Who doesn't love a sneak peek? One of the most exciting reveals during a visit to Mr Fothergill's trial grounds near Newmarket last week has to be Optigrow, their new primed seed for the amateur grower.
What is primed seed?
Primed seed is used commercially, especially for lettuces. In an interesting article on Seed Dynamics Incorporated's website, H J Hill explains:
Priming is a water-based process that is performed on seeds to increase uniformity of germination and emergence from the soil, and thus enhance vegetable stand establishment. Priming decreases the time span between the emergence of the first and the last seedlings. Priming also increases the rate of emergence so the stand establishes itself faster. A uniform plant stand helps to ensure maximum cartons per acre at harvest. Wide ranges in seedling emergence decrease the amount of harvestable plants per acre, an undesirable situation. Why Prime Seeds?
So, given that you won't be packing boxes of veg from your garden plot, what's in it for the amateur? Well, Mr Fothergill's, which is using Swedish seed priming technology, have chosen plants that often present problematic germination - think parsley and parsnips.
Here's what they say:
Extensive trialling of Optigrow seeds under garden conditions has consistently produced more uniform crops, better harvests and quality vegetables. There is also evidence that germination becomes possible under a wider range of conditions, allowing gardeners to sow Optigrow seeds in colder, warmer and drier conditions than the ideal. In comparison trials nearly 80% of Optigrow-treated Carrot Amsterdam seed germinated within 50 hours from sowing, compared to 90 hours for the same percentage of standard seed.
The primed seed also enjoys increased vigour through the life of the plant, out-growing competing weeds.
The demonstration trays, with lines of primed and unprimed parsley, carrots and onions showed a clear difference in the speed with which the primed seed had got away. Apparently results are even better under normal, rather than laboratory-grown, conditions; regardless of temperature and soil type, the primed seed should appear notably earlier. On top of this, the treatment seems to reduce mould growth, creating a clean germination.
What's the difference between primed seed used by commercial growers and Mr Fothergill's?
The problem with primed seed produced for commercial growers is that it's not been created to have a shelf-life, which makes it useless for seed packets spending time in garden centres. Mr Fothergill's is using a patented process that has shown itself to create primed seed that's viable for two years (probably longer, but that will be the date on the packets).
The process brings seeds to the start of germination, kicking enzymes into readiness. They're then dried completely. When sowing brings them into contact with moisture, they remember the stage they were at and leap into action.
There are different methods of priming, but chemicals are often involved. A notable feature of the method used by Mr Fothergill's is that it only employs air and water in carefully controlled conditions with no chemicals involved at all.
The full Optigrow range will be available from garden centres from January 2018.
In the meantime, you might like to consider that it is possible to prime seeds yourself - to an extent. See Getting a Good Stand of Garden Spinach on the Growveg blog.