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|Plant Propagation – From Seed to Ethics|
Sexual plant propagation occurs when the male and female parts of the plant exchange genetic material. Until a few years ago, it was the only way to produce new cultivars or varieties of plants. Now, through genetic engineering or genetic modification, seed can be altered to produce a specific end-product for a desired market.
Seed propagation is usually the cheapest way to get more plants.
Let us look at some of the essentials of seed propagation.
Selection: Before seed is bought, it is trialed in order to see how it will perform for the end purchaser. Seed for some plants are produced in other parts of the world because the growing climate might be different from the country where it is to be used. Some seed is raised in the opposite hemisphere of where it will be sold in order to have the freshest product available when the time is right to plant.
Seed companies grade their seed at different levels. Large seed producers contract to buy certain plant seed in order to sell to other companies that, in turn, sell to smaller companies. Always deal with reputable companies when purchasing seed. The cheapest seed is not always the best buy, so weigh the available data on the Internet and ask other growers how the seed performed for them before buying. 650 milligrams of zinnia seed for $2.49 from a "big-box" bargain store may only have a germination rate of 50-60 percent, whereas the same amount of seed from a reputable seed company, like Harris Seed or New England Seed, for a dollar more may yield 85-95 percent germination, making it the better deal.
Most reputable seed companies employ an independent source to test the germination rate. The results are usually printed on the package along with the date of the test.
You can test your seed for germination rate, too. Place a lint free cloth or paper towel on your work surface and moisten it evenly, but don’t make it too wet. Place ten seeds on the cloth and fold it closed. Put the cloth into a resealable bag and mark the bag with the date and variety of seeds being tested. Place the bag in a warm place consistently between 72 and 80o. Check the contents of the bag for signs of germination every two to three days and note accordingly.
One other factor in choosing a seed company is how the seed is handled from packaging to sale. Most seed companies now package their seed in vacuum packs in order to keep moisture out. That method versus a typical rack-pack seed is desirable when you are dealing with seed purchased and delivered many months before its use.
Handling: Always try to buy your seed as close to time of sowing as possible, but don’t wait too late in the season because what you want to plant may be sold out. When your seed arrives, place it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. Do not freeze your seed.
Storage: If you don’t use all of your seed this season, save it by placing it in a resealable or zipper lock-type bag. Mark the date and variety on the bag and refrigerate it. This will assure maximum viability for your seed next season.
Seed is stored with two main factors in mind. Both temperature and relative humidity (RH) play an important part in your seed viability. According to a representative with Pan American Seed Company, the optimum values for saving seed should total 100. Depending on the seed variety, 50o and 50 percent RH are best. The more the temperature is increased, the more susceptible they are to pathogen invasion. However, most of our home refrigerators don’t stay that warm (or, at least, they shouldn’t). They are usually kept between 34 and 37o which means your RH needs to be between 63 and 66 percent. Hygrometers are used to measure the RH and are available at most kitchen ware shops. They range in price from around $10 to very expensive. Find the best place in your refrigerator to store your seeds.
Hang in there folks because there’s still a lot more to come.