A seed is not just a seed.
Was I ever amazed after taking a tour of the Ball Seed Technology Lab in West Chicago, IL. The hours of work that it takes and the science behind what’s needed is far beyond what I knew about.
I recently attended the Ball Customer Appreciation Day in West Chicago, IL. Ball Seed is a one of our largest sources for the seed that purchase to produce our plants. For most items, we sow the seed with machines that automatically put 1 seed in a tray that has 512 cells. We try to achieve 100% germination but really expect more like 90-95%. The goal for the people working in the seed technology area is to help commercial growers be able to efficiently produce the plants by making it easier for us to sow them and/or easier for us to germinate them.
Many of the seed enhancements that are done by Ball are to make the seeds easier to sow on our machines. Some seeds, like begonias, are so small that you can not see them without help. Ball enhances the seed by putting a pellet on the seed so that they are visible and are able to be picked up by the machines. Some seeds have difficult shapes like marigolds which have a “tail” so it will not work well in the machine. Ball has a seed technology process that removes the “tail”. Some seeds like portulaca do best with multiple seeds sown together. Ball is able to put 5 seeds together in one pellet so we only have to sow one pellet. These types of seed enhancements make us more efficient.
Some seed is more difficult to germinate than others. We have specialized tables to provide the right temperature, humidity, light and more so that the seed has the best chance to germinate as possible. Still, some seeds are not easy so the technology lab has special procedures to make the seed better. One process is “priming” where they basically soak individual seeds in a special solution to start the germination process. Then they stop the process by drying it before they send it to us. When we sow the seed, the seed is able to start germinating faster and closer to 100%. Most of our pansy seed is produced this way.
It takes a lot of labor and technology to improve the seed but it helps greenhouse growers like Wenke Greenhouses to be more efficient in our production. Ball employs scientists, geneticists, and lab technicians to make this all happen. I walked away amazed that the cost of seed (and therefore our plants too) can be produced for the price that they are.
Written by Lisa Ambrosio. August 2011