Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station pp. 212-213 (October, 1889)

DO OLD SEEDS OF CUCURBITS GIVE SHORTER VINES THAN RECENT SEEDS?
L. H. Bailey

There is a belief that new or fresh seeds of squashes, pumpkins, and melons produce plants which "run to vine" more that those from old seeds; and this supposed redundance of vegetation is considered to exist at the expense of fruitfulness. An extensive test was made upon this point last season. The following species and varieties were grown: Squashes: White Bush Scallop, 3 ages, Summer Crookneck, 2 ages. Watermelons: Peerless, 2 ages, Mountain Sprout, 4 ages, Black Spanish, 3 ages. Muskmelons: Nutmeg, 3 ages, Improved Canteloupe, 2 ages. Cucumbers: Long Green, 4 ages, Short Green, 3 ages, Early Cluster, 2 ages. The age of the seeds ranged from one to six years. About 450 plants were grown, all of which were measured, including the laterals, and records were made of the numbers and weights of fruits. The plantation occupied a poor piece of land, with no other enrichment than a thin sod which was plowed under. The land had not been cropped for some years, and was therefore uniform in character, and well adapted to the experiment. The figures are much too extended to be presented here.

There was no evidence whatever that older seeds give shorter and more productive vines. In fact, there was no uniformity of behavior between seeds of like ages. The largest vines in some instances came from oldest seeds, in others from the newest, and in others from those of intermediate ages. All this variation is evidently due to heredity of the individual seeds, or to conditions of growth of the immediate parents, rather than to age of seeds. The following summary of figures obtained from cucumbers may be taken as an indication of results in other species:

VARIETY Year when the Seeds were grown No. of Plants Raised Average Length
of Vine, with Branches
Ratios
Long Green 1883
1884
1886
1888
20
15
13
13
10.1
9.1
17.1
14.1
1.11
1.
1.88
1.55
Short Green 1884
1886
1888
3
4
14
25.7
17.5
16.9
1.52
1.03
1.
Early Cluster 1882
1888
10
12
8.7
13.8
1.
1.58

The ratios in the last column are obtained by taking the shortest average growth as 1, and dividing the other averages in the same variety by this number. In the first variety, Long Green, the shortest vines grew from 1884 seed and the longest from 1886 seed. In the Short Green, the shortest growth was from the most recent seed and the longest from the oldest seed, while in the Early Cluster the result is reversed.


CybeRose note: This study seems to contradict earlier reports. However, I wonder whether the results would have been different if the plants had been grown on good soil rather than poor, which might have encouraged the more vigorous plants grown from fresh seed. The point, I think, of using old seeds is to produce plants that are physiologically older than seeds from fresh seed. Optimum conditions would therefore favor fruit production rather than excessively vigorous vines.

I object to reducing all measurements to averages with no mention of variance. If the plants raised from fresh seed varied widely in vigor, it would not be too remarkable if only seeds with the most potential vigor survived long storage. Thus, the average vine length of vines from fresh seeds would be reduced if some plants were unusually short, and the average lengths of plants from older seeds—assuming the weaker seeds died in storage—would be inflated. This is particularly to be suspected in the case of Short Green with only 3 plants from four-year-old seed and 4 from two-year-old.

It would be desirable to know whether the plants raised from older seeds were earlier bearing, another reason growers had preferred old seeds. Also, how many seeds were sown in each trial?