I get a lot of emails about seeds not germinating. It’s almost impossible to pin down what has gone wrong. There are legal standards for seed quality so it’s a good bet that the seeds were OK when they left the merchant but how they’ve been kept prior to sowing can affect germination rates.
That’s why I generally prefer to get my seeds by mail order rather than from a store where they may have been subject to fluctuating and hot temperatures.
Once the seeds are sown, they’re depending on the right levels of moisture and the temperature falling into the range they’re programmed by nature to germinate at. Some seeds are very tolerant but some, like parsley and parsnips which are notorious for poor germination, are not.
Professional growers often pay a premium for primed seeds that are more tolerant to poor sowing conditions and faster to start than normal seeds. The priming process basically provides the conditions (water and temperature) to get the seeds to the point where they are about to germinate and then stops them.
The grower gets seeds that are faster to germinate, more predictable germination and more germination that is more tolerant of poor conditions giving generally better overall results. The problem with these treatments for home growers is that the storage life of the seeds is greatly reduced, usually to just 6 months.
This year Fothergills have broken the barriers and introduced a range called Optigrow for home growers. These are primed seeds, ready to go when they hit the ground. It’s a revolutionary, non-chemical seed priming treatment that uses only water and air to get the seed biologically ready for germination, breaking dormancy prior to use. The seeds are then quickly dried back to a storable state for packing, just like any other seed.
Not only do Optigrow seeds promise superfast germination, they are also proven to produce vigorous seedlings able to out-grow competing weeds. Extensive trialling of Optigrow seeds under garden conditions for Fothergills has consistently produced more uniform crops, better harvests and quality vegetables.
RHS Chelsea Product of the Year 2018
The Optigrow seeds were the winner of the RHS Chelsea Product of the Year – The judges said:
‘In a world where we are trying to remove the use of chemicals, this unique non-chemical process naturally prepares seeds for more successful sowing. Anything that removes disappointment in seed germination is to be welcomed.’
Pricing & Range
There are currently 19 varieties available in the Optigrow range priced between £1.80 and £3.75 which is comparable for untreated seeds.
Some concerns about Optigrow seeds
I did have a couple of concerns that I raised with Fothergills. Happily they were unfounded.
How long will Optigrow seeds keep for?
Most of us tend to sow half a packet of seeds one year and the rest the next. How long will Optigrow seeds keep for?
Longevity / shelf life of the treated seed has been of huge importance to us. While the principal of non-chemical seed priming has been used by professional growers for some time, the process used has reduced shelf life to around 6 months – fine for growers who are sowing straight away but, for packet seed that needs to be in-store for periods of time and, as you mention, stored by the customer, it was no good. The advantage of the process we use is that we have a three year shelf life – equivalent to non-treated seeds.
Are the Optigrow seeds more sensitive to poor storage conditions than untreated seeds?
Since some growers don’t keep their seeds in ideal conditions, are the Optigrow seeds more sensitive to poor storage conditions than untreated seeds?
…where they have been kept in less than ideal conditions, we do not believe that they would be anymore sensitive to these conditions than untreated. The treatment does, however, increase the range of conditions that they will germinate under – cooler, warmer, drier and wetter than would normally be the case.
Optigrow seeds are available from Fothergills