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Old March 28, 2015   #1
ContainerTed
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Default Helmet Heads - How I deal with them

It's the time of year when this curse is set upon us. If, like me, you don't pre-soak your seeds before sticking them in the mix, there may be something here for you. I'm not sure that pre-soaking helps. Your results may vary.

The following pictures show how I deal them. My tools for the job include some very sharp tipped tweezers, a squeeze bottle of water capable of delivering one drop or less at a time, and a steady hand.

Not all "helmet heads" can be removed immediately. We must be patient and wait until the cotyledons have emerged a good ways. Until then, we can only use our squirt bottle to keep that seed cover damp and soft. This will make the little plant's job of shedding the hull easier.

CAUTION: If the seed hull doesn't come off easily, wet it down some more and give it a few minutes to soften up. If you pull too hard, the little plant will come right out of the mix. So, the word of the day is "Gently, very Gently".

I hope this helps some of you with this dubious task.


Isn't this intimidating. You do all the prep work, gather the seeds, plant them in the mix, and wait nervously for your babies to make a showing. When they do, you have the dreaded "Helmet Heads".

Pix1.JPG

You must choose good removal candidates. If the cotyledons are not showing at all, removal ain't gonna happen.

Pix2.JPG

First, you have to get some water on those seed hulls to soften them up. Warm or room temperature water works more quickly than cold. Don't use hot water as that might kill (cook) the little plant.

Pix3.JPG

Then we can GENTLY pull off the offending hull and free the little plant to start its life for us.

Pix4.JPG

My squirt bottle has deposited water in a small enough quantity that it stays on the helmet head and doesn't fall to the mix.

Pix5.JPG

Note the water droplet on the one on the right. If you can achieve this, the softening of the hull goes much faster.

Pix6.JPG

Now, take those sharp tweezers and take hold of the hull on its end, carefully avoiding grabbing it across the middle. The middle still holds the rest of those little green thingies you are trying to free up. So don't squish the middle.

Pix7.JPG

Okay, you've got it. Now comes the hard part. You need to pull very gently. I SAID VERY GENTLY. If you pull too hard, you risk the whole thing breaking its little root and coming out of the mix. I SAY AGAIN, .... GENTLY.

Pix8.JPG

You'll be able to see the hull slipping and releasing the plant. Just be patient. When the hull finally comes off, it will seem like the little seedling opens up its leaves and shouts, "Here I am". This job is done. Now, find another helmet and repeat the process. I usually have several in the wetting down stage when I'm doing mine.

Pix9.JPG
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Old March 28, 2015   #2
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Ted,
Very nicely illustrated!
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Old March 28, 2015   #3
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Ted, I can't see the pictures,not your fault, but some fault with my software, but I also have a way to remove helmet heads that I think may work a bit better than yours.

Apply some of your own saliva to the head, let it soak in for an hour or so and repeat. Carefully squeeze it open, and if that doesn't work use tweezers.

It works since saliva has LOTS of enzymes in it that will digest the outer shell of the helmet head, softening it up/

Try it, you might like it.

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Old March 28, 2015   #4
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Carolyn, I have tried the saliva method. Yes, it does work. But I have so many to do that I end up having to "wet my whistle" so often that I get too tipsy to finish the job.

My DW has issued the marching orders and I have to use regular water from now on.

However, from time to time, I find a way of utilizing the method you have described in such a way that she doesn't find out.

Have you ever heard of using a mixture of Beer and Tomato Juice to soften up Helmet Heads???
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Old March 29, 2015   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ContainerTed View Post
Carolyn, I have tried the saliva method. Yes, it does work. But I have so many to do that I end up having to "wet my whistle" so often that I get too tipsy to finish the job.

My DW has issued the marching orders and I have to use regular water from now on.

However, from time to time, I find a way of utilizing the method you have described in such a way that she doesn't find out.

Have you ever heard of using a mixture of Beer and Tomato Juice to soften up Helmet Heads???
Nope, never heard of beer and tomato juice to soften up helmet heads, but I guess that's what you were using.

To increase saliva flow what you do is to chew on rubber bands. When I was in grad school there was a dentistry student doing a thesis with one of the faculty in the department I was in and Steve went around to every faculty member and grad student with a flask and a bag of sterile rubber bands and asked all to tell him when the flask was full and then he'd replace it.

