Seed viability testing can be fun

mung beans germinating

Mung beans beginning to germinate…

I remember one of my gardening buddies, Novice Gardener, sharing a story about throwing a bunch of old seeds in a pot and expecting them to compost down because they were old. Instead, many of them germinated, and she had to hustle to separate the many seedlings.

I found myself in a similar situation recently when I decided to test a pack of mung beans that was almost two years old. Like my buddy, I didn’t expect them to have life left in them, so I took a couple of handfuls of beans and soaked them in a cup. To my surprise, they began to germinate within two days, so I put them in a larger container filled with perlite to continue soaking. I chose perlite because it’s a light medium that I thought would be easy to extract seedlings from when it was time to transplant them.

At this point, I still thought that the germination rate would be low. Oh boy, was I wrong!

mung beans germinating in perlite

Serious germination beginning – little did I know that this was just the tip of the iceberg!

By the next day, the top layer of perlite began to erupt with little bean sprouts. There were so many that they displaced the perlite, so much so that the area surrounding the container of sprouts looked like it had snowed – there was so much white perlite drifting around in the breeze!

little forest of mung bean sprouts

The little forest of bean sprouts. I did not expect this…

After that, it was plain madness. I think the entire two handfuls of beans germinated, and like beans like to do, they grew at an amazing pace!

too many mung bean plants clustered in a small space

I cannot believe these grew to this stage in less than a week!

By the end of the week, I had to quickly choose different spots to plant out the little jungle of mung bean plants. I wasn’t concerned if they survived or not, because whichever the case, they would add fertility to the soil. Well, because of the hot weather that we’ve had over the last several weeks, not all of the plants survived. However, those that did are now maturing, and we’re seeing the first bean pods growing now.

mung bean pods

Mung bean pods forming. Next generation beans, here we come!

It makes me so happy to see things grow from seed to harvest! It makes seed viability testing so satisfying!

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Growing from saved seeds doesn’t always work out

red zinnia flower

The red zinnia flower that became the apple of my eye.

Some months ago, I went on a little flower-buying binge. One of the plants that had caught my eye was the zinnia. If you recall, I once grew that flowering plant years ago, and it had fascinated me because the composite flower was so visually interesting. Like nature, it “went out of season” with me after a while, so when I saw it at the nursery, I decided to buy a couple of plants – one red and one yellow, because the colours were so vibrant.

Don't these red zinnias look gorgeous in a cluster?

Don’t these red zinnias look gorgeous in a cluster?

When I got home and spent more time with the plants, it wasn’t long before I fell head over heels in love with the red version of the plant. The way the red contrasted with the yellow centre was just too gorgeous. The yellow was pretty, but the entire flower was yellow – and it seemed to attract more pests than the red one (think of yellow sticky insect traps…). I was determined to keep growing red zinnias, so when the first flower had passed its prime, I left it to form seeds.

zinnia seedlings growing in cups

A little forest of zinnia seedlings

I harvested the seeds when the flower head started drying up, and was delighted to get some fully formed, hard brown seeds. I planted them, and then because I hate to waste anything, I threw in the less matured seeds to mulch the ones I had sown. Guess what? A lot of them also germinated! I had a little forest of seedlings, and I planted them out.

Second generation zinnia flower - looks very much like the parent

Second generation zinnia flower – looks very much like the parent

That’s when things got “interesting”. Some of the plants were a bit weedy – the stems were long and curly, like they were starved for light (which they weren’t) – and they just didn’t grow into strong plants. Those that did grow looked nice and strong like the parent plant. Then they formed buds, and things again got interesting…

slightly malformed zinnia flower

The flower on this plant didn’t form properly – the cluster of yellow flowers is smaller and not arranged in a ring, like the parent’s

I call this the pom-pom zinnia flower - it has way too many outer petals, and no disc flowers in the centre!

I call this the pom-pom zinnia flower – it has way too many outer petals, and no disc flowers in the centre!

mutant zinnia flower

There’s only one thing to call this – a mutant zinnia flower! It had no outer petals, and didn’t form proper disc flowers in the centre. How bizarre!

