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Do your own germination tests

January is a good time to test your bin-run seed for germination, says Ieuan Evans, senior Agri-Coach with Agri-Trend Agrology. “Some cereals and other crops have delayed germination,” he says. “They will not germinate unless they have been stored for a few months.”

When you buy certified seed, you have a guarantee of germination. With bin-run, you never know for sure unless you test it. It could be very high. Or if it’s old seed, it could be surprisingly low. “I’ve seen six or seven year old wheat that still had very good germination,” Evans says. “But I’ve also tested old oats that had zero per cent.”

Not only will a germination test tell you if the seed is sound, it also helps you determine a seeding rate that achieves your target plant stand, he says.

Evans reminds farmers that they can continue cleaning and seeding their own wheat, barley, oats and peas year after year with good results. “These crops do not cross pollinate, which means their genetic makeup does not change,” he says. But if you start to get diseases building up on the seed, or off types and weeds that you can’t clean out of the sample, or if you want new seed traits and technology, then you’ll need to buy certified seed, he says.

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Here’s the simple setup to do your own germination tests. All you need are a few seed samples, along with Styrofoam plates, paper towels and zip-lock bags. For a few dollars, you can do as many tests as you want. It takes less than two weeks to get results, and right now, “you’ve got the time,” says Ieuan Evans, a senior agri-coach with Agri-Trend Agrology.

How to do a germination test

Here are Ieuan Evans’ instructions on how to do a germination test at home.

Start with a nine-inch Styrofoam plate. Write the variety name and the date — “Metcalfe barley, Jan. 15,” for example — on the outside lip of the plate using a good quality permanent marker. A Sharpie works well.

Take a 12-inch square paper towel and fold it in four, so you’ve got a six-inch square four layers thick. Place this in the middle of the plate and soak it in water. You want more water than the towel can absorb, but you don’t want the seed floating.

Use a spoon to take a representative sample of your seed. Sprinkle the seeds on the towel. Any number from 25 to 100 is good, but more than 50 and the plate starts to get crowded. You can arrange seeds in rows if you want, but you don’t have to. You want to use a spoon and not your fingers because a spoon will catch everything. Sometimes small broken bits and lighter seed will fall from your fingers. You want to count all of these in your germination test because these bits, though they won’t germinate, will influence your seeding rate, Evans says.

Put the plate in the large-size zip-lock bag and seal it tight. Then put the plate in a place that will stay at around 20¡C. You can keep the bag in total darkness or in light, it doesn’t matter, Evans says. Under the sofa is a good place.

After three days, tip the excess water out of the plate and into the bag. Do not open the bag. You want to keep the moisture inside the bag to maintain humidity, but you don’t want the seed to stay wet and rot.

After eight to 12 days, count the sprouted seeds, then count the total seeds and broken pieces. Say you have 50 seeds and broken pieces and 44 of them sprouted: your germination rate is 88 per cent (44 divided by 50, times 100).

Evans says you can also use germination tests to compare seed vigour. If one sample has good green and healthy sprouts while another sample has small and yellow sprouts, you can assume that the green sample — though it may have similar germination — has more vigour than the yellow sample.

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Jay Whetter is editor of Grainews.

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