Three Years After WCE, Will Your Garden Seeds Fail?

You did everything right.  You saved money, coins, what ever you needed to be able to trade.  You saved seeds for the Victory Garden and used them.  The world changing event happened, a WCE.  During the first three years you relied on the stash you had in the freezer, but you noticed each year the germination rate was down.  Every year you saved seeds from your garden, but still your garden got smaller and less productive each year.  Sometimes your garden produced weird plants because of cross pollination.  Some seeds failed to germinate producing no plant at all, or produced plants that produced no fruit.  If you don’t watch out, not only will you have nothing to trade, but you might not have any produce for your own needs.

Now you need to find a way to replenish your stash with good seeds.  You know some people trade them.  But in this new era seeds are highly prized and traders likely are not reliable to offer quality products.  They aren’t always “just seeds” any more.  They are the difference between life and death for many people.

In the future, after a WCE, you can expect the same things to happen as did during the 1800s.  Traders were less than honest.  They would knowingly sell seeds with a large amount of weed seed mixed into the lot.  How could they do it?  Simple.  They just bet on purchasers not being able to tell the difference between seeds that look very similar.

Lobelia Seeds

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Since dodder weed seed looks remarkably like clover seed, the buyer could be fooled.  Cheat looks like oat seed.  There are other weed seeds that can be passed to the untrained eye as crop seeds.  As reported in the 1860’s, some sellers knowingly sold impurities as much as 30% weed seeds.  This means that the farmer purchased 738,000 seeds per pound which he thought was for crops.  Instead, he planted 288,000 weeds.  Consider how much time, garden space, and money were wasted in this manner.  If one third of the seeds you purchase are no good, and worse, they grow weeds it will be a waste and possibly the difference between life or death for your family.  You will have at least one third less harvest under the best of circumstances.

Another way people would trick farmers is by bleaching old discolored seeds so they would not look old.  Then they mixed some good seeds in with them. Buyers would end up with old seed that couldn’t germinate.  They might get two or three crop plants for every 100 seeds planted.  The weed crop is doing fine.  The farmer might think it was something he was doing wrong.

Yet another way bad seed is sold is when they are not stored well, or are left to freeze before they are dry and are ruined.  The purchaser can’t always tell just by looking if the seeds have been improperly stored.  But the seller knows what he did if he grew them.  It will pay to know the seller very well.  It will be better if the seller is fully dependent on you for something he needs badly.

This could be why so many people gave up gardening between 1900 and 1950.  The amount of work involved far out weighed the benefit of the produce.  Farmers had to use more land to have a yield big enough to bring to market.  It was not until the U.S.D.A. stepped in and regulated production and sales that seeds and sellers were cleaned up.

Now, seed labels must specify the year for planting, and the expiration date.  Most states require the germination rate to be printed on the labels as well.  If it is not specified, it would be reasonable to assume not more than 70% germination rate.  So, if you need 100 plants, purchase enough seeds to cover the 30% reduction in germination.  You might be happy if it is a better rate, but will be sadly disappointed if the rate is less.

Which brings us to the last way seed sellers might sell old and improperly stored seeds.  Their packaging may be worn and tattered.  If so, don’t buy them, or only offer a small amount of trade for them.  Seeds exposed to light and heat are always less vital than well stored seeds.  Most seeds only store for three to five years under normal conditions, not frozen, and the germination rate is reduced by about 15% to 30% or more per year.

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After a WCE, how are you going to protect yourself from ruthless traders who would bring you bad seeds when you most need good ones?  Well, unless you have a microscope, pre-labeled seed slides, and some books to smarten you up, you can’t.

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Some seeds are so small you wouldn’t be able to see what you need to know with the naked eye. The slides need to be made by you so you know exactly what you are looking at, and you need to inspect the slides often to see how the seeds have degraded over time so you can gauge the age of the seeds being sold.  The books give you the valuable information that you can use for the rest of your life.  With repeated study you can learn to protect your seed supply both now and in the event of a WCE.

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Armed with these three things, a seed seller who is not trading fairly will not want to subject his product to your tests of quality.  Who knows, your ability to discern good from bad seeds might enable you to trade your skills and knowledge for seeds and other items you need.

photo by: photofarmer