What’s Cookin’: Chocolate Oat Squares

What’s better than a savory, chocolate treat? A HOMEMADE, savory, chocolate treat! Everyone has their go-to recipes for potlucks, family get-togethers, and sweet treats. I happen to have one too, chocolate oat squares! These sweet, delectable treats are sure to be a crowd favorite. Follow me as I share my recipe for chocolate oat squares, but first we need to learn more about each ingredient!

Chocolate Oat Square Ingredients cookie bar ingredients

Butter- In the U.S. butter is made from churning cow’s milk until fat separates from the liquid buttermilk. After the fat begins to clump together, it forms butter, and the extra liquid, buttercream, is removed and placed in a separate container. Processors can add salt to the butter mixture to add more flavor. There are two kinds of butter; salted and unsalted. Unsalted butter has a shelf life around 3 months whereas salted butter has a shelf life up to 5 months because the salt acts as a preservative. Watch how butter is processed here.

Brown Sugar– Molasses is added to sugar to create brown sugar. Most of the brown sugar that is used commercially is made by adding molasses back to refined white sugar. It has a soft and moist texture. You will notice that there are two kinds of brown sugar at the store, light and dark. The difference between the two is the amount of molasses in it. Dark brown sugar contains about 6.5% molasses where as light brown sugar contains about 3.5% molasses. The thin film of molasses covers each sugar crystal giving it a rich flavor.

Eggs– Iowa is the number one egg producing state in the country! Nearly 55 million laying hens produce 16 billion eggs a year in Iowa. Eggs are very important while baking. They add structure, leavening, richness, color, and flavor to your delicious treats.

Vanilla ExtractVanilla extract is made by percolating chopped vanilla beans with ethyl alcohol and water in large steel containers. The beans stay with the extracts for about 48 hours then the extract is filtered and stored in a holding tank until it is time to be bottled.

Quick Cook Oatmeal– Oatmeal is produced from a grain called oats. It is harvested and then processed. There are various types of cuts for oats, old fashioned, quick, instant, and steel cut. The total cooking time is determined by the different type of cut. Quick cook oatmeal typically has a shorter cooking time because they have a finer consistency compared to the old fashioned and steel cut oats. They are also called “One-Minute Oats.”

All-Purpose FlourAll purpose flour is the most common kind of flour you’ll find, hence the name all-purpose. It can be used in almost any recipe. It is made from a blend of both hard and soft wheat grains. The bran and the germ have been removed leaving only the starchy endosperm for the flour.  It is used as a thickening agent in recipes. It also provides structure to the food product.

SaltSalt is obtained in three ways: evaporation from sea water, mining salt from the earth, and creating salt brines. Table salt is most commonly a product of salt brines. Salt brines are made by pumping water below earth’s surface to dissolve salt deposits and to create a brine. The brine is then pumped to the earth’s surface and evaporated to create salt. This method produces a very clean, inexpensive, high yielding table salt.

Baking Soda– Baking soda is used as a leavening agent in cooking. It makes food rise by creating a reaction that causes the release of carbon dioxide. Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, comes from soda ash, through the Solvay process or from trona ore.

Sweetened Condensed MilkSweetened condensed milk comes in a vacuum-sealed, sterile can. It is made from milk and sugar. The milk is flash-heated to 185°F for several seconds, then it is piped to an evaporator where the water is removed. After the water is removed, the milk is held under vacuum pressure until it measures between 30-40% solid. It has a thick, syrupy consistency. It is cooled and sugar is added. The added sugar helps preserve the condensed milk. The sweetened condensed milk is then piped into sterilized, vacuum-sealed cans.

Semisweet Chocolate Chips– Chocolate is made from cocoa, which comes from the seeds of the cacao tree. These trees require very warm temperatures and lots of rain to grow. You can find most cacao trees where the many of the world’s rain forests lie. The pods are harvested and split by hand. Inside the pod are cacao beans and pulp. They are spread out to dry and they begin to ferment. After they are fully dried, the beans are cracked. This creates shells and nibs. The nibs are the heart of the cacao seed. They are roasted and ground. Then the perfect combination of coca butter, cocoa powder, sugar and milk are mixed together and the chocolate is made.

