This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
People often have seeds on hand that they would like to sow, if only sure of their vitality. A correspondent of the Gardener's Magazine gives the following for turnips, and it may do for many others : -
" Before sowing a field of turnips the seed was invariably tested in the following simple manner : An ordinary dinner plate was taken, and a circular piece of fine flannel just large enough to cover the lower part was laid upon it. The plate was then placed on a table before a window on the sunny side of the house. The whole mass of seed to be tested was then thoroughly mixed by hand, so that a fair sample could be taken from it by a small spoon. The seeds so taken were laid on a piece of paper and carefully counted, but without selection for quality, and a number, say 200 seeds, were then spread evenly on the piece of flannel before named, after which a little cold water was gently poured over the flannel until it was saturated, but not quite covered; in this way it was allowed to stand for a few days exposed to the influence of light and air, when the swollen seeds were seen to have germinated and thrown up long and slender white shoots of half an inch or more in height. All that was then necessary was simply to count the number of dead seeds that lie exposed on the flannel in the same condition in which they were placed there, and hence the precise percentage of live and dead seeds were accurately ascertained.
When this percentage was unsatisfactory, my father invariably returned the seed to the merchant and bought some other in its place, but he never lost a crop of turnips from using dead seeds".