Queensland Agricultural Journal,  13: 265-266 (1903)

Jules Rudolph

The following article on the above subject, by Jules Rudolph, translated from the Revue Horticole, we take from an exchange. The statements concerning old seed have been confirmed in this State, especially in the case of cucumbers, cabbages, melons, &c. We have clearly proved it ourselves with broad beans. Nearly three years ago we sowed a plot of beans, and had a fair crop. The balance of the beans was put away and forgotten until last April. Then they were sown, and the result has been a splendid crop of beans, the haulms measuring between 3 and 4 feet in height.

In a book published anonymously in the year 1765, I find the following passage about stocks:—

"Many amateurs and professional gardeners are certain that Stock (Giroflée) seed kept for five (5) or more years give a larger percentage of doubles than fresher seed. Taking for granted that this is really a fact, the reason is that the seeds which can only produce single Stocks decay, losing their germinating power sooner than the others. So old seed will, in fact, produce fewer plants, but of the plants produced there will be a greater percentage of doubles."

How far can we now believe this statement, made as long ago as 1765? According to traditional belief, it is better to use for some vegetables and flowers seeds from two to five years old. Why? Old gardeners say that new seeds produce plants less shapely, running more quickly to seed, and of such vigour that they do not preserve all their true characteristics, while seeds two or three years old give more shapely plants, with less tendency to run to seed. I believe in this, and will try, if possible to explain it.

All plants, or, I should say, most of them, have the power of reproducing themselves from seed, with their own characteristics, but at the same time they are influenced by atavism, which tries to make them revert to the specific types from which they came. Thus in the seed of some varieties two forces struggle, the one tending to make them revert to the primitive type, the other tending to reproduce certain acquired characters more or less fixed by selection. It is possible that this atavistic force weakens with the age of the seed, as also that abnormal vigour which makes certain plants run to seed if grown from seeds too fresh when sown. This is not the case with stocks. If we admit that double flowering of these plants is a weakness of degeneration, it is easily believed that seeds some years old no longer possess their pristine vigour, and can produce a double flower instead of a single. We have here a real transformation of the seed, a transformation which can be allowed if we remember that the less stocks are let run wild the more chance one has of obtaining double flowers. It is for this reason that stocks are grown in pots in Germany. In this way a much larger percentage of double flowers is obtained than in the case of plants grown in the open. Many growers prefer to use China Aster seed one or two years old, saying that by so doing they get more double flowers. But, above all, it is in the kitchen garden that it is necessary to know whether to choose young or old seed according to the species or variety. Thus, for beetroot and carrots, seed two years old should be used to let the root form better and keep the plants from running; for chicory and cabbages three-year-old seed, as then the plants shoot and ripen better. If we do not wish to let spinach, lettuce, or raddish run to seed, or differ from the, type, we must use two-year-old seed. For corn salad it is necessary to use seed at least a year old, as seed gathered in June will scarcely grow if sown in the following September or October.

*Le Bon Jardinier

In the Good Gardener* for 1829 gardeners are recommended to sow melon seed several years old, the same rule applying to the other Cucurbitaceae.

For early sowings of turnips it is necessary to use seed several years old to prevent the plants running to seed. The influence of time on the germinating value of seeds appears then to be a well-established fact, and, perhaps, it is hardly possible to account for this influence otherwise than by the theories I have put forward.