Walnuts– Long roads of walnut orchards in California produce 99% of the United States’ production of English walnuts. Walnuts are a nut that is produced from a walnut tree. Harvest begins in late August and lasts until late November. The orchard floor is cleaned, then mechanical shakers shake each tree causing thousands of walnuts to fall to the ground. After the nuts are on the ground, mechanical harvesters are used to pick them up for cleaning. The nuts then travel to the processing plant where the outer green husk is removed by a huller and the nut is dried to 8% moisture level. After the walnuts are dried, they can either be packaged as inshell walnuts or shelled walnuts. The inshell walnuts are sized following the drying stage. Sizes include jumbo, large, medium, or baby, according to USDA standards. The shelled walnuts are further processed where they are cracked, screened, and sorted. They are hand-sorted before they are packaged. Watch this video how walnuts are processed.

Chocolate Oat Squares

Recipe from: Jennifer Eilts 

1 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons butter, softened, divided

2 Cups packed brown sugar

2 eggs

4 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided

3 Cups quick cook oatmeal

2 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk

2 Cups (12 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips

1 Cup chopped walnuts

  1. creamed butter and sugar 2In a large mixing bowl, cream cup butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and 2 teaspoons of vanilla. Combine the oats, flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and baking soda; stir into creamed mixture. Press two-thirds of oat mixture into a greased 15x10x1″ baking pan.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the milk, chocolate chips and remaining butter and salt. Cook and stir over low heat until chocolate has melted. Remove from the heat, stir in walnuts and remaining vanilla. Spread over crust. Sprinkle with remaining oat mixture.
  3. Bake at 350 F for 20-23 minutes or until golden brown Cool on a wire rack. Cut into squares. cookie-bars-baked.jpg

Now it’s time to enjoy your chocolate oat squares!

Do you have a go-to recipe too? Share your recipe in the comments and maybe next time your recipe will be highlighted in our What’s Cookin’ segment!


Milking Cows – Why Do They Do That?

Most-Americans-eat-like-MyPlate-for-just-a-week-a-year_wrbm_large.jpgDairy is an important part of a balanced diet. It can come in the form of cheese, yogurt, ice cream, or good old fashioned milk. Dairy can be a good source of protein, but one of the main reasons it is recommended as a part of the human diet is as a source of calcium, potassium, and vitamin D. All dairy products start with milk as the base, but why do we milk cows in the first place?

Dairy products can, in theory, come from any lactating mammal. Humans regularly consume milk from goats and sheep, but most dairy products come from cow’s milk. Humans and cows have evolved alongside each other for as many as 10,000 years. Cows were valuable animals in early days of agriculture because they could pull plows or turn grinding mills. But cows also provided meat when they were butchered and their hides were turned into leather for clothing, armor, and tools. When a mother needed more milk for her baby, cow milk was an easy alternative.

Different breeds of cattle are thought to have been domesticated in Africa and Europe. Those cattle were bred over thousands of years and the ones best at producing milk were selected separately from the ones best at producing muscle. Today, breeds like Holstein, Jersey, Brown Swiss, and Guernsey are known for their high milk production. They produce much more milk than goats and sheep and so cows are a natural choice. Because humans (particularly those with European ancestry) have been consuming dairy for so long, humans have evolved to be able to better digest milk. Not everyone has adapted, though, and that is why some people are lactose intolerant.

IMG_0072.JPGEarly farmers found that a cow starts producing a lot of milk after they have a baby calf. That calf can grow healthy and strong with that milk because it has all of the right nutrients. But eventually the calf will start eating grass. Early farmers discovered that if they keeping milking the cow after the calf has been weaned (starts eating grass) then the cow will continue producing milk. This milk could then be used for human consumption. It could be preserved into things like cheese and potentially be saved for lean times.

Dairy cows like Holsteins are bred for one purpose and that is to produce milk – approximately 6-7 gallons of it a day! Male dairy cattle are raised and sold for beef. Female dairy cattle are raised until they are about 1 year old at which time they are sexually mature. They are typically artificially inseminated and will become pregnant. It is through the process of pregnancy that their bodies start producing milk. Calves are weaned at a young age and farmers will start milking the cows and collecting the milk for human consumption.

