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Is it possible to germinate 20 year old pepper seeds?

Posted by wonkasaurusroo Oregon (My Page) on
Sat, Jun 1, 13 at 20:55

I come from a long line of avid gardeners, but am a complete novice myself. This is the first year I've tried a garden. So far it's going well!

I recently found a bag of pepper seeds tucked in the bottom of my great-grandmother's jewelry box. I remember watching her carefully tend her garden when I was a child, and would love it if I could manage to get one of the seeds to grow. There are quite a few, so I could take a few shots at it.

My question is, would it be possible to resurrect these seeds? If so, how would I start? What time of year would be best?

Temperatures here don't range far past 45-85 degrees at the outside between the seasons. I have floor to ceiling windows to the south and west, and a teeny little balcony garden.

Any advice would be much appreciated!

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Is it possible to germinate 20 year old pepper seeds?

You won't know until you try!

RE: Is it possible to germinate 20 year old pepper seeds?

  • Posted by ixel 5a (My Page) on
    Thu, Jul 18, 13 at 14:50

it's definitely possible! I don't know much about the specifics of how to do it, but I've heard more than one story of people successfully "resurrecting" long lost cultivars from old seeds - often much older than yours!

good luck!

RE: Is it possible to germinate 20 year old pepper seeds?

You could try the "paper towel" germinaton method to see if a few will grow?

RE: Is it possible to germinate 20 year old pepper seeds?

The seeds found in ancient tombs have been germinated. Totally possible. You may want to soak some of the seeds first for a day, then plant them. Keep the soil warm and watered. Good luck!

This post was edited by alouyakis on Fri, Aug 2, 13 at 15:56

RE: Is it possible to germinate 20 year old pepper seeds?

When I was in the 5th grade my science fair project was about this very topic, "can you grow old seeds, the germination race"?

My teacher had bean seeds that were over 20 years old that were kept in their bags, in a stable conditioned environment.

In the end the old seeds grew just as well as ones I got brand new from the store.

So as long as they were kept well, you should be good to go! GL

RE: Is it possible to germinate 20 year old pepper seeds?

Yes it is possible. I knew a lady that found a pack of heirloom white eggplant seed in her freezer that was 20 plus years old and they germinated MUCH better than the packet of seed she had ordered from Parks that same year. This was in the 80's ands I never will forget this as I was working part time for her in her greenhouse/nursery business at the time.

RE: Is it possible to germinate 20 year old pepper seeds?

I hate to rain on this parade. It is very unlikely that any of your seed will grow. There is however a small chance if you will try the method below:

How can I improve germination and "Wake UP" old or poor quality seed?

Old seed gradually lose viability because of oxidation of the endosperm and loss of nutrients in the embryo. If the seed are dead, they are dead, no amount of heroics will make them grow. If even a few of the seed are viable, then here are some steps that may help.

1. The most important and essential item needed is water, but not in excess. The next most important is oxygen. Third most important is nitrate. Fourth is a source of growth regulators like salicylic acid.
2. Prepare a seed start tray with good quality moistened seed start mix such as promix bx. This MUST be sterile mix!
3. Get some miracle grow or peters or whatever variety available of water soluble fertilizer with a high nitrate content. Mix 1/2 teaspoon fertilizer with a quart of water. Alternatively, use "tea" made from oak or tea leaves as below.
4. Saturate a paper towel with the fertilizer water and then let just enough drip out to be thoroughly wet.
5. Loosely wrap a large quantity of seed in the paper towel so that the seed are not clumped up, but are in a single layer with each seed touching the towel.
6. Place the paper towel in a ziploc bag and drop it in the refrigerator for 16 to 20 hours. The bag MUST contain air, the seed need oxygen! See instructions below to increase the oxygen level if you feel that might help.
7. Remove the seed from the paper towel and carefully sow them on top of the seed start mix well spread out so that seed do not touch each other.
8. Do NOT heavily cover the seed, instead, gather a small amount of the seed start mix and dust it over the seed so that they can still receive light but have a light dusting on top. The easiest way to do this is by putting the seed start mix in a large mesh screen kitchen sifter/strainer. The seed must be spread out so they are not touching each other, otherwise mold will be a problem.
9. Place the seed start tray in an incubator at 85 degrees for up to 20 days. A chicken egg incubator works fine for this purpose. Humidity must be kept very high. If you are using a chicken egg incubator, fill the water tray and keep it filled. If you are trying to germinate them at room temp, cover them with a sheet of plastic to prevent evaporative cooling and to keep the seed moist.
10. check the seed daily to see if any are breaking the seedcoat and if so, put them in very bright light immediately.
11. Be patient. I have had seed take up to 7 weeks to germinate.
12. Old seed that manage to germinate may have a range of problems from stuck seedcoats to missing growing points. Stuck seedcoats are easiest to remove by coating them with saliva and waiting 30 minutes, then pinching the seedcoat off. If there is no growing point but the cotyledons are healthy, wait patiently, they will often generate an adventitious shoot which will grow normally.

Increasing the oxygen content in the ziploc bag can help. I have done this by putting a cup of hydrogen peroxide in a pint jar and then adding a package of dry yeast. This releases a huge amount of oxygen which you can capture by holding the ziploc bag over the top of the jar.

To make seed tea: Get some dry oak leaves, crumble them up, then pour 1 quart of boiling water over them. Let them steep until the water is cool, then pour the water through a strainer into a quart jar and add 1/2 of an aspirin (pure old plain generic aspirin is salicylic acid, a plant growth regulator) and 1/2 of a teaspoon of a water soluble fertilizer such as miracle grow. Soak a paper towel in the liquid and wring out most of it. This also works using ordingary "tea" leaves. The tannic acid from the oak leaves prevents mold and helps break dormancy. The salicylic acid from the aspirin stimulates growth. The nitrate from the fertilizer triggers the seed to initiate growth. But the magic secret is that it contains water. Remember, no matter what you do, you can't wake up a dead seed!

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