Those of us who love gardening are often left wanting for a way to fill our need to play in the dirt during winter months. The weather is often too cold, windy, snowy or damp to be able to do much outside. The ground is frozen and not usually workable in southern Illinois.
So what can a gardener do in January to get ready for spring? Seeds
Seeds are where everything begins. If you have saved seeds from previous crops, now is the time to start testing them. If you haven’t saved seeds consider it for next year but in the meantime, start planning for the seeds you’ll need.
Seeds have a shelf life but what exactly it is, can change from one type of plant to another and even within crop types from one type of pepper to another. The life expectancy of seeds is not an exact science. Whether you have left over store-bought seeds or seeds you harvested from your own crops, there is no way to know for sure whether or not they will germinate and sprout in the spring without testing.
Why should you test? You could just throw them in the ground and wait to see if they come up. A large percentage of them probably will. But for the ones that don’t, you will have lost anywhere from 7 to 21 days before you realize the seed was no good. In some locations with short growing seasons, this can be a terrible loss of time. Besides, do you want to spend the time planting only to discover you have to do it all over again?
How to Test
You will need plain, white paper towels, zippered sandwich bags, a permanent black marker, some water and your seeds. Dampen the paper towel until it is completely moist but not dripping wet. Place a sampling of your seeds on the paper towel and fold the towel over them. Fold again as needed until the wet towel will fit inside the zippered plastic bag. Label the bag along the edge with the contents and the date. Repeat the process for all your seeds.
Place the bags, spread out, where they will have some sun and a warm environment, about 70 degrees, maybe a tad warmer. The sealed bags provide a warm, greenhouse-like effect and help retain the moisture. Wait until the appropriate number of days has passed for the seeds to germinate. Tis will be different for each. If you have the old envelopes, it should tell you there. If not, check the Internet for germination times for each seed type you are testing and make a checklist.
As the days drift by, begin checking the bags when they are close to the end of their germination period. If the seeds are viable, you should see the seed open and the first signs of life emerging. Note how many of your samples are sprouting. If the number is high within a specific sample, your seeds are good. If the number is low or nonexistent, you may want to purchase new seed and throw these away.
In southern Illinois, gardeners should already be starting seeds for leeks and cabbage. Nat the end of February, southern Illinois gardeners will want to plant Chinese cabbage, green onions, endive and chives. If you haven’t tested your seeds, you had better get started.
In southern Illinois you can buy seeds locally at the following places:
2802 Outer Dr,
Marion, IL 62959
1301 Enterprise Way
Marion, IL 62959
601 N Commercial St Ste 15
Harrisburg Il 62946
3200 Banterra Dr
Marion, IL 62959
Lowe’s Home Improvement
1170 Rendleman Rd,
Carbondale, IL 62901
Ayer Market & Greenhouse
RR 2 Box 302
Bluford, IL 62814