IMG_1235.JPGFarmers have learned that a healthy, balanced diet will allow the cows to produce more milk. So they work with nutritionists to try to find the best feed ration for their cows that has the right balance of grains, roughage, vitamins, and minerals. For cows to make milk they need to drink a lot of fresh water – sometimes as much as 15 gallons or more a day. So the cows always have access to as much water as they want. Farmers have also learned that if the cows are comfortable and not stressed they will produce more milk. So farmers go to extreme lengths to make their cows comfortable and happy. They provide fans and misters in barns and outdoor areas to keep them comfortable and cool in the summer. Buildings are also heated in the winter to maintain more comfortable temperatures. Dairy cows are often provided with nice sand sleeping stalls that are comfortable for them to lay in. A lot of thought is put in to making the animals happy and comfortable.

The cows are milked two or three times a day and they easily fall into a routine. When their udder gets too full it can be somewhat uncomfortable and they usually want to get milked. Many modern dairies are highly automated and so animals can get milked at their leisure. The teats are washed with brushes and then lasers line up the cups to each teat. Gentle suction starts the milk flowing and it is then pumped to a storage tank. Cows like to get milked because they usually get a little ‘treat’ – maybe some extra feed when they are in the milking parlor. But if a cow tries to come through the milking parlor more than two or three times, automated sensors will not let that cow in. The automated milking parlors recognize which cow is in the parlor and adjust the teat cup settings to match that cow. The computer will track how much milk is let down and compare it to data from previous milkings. It is easy to quickly identify if there is anything wrong with an individual cow because milkings are usually pretty consistent.

A cow will continue to lactate and be milked for up to 10 months. During which time she is inseminated and becomes pregnant again. About two months before she is due to give birth again, milking is stopped and the cow is ‘dried off‘. This is intended to let the cow rest and be strong and healthy for the new baby. Once the new baby is born, milk is produced again and the cycle starts over.

Milk production becomes more and more efficient as farmers continue to learn to manage their animals including keeping them healthy, well fed, and comfortable. This in turn leads to cows producing a lot of great milk products for humans to enjoy. As a part of a balanced diet, why not enjoy a tall glass of milk or a summer treat like a bowl of ice cream!


5 Ways Technology Has Changed Farming

spraying corn

Farms have changed a lot in the last 50 years. Farms are bigger, livestock are usually raised inside, yields are higher, less manual labor is needed, and it’s not common to see dairy cows, beef cattle, pigs, and poultry on the same farm. Why is this? The answer is simple. Technology.

Think about how much technology has improved medicine & healthcare, communications, and transportation in the last 50 years. The field of agriculture has changed just as much.

Let’s take a look at the few of the ways technology has changed farming.

1. Livestock genetics & breeding. Improving livestock breeds is not a new practice. Humans began domesticating animals more than 10,000 years ago. Early farmers selected livestock for their adaption to specific climates and breed them to improve productivity, temperament, and meat, leather, and wool quality. While the practice is not new, the technology used to improve livestock genetics and breed animals has changed dramatically in recent years.

Animal geneticists work to identify elements within genes that can enhance animal growth, health, and ability to utilize nutrients. These genetic advances can increase production while reducing environmental impacts.

It is common for beef cattle and pig farmers to purchase straws of semen from male animals with superior genetics and use artificial insemination to breed females. Embryo transfer is also gaining popularity in the dairy and beef cattle industries.


2. Crop genetics & pest management. Like livestock breeding, the idea of improving plant genetics is not new. Farmers and scientists have used plant selection and breeding techniques to improve crop yield for years. Plant breeders have worked to improve germplasm to develop seeds with the best mix of characteristics to deliver the best yield for specific soil and weather conditions.

Today, plant breeders use a mix of both traditional and modern methods to improve plants. Modern breeding methods include marker assisted breeding, which helps speed up the time it takes to to get the desired improvement, and genetic engineering (GE). GE technology can improve a plant’s insect resistance, drought tolerance, herbicide tolerance, and disease resistance. This technology gives farmers and additional tool to help increase crop yields.


3. Labor and mechanization. Improved farm equipment has probably had the most significant impact on how farmers raise crops and care for livestock. Tractors, planters, and combines are much larger and efficient. Livestock barns have automated feeders. Robotic milking machines milk cows. These technologies and others have enabled farmers to produce more with less labor.