His name was Steve, as I said above, I can't spell his last name, he was from Thailand and ended up being the dentist to the King and Queen of Thailand.

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Old March 29, 2015   #6
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I will have to try this! thank you!
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Old March 29, 2015   #7
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So far I've only had one helmet head out of 49 seedlings. Three applications of saliva about 15 minutes apart had it sliding right off.
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Old March 29, 2015   #8
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I leave them to it and let nature take its course. I watch my seedlings closely and put them under lights as soon as the very first seed is up. Cover off. I use moist sterile seedling mix and keep it moist as I think failure of the seed coat to come off is a lot more common in dry conditions and with old seed. I also think heat mats contribute by making the plants germinate too fast before the seed coat is soft enough. I do not use a heat mat for germinating tomatoes. I do not see a lot of "helmet heads" but the few that do come up with the seed coat still on I just leave them alone. A vigorous seedling will grow and break itself out of its seed coat on its own and if it doesn't manage to do that then it's failed its first important test and gets culled there and then as a dud. Most will get out on their own. I am a ruthless tomato mommy and don't mess with weak/ abnormal seedlings any more. Plant two seeds if you can for every one plant you want and plan on selecting only the best and that will remove the temptation/necessity of nursing along weak seedlings.

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Old March 29, 2015   #9
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Nice demonstration Ted. I have doing the saliva thing, but am getting tired of eating dirt, even though I wipe my hands on jeans before getting spit. I usually am trying to take helmets off as I transplant.

This is the first year I have had so many helmet heads. Even with trying the spit, I usually end up breaking the heads off and having to toss the plant. I still have a bunch of helmet heads, so I am going to give your method a try. Thanks! : )
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Old March 29, 2015   #10
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New definition of "a spitter."
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Old March 30, 2015   #11
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Insecticidal soap works wonderfully , too. I had some peppers today that have been germinating for quite some time now.. sigh... and as I was picking out the readier ones I happened to have a spray bottle of the insectical soap and I squirted a little on and it made them slide right off after a few minutes. I have way too may to spit at them.
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Old April 2, 2015   #12
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ContainerTed, very nicely done! I soak my seeds until they show signs of sprouting and still get helmet heads. I generally do as KarenO and let them be.
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Old April 2, 2015   #13
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My strategy for dealing with Helmet Heads is to cull them. I need plants to spring out of the ground and grow normally without taking up any of my attention other than watering. I figure that any plant that can't do that isn't holding up its end of the domestication bargain and can be eliminated.

Because I raise nearly all of my own seed, I don't allow the propagation of traits that I consider to be defective... If I started rescuing helmet heads I figure that I'd be encouraging more of them next year. I'm a culling maniac... If a seed germinates late it gets culled. If the cotyledons don't look normal it gets culled. If it grows slowly it gets culled. Helmet heads get culled.
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Old April 3, 2015   #14
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Helmet heads happen most of the time because the seed wasn't planted deep enough and the soil medium isn't natural.
If the seed is planted deep enough the soil will keep the hull moist and drag the seed hull off as it comes up through the ground.

It isn't genetic.

Culling a helmet head is the equivalent of culling your child because they are cold because you didn't give them a coat to wear.

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Old April 3, 2015   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KarenO View Post
I leave them to it and let nature take its course. I watch my seedlings closely and put them under lights as soon as the very first seed is up. Cover off. I use moist sterile seedling mix and keep it moist as I think failure of the seed coat to come off is a lot more common in dry conditions and with old seed. I also think heat mats contribute by making the plants germinate too fast before the seed coat is soft enough. I do not use a heat mat for germinating tomatoes. I do not see a lot of "helmet heads" but the few that do come up with the seed coat still on I just leave them alone. A vigorous seedling will grow and break itself out of its seed coat on its own and if it doesn't manage to do that then it's failed its first important test and gets culled there and then as a dud. Most will get out on their own. I am a ruthless tomato mommy and don't mess with weak/ abnormal seedlings any more. Plant two seeds if you can for every one plant you want and plan on selecting only the best and that will remove the temptation/necessity of nursing along weak seedlings.

KO
My philosophy exactly. I only keep one out of 3~4 seeds I start. Survival of the fittest from day 1.
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