There's been a handy technology developed for hard-to-handle seeds like carrot and lettuce. You can now buy them in pelletized form - each seed is enclosed in a clay-based round pellet. They are touted as reducing "time-consuming thinning and non-uniform stands", to quote the Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog.
This is true, as far as it goes. What they don't tell you, though, is that often these seeds are also pre-prepped for quicker germination. This is done by exposing the seeds to water, waiting until they've swelled and are about to break out of their coat (germinate, in other words), then drying them down again. This has the advantage of improving the germination vigor of the seeds.
This also has the effect of dramatically shortening the lifespan of these seeds. Carrot and lettuce seed are normally good for quite a few years if stored properly. The pre-prepped pelleted seeds, though, are only good for a single growing season at best!
I like to use my seeds for several years. This allows me to try a lot of different varieties for a small amount of money. I do not think these pelleted seeds are a good idea for this reason. What really bothers me, though, is that a normally very ethical seed company isn't giving their customers the whole picture! If I hadn't specifically asked them about it, I'd never have found this out. Fortunately I had prior knowledge about commercial pre-prepping for farmers, and was able to ask the right questions.
If you buy all new seed every year, then pelleted seed might be a great help to you. But remember, caveat emptor - make sure you know exactly what you're ordering before you buy!
UPDATE: The Johnny's catalog now explains that their pelleted lettuce seed is pre-primed. Good for them! But unfortunately the carrot seed does not carry the same information, even though they pre-prime that seed as well.
All contents © Travis Saling
This page was last updated July 9, 2011