4. Livestock facilities. Aside from beef cattle, livestock are usually raised inside climate-controlled barns. Farmers do this to protect them from predators, extreme weather conditions, and diseases spread by animals and people. Raising livestock inside also enables farmers to utilize technology. Many livestock barns have Wi-Fi and automated feed and climate control systems. Farmers can monitor a cow in labor or adjust the temperature in a barn from their smart phones. If the power goes out, back-up generators start and the farmer is alerted with a text. This technology enables farmers to be more efficient and better care for their animals.


5.Specialization. When my grandparents were my age, farms looked like those in children’s books. They raised a little of everything on their farm. They made a good living and fed their family off 160 acres of corn and hay, a few cows, laying hens, some pigs and my grandmother’s large garden. Over the years, their farm changed. As they invested in tractors and better livestock facilities, they concentrated their efforts to make the most of those investments. They sold much of the livestock and focused on raising pigs, corn and soybeans.

Farms today are even more specialized. If farmers raise livestock, they usually raise one type and even focus on one growth-stage. Most pig farms specialize in farrowing or finishing. Beef cattle farmers generally have cow-calf herds and focus on breeding, calving and weaning, or finishing operations where they raise weaned caves to market weight. Specializing enables farmers to acquire the facilities, technology, knowledge and skills needed to produce the chosen crop or animal, and produce it well.

Farming has changed a lot. What do you think it will look like in the future? How will advances in technology continue to allow farmers to be more economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable?


What is IALF? And What do They Do?

One question I get pretty regularly in both professional and personal circles is, “What is it you actually do?” This is a fair question. My title isn’t exactly like other positions, like accountant, mechanic, or chef, where you can easily glean what my day-to-day tasks are. Because of that, I thought I’d take some time to explain really what my organization is about, and how we do that day-to-day or season-to-season.

I work for the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation. We’re a relatively small non-profit foundation that was founded four years ago to help promote agricultural literacy in all Iowans. By “all Iowans,” we mean three basic segments: students, educators, and adults.

Some of our programs, like this blog and our social media accounts, are directed towards the adult learner. We like to bring in topics that people may be curious about and answer questions about agriculture that people have. We do this a lot with our “Why Do They Do That?” series on our blog.

Many people assume that we do a lot of classroom programs. This is a fair assumption, considering IALF is the state contact for Agriculture in the Classroom, and classroom programs are a large part of Agriculture in the Classroom. However, since we are a small foundation and there are lots of school districts in the state, we rely on local Agriculture in the Classroom coordinators and volunteers to do most of these local programs. Instead of coming into those classrooms ourselves, we work with the local coordinators to give them support and resources and help make their jobs a little easier.

That doesn’t mean we don’t travel! A big part of our student programming comes from events, like the Iowa Children’s Water Festival, the Kid’s Club stage at the Iowa State Fair, and STEM festivals across the state. At these events, we like to do fun, hands-on activities that incorporate agriculture into STEM topics, like seed germination or genetics.


The segment we focus the most on, however, are the educators. We believe that if we reach educators, we can reach more people in the long run. However, this segment can be broken down further into formal educators (like K-12 classroom teachers) and informal educators (like Agriculture in the Classroom coordinators, local volunteers, and others that are interested). Because of this importance and all of the people it encompasses, we spend lots of time on resource development and support.

We create student readers, lesson plans, and kits that teachers can use in their classrooms. We also collect high-quality books, curricula, and other helpful materials that can be used by teachers. Every summer, we host teacher professional development workshops across the state to showcase these things and help display how agriculture can be used as the context for Iowa’s core standards. And if that wasn’t enough, we also offer grant and award programs specifically for teachers!


For our informal educators, we host training sessions at various conferences and meetings. We help them plan their programming and assist in aligning it to core standards. We lend them high-quality materials free of charge, and we also have grant opportunities that may be applicable for their programs. We also spend lots of time with these people talking about their goals, upcoming programs, and what we can do to help.

So what does a regular day look like for us? That depends! Our team consists of three full-time employees, an intern, and a part-time administrative assistant. Since there aren’t many of us, we tend to help each other out a lot with day-to-day tasks. These tasks vary a lot season-to-season, depending on if we are out doing teacher professional development workshops in the summer; planning teacher pre-service and education conference sessions in the fall; or managing STEM festivals, grants, and contests in the spring.

My role specifically as Education Program Coordinator deals a lot with getting people the resources they need. I can regularly be found answering emails from teachers or Agriculture in the Classroom coordinators about what resources we have that can help for their specific programs. I help send them materials, talk through programs, and help coordinate volunteers to staff booths at STEM festivals across the state. I can also be found regularly doing weird things, like going to Lowe’s for roofing nails and five bags of potting soil for an upcoming student event!

My other team members may focus more on educating teachers through online courses, professional conferences, or outreach efforts. They may also spend time helping new Agriculture in the Classroom programs get started, or provide extra support for those that are more established. They may spend time working with sponsors, or mailing materials, or writing press releases, or one of the other many tasks that we as a team accomplish.

In all, IALF wants to educate Iowans. We tend to focus our efforts on reaching those that educate others, simply to maximize our reach, but we are always keeping our eyes open for more ways to reach Iowans. In fact, in the four years since IALF was founded, we have increased just our student impact by almost six times! Because of that growth, we’ve had to flex and learn, and I don’t think we’re done yet!


Why Do They Do That? – Crop Scouting

crop scoutLast summer my time was spent walking the corn and soybean fields of Southeast Iowa searching for weeds and pests that did not belong in the field. But why was I needed as a crop scout? Farmers’ livelihoods depend on their crops. Weeds and pests can easily overtake the field if not carefully controlled. It was my responsibility as a crop scout to identify the weeds and other possible concerns in the field and inform the farmer.

So what are crop scouts looking for in the field? First they look for any abnormalities in the plant. When plants are off-colored, chewed, stunted or dead, that could indicate issues that the farmer needs to be aware of. The causes could be soil, pest, or nutrient related, but it is important to determine the cause of the problem so it can be solved quickly.

The purpose of scouting is to give a representative assessment of the entire field. While scouting, it is important to look at multiple areas of the field. It depends on the size of the field for how many samples are taken. The rule of thumb is to check a minimum of five locations in fields of less than 100 acres. In fields greater than 100 acres, a minimum of 10 samples should be taken. Taking random samples is imperative to having a representative assessment of the field. Scouts do not just focus on the entrance, edges, waterways, high, and low areas, but rather randomly select various spots in the field to collect samples and stand counts. 

A crop scout keeps busy early in the season identifying weeds that are in the field. Scouting for weeds before planting seeds allows the farmer to know what weeds are growing in the field, the growth stage of the weeds, and the weed populations. Controlling weeds before they reach four inches tall can help eliminate yield loss. After the weeds have grown over four inches tall, they are harder to control.  Knowing what weeds are in the field allows the farmer to make better management decisions while it is easier to combat the weed issue in the field.

Scouting after the seeds are planting can show farmers seed damage, early pest damage, and many other factors. When plants start emerging, taking stand counts helps the farmer decided if they need to replant. They can also evaluate their management decisions and make changes for next years planting season. When taking a stand count measure 1/1000 of an acre. This measurement can be found by using the table below. Then count the number of plants in the measured area. Take at least six samples throughout the field. Then take the average number of plants and multiply it by 1,000 to calculate the final plant population per acre in the field. Most farmers plant corn at a rate of 29,000 to 38,000 seeds per acre and soybeans at a rate of 130,000 seeds for 21 inch row spacing and 210,000 seeds for 7 inch rows per acre based on 90% germination and 90% emergence rate.

crop row spacing

Crop scouts also keep a watchful eye out for insects. The scout must identify the insects present in the field, what ones are harmful, the amount of insects, and assess the damage caused by the pests. Damage can be seen by observing the foliage, seed heads and pods, stems and roots. By swinging a net over the top of the crop canopy, scouts are able to capture insects in the net and get an accurate estimate of how many insects there are per square meter. Inspecting the top individual leaves for insects can also be done in addition  to using a sweep net. It is important to observe the stem and roots to look for any sings of damage. Punctures on the stem can indicate insect damage. Signs of chewing can be an indication of insect damage even when you do not see any insects at the time of the scout.

Knowing the symptoms of plant diseases, is another important skill for crop scouting. Plant diseases can be caused by weather, fertilizers, nutrient deficiencies, herbicides, and soil problems. Watch this video for a