest seeds I had sprout were some 20 year old tomato seeds! I was 9 years old when my dad grew these in his garden. What a fun way to revisit my memories as a kid in my dads garden.

                  I've had no luck with the corn though. Maybe corn seed this old just isn't viable?

                  Thanks!

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                  • #10
                    That is awesome. Happy growing and hope they do well for you!

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                    • #11
                      Starting Old Seeds

                      That nitrate soak method for beans sounds wonderful--I'll try it this year. What I do for smaller seeds with poor germination is similar. I soak the seeds 12-24h in boiled/cooled water with enough kelp extract (Maxicrop) to turn the solution very dark, in a very small cup (espresso). The next day I pour the fully hydrated seeds with enough of their soaking liquid into a folded paper towel supported in a wide flat opaque bowl (like a pasta bowl). You can spread the seeds out on the surface so you can see them easily. Then fold the towel over to enclose them (it should be wrung-out damp, not wet). Cover the bowl with a piece of aluminum foil. Check the seeds daily and remove them to whatever potting soil/pots you normally use to start seeds, and move them to light whenever they're up. I've improved germination of old brassica seed from ~12% to ~50% with this starting method. Lettuce seed is even more responsive. Old seed may need as much as 2 weeks to sprout, so don't give up on it too easily. The level of dampness is really important--you want to postpone mold growth as long as possible.

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                      • #12
                        I have since stopped using the paper towel and ziplock bag method. It's been too hard to monitor and control the temperature. I am sure some of the seeds just got too hot. I recently got a heat pad from Hydrofarm and the optional digital temperature controller. I soak the seeds for a few hours to overnight and plant them in a sterile seed starter mix like WI_HO_C suggested. It's been working very well for me.

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