Lessons learned from this experience – use the best seeds and be firm in discarding the rest. Although the second generation of seeds should be acclimatised to our garden, the quality of plant cannot be guaranteed. It was an interesting experiment, though!

© 2019 curiousgardener.com All rights reserved.


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Heat-loving bougainvillea

Dark pink bougainvillea - what I consider the more common colour

Dark pink bougainvillea – what I consider the more common colour

The heat is on, and our bougainvillea plants are loving it! Every other plant seems to be affected by the hot, dry weather – the lawn is turning brown in bigger and bigger patches, and flowering and fruiting plants are wilting by lunchtime. If we forget to water them for at least two days, there will be fatalities.

I normally despise our bougainvillea plants because I get scratched and poked by their thorny stems whenever I prune them. It doesn’t matter how thick the gloves are or how gingerly I handle the stems – the plants always get their revenge on me. However, the amount of colour that they provide in this weather is just gorgeous!

Sweet pink-and-white bi-coloured bougainvillea flowers

Sweet pink-and-white bi-coloured bougainvillea flowers

My dad was the one who chose the plants. I have to admit that he had a good eye for this selection of colours! Besides the standard purply-pink, there are a couple of shades of orange, and the lovely bi-coloured pale pink and white variety. I have no idea what their names are; we just go by colour. I suspect a couple of them were given as cuttings.

Pale peach bougainvillea flowers - not the most appealing colours to me, but certainly prolific when in bloom!

Pale peach bougainvillea flowers – not the most appealing colours to me, but certainly prolific when in bloom!

For years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get the plants to grow in that nice compact shape, but have been thwarted by them because they seem to burst into bloom only when there’s a long gangly stem. I know that you’re supposed to prune the stem back after the flowers are done, but each time I’ve tried, they refused to to flower, and remain leafy only until they had grown nice long stems…

Dark orange, with a tinge of pink bougainvillea flowers - I quite like this colour!

Dark orange, with a tinge of pink bougainvillea flowers – I quite like this colour!

Well, we’ve been through a few phases where for one reason or another, some of the plants have been pruned right back to a single, main stem, and I know from this experience that the plants are hardy and will start growing new stems even from a single, bare woody main stem. So I’ve become more adventurous. We recently planted on a couple of bougainvillea plants that had become pot-bound, and once settling them into bigger, roomier pots, I gave each plant a massive prune, just keeping short stems. It took more, regular maintenance than I’m used to, but one of the plants finally started taking the “bonsai” look. Thanks to the weather, we’ve got the beginnings of that compact flowering look I’ve been yearning after. The other re-potted plant – a purply-pink one -  is stubbornly sticking to the “I’m only going to burst into bloom when I have long stems” attitude. We’ll see if we can come to a compromise or not…

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A multitude of mulberries!

We've never had this many mulberries growing at a time!

We’ve never had this many mulberries growing at a time!

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked at the mulberry plant this week. It’s one of those plants that doesn’t require lots of attention, apart from regular pruning.  As a matter of fact, this plant started as a cutting in a pot, that sneakily took root through a crack in the cement paving it was on. It has been in this location for more than half a year and was pruned about a month ago when we were clearing the garden before Christmas. Prior to this, it bore fruits in small, scattered clumps like our mulberry plants normally do. So, I did a double-take and had to take a closer squint at the branches when I saw the incredible number of mulberries lining the branches!

What you see is just part of the branch - imagine a 2-metre long branch lined with clumps and clumps of mulberries!

What you see is just part of the branch – imagine a 2-metre long branch lined with clumps and clumps of mulberries!

I don’t know what we did to get this result, but I’ve been waiting for years to see our mulberry plants have this kind of yield! There was a video I saw years ago of someone’s mulberry tree practically dripping with fruits. I figured he had a different variety, or perhaps that our climate wasn’t suitable for mulberries, and had resigned myself to getting small harvests of a couple of handfuls (if we were lucky) at a time. I know that the birds will be competing with us for the fruits, but if we could actually get majority of the fruits, we would be able to make a mulberry pie! Or try another dessert that Mike, one of my old readers, once shared with me involving mulberries, other fruit and coconut cream. Yum! Maybe we’ll net up the plant to keep the birds away this one time…

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