Test seed packets from last season

Published 8:08 am Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Seed package art at the Smithsonian Library includes 10,000 seed and nursery catalogs dating from 1830 to the present. Part of the collection given to the horticultural services were from the Burpee Co. and donated by Mrs David Burpee.

From 1830 to the 1930s, beautiful and important multidisciplinary historic documents provide the history of seed and agriculture, as well as the history of botany and plant research. Some of the earliest seed catalogs are on display and provide a colorful insight into the types of social history showing changing fashions in flowers and vegetables on their covers.

During World War 1, (before my time ) there was a shortage of seeds abroad, which made America, rather than Europe, the world’s leading seed supplier. World War 1 was all but forgotten when the “Victory Garden” emerged during World War II, according to David Burpee.

War gardens were set up by Burpee in various cities. The biggest most notable garden was in New York’s Union Square. There, directly across from the popular garden, was a huge mock battle ship with its guns aimed at the tomatoes and cabbages. I have to chuckle when I visualize this nature vs. man gardening feat. It was a success and probably started thousands of people gardening. I did my part by selling “Victory Garden” seeds in my neighborhood, (my parents had quite a collection) and have tried to find others who could recall the project.

If you have seed packets from last season, you may want to test them to see if they are still viable. One way is to wet a paper towel and place some of the seeds about one inch from the edge and roll up loosely. Put this where it will be warm, making sure to keep it moist.

After a few days, check to see if the seeds have become active. If a few are sprouting, when you plant them — simply sow thicker than usual.  Near the end of February is often the time for this procedure, as you will want the sprouting to be acceptable to planting conditions.

With the changing weather sometimes being blustery, indulge yourself with a cup of hot tea, a good gardening magazine and plan your spring garden. You’ll be glad you did.