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Thank you, Robert Lewis Stevenson.

I embarked on a grand experiment of testing the viability of 9 varieties of highly coveted seeds by using the damp-paper-towel method, and failed. Utterly. While I suspect the fault lies both with the seeds as well as my ham-handed efforts, it was a sobering event. Nothing like abject failure to make that mirror you look in every morning crystal clear. (Although Mr. Stevenson’s remarks have tempered my humiliation with a weency bit of pride for having at least made the attempt.)

I was gifted last fall with 9 baggies of seeds, collected by Generous Friend from her garden. I was delighted, and when I looked at the varieties, I was ecstatic. Some folks covet designer brand clothing, gourmet cookware, gems, or cars. Not me. I saw the package labeled “Salmon Coneflower” and was elated. How much did I want those plants? A lot more than a car, and that’s the truth.

I was a bit concerned when Generous Friend confessed she had collected the seeds when they were wet. My understanding is that is a no-no – the moisture encourages mold – but I was still game. The seeds waited in the bottom drawer of my refrigerator all winter, and I recently took them out, followed instructions found on the Internet for the paper-towel method of testing their viability, and began the attempt. Here is what happened:

I collected my materials. The seeds, baggies, a cookie sheet on which to rest the seed-laden baggies, bleach, a shot glass (for measuring, promise) water, sieve, and a bowl:

MaterialsLaidOut

Oh. And a diet coke:

BleachDietCoke

The idea is simple: Place some seeds between sheets of dampened paper towels, put the damp towel in a baggie, and watch for 10-14 days. At the end of that time, count how many seeds have sprouted. If you are testing 10 and 8 seeds germinate, then 80% of your seeds are viable. If only 2 germinate, and you still really want to use those seeds, you’d better plan to plant a LOT of seeds to make sure you get enough plants.

Do you really need to see the process of changing dry paper towels to damp ones? No, I’m certain you don’t. However, I took the photos, so here they are:

First, I soaked 9 sheets of paper towel and draped them over a rack in the sink:

TowelWetDrainPaper

As needed, I wrung out each towel and brought it over to my worktable to place my seeds:

TowelWringOut

TowelWrungOut

The next step was a cautionary one: dip the seeds in a mild water-bleach solution to kill any mold on them. I quickly replaced my large-mesh sieve with a more delicate one. I was in danger of losing the bitty seeds to the bottom of the bleach bowl:

DipSeeds_1

The seeds I was most eager the germinate, the salmon-colored coneflowers, were of course in the bag showing the most humidity:

HumidConeFlowerCloseup

I was undeterred. I shredded the seed head on a dry paper towel, and prepared to count out the 25 seeds I’d decided to germinate for each variety.

ConeStripSeedHead_Close

CountOutSeeds_2

Then I arranged the seeds on the damp paper towel, in neat rows. Easier to count and keep track of that way, I reasoned:

CountOutSeeds_1

Here is a damp paper towel, loaded with 25 seeds ready for the bag. Note that I put the seeds on one half of the towel, so I could fold the other half over the seeds:

TowelTwentyFiveSeeds

I folded the towel and slid it into a baggie. Each baggie was labeled, and as instructed, I left a small gap in the seal so that the seeds had some ventilation:

Bag_InsertFoldOver

Bag_LabelThePacket

Bag_LeaveGap

And then I placed the cookie sheet in a warm place, covered it so that the seeds were kept in the dark, and checked the seeds every day so that I wasn’t kept in the dark. After 14 days, I had a very puny result: 1 rudbeckia seed germinated and 1 bee balm seed germinated.  How good is your eyesight?  I promise you, there is a seed germinating in each of the photos below.

Sprouts_Rudbeckia

Sprouts_BeeBalm

Am I discouraged? A bit. Am I defeated? Nope. Am I still grateful to Generous Friend? You bet! My plan now is to plant my garden, and leave some clear welcoming soil for the remaining seeds. I will plant them, and give them a shot. Who knows?

Perhaps these seeds were the DIY variety, the ones not eager to accept a helping hand, the ones that wanted to launch on their own. Maybe Generous Neighbor had given me 9 baggies of Teenagers. You never know.

Mr. Stevenson declares that I should evaluate myself by the seeds I plant and not by the harvest I reaped. By that measure, I did well. I’ll take that assessment, thank you.

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”

― Robert Louis Stevenson, author (1850-1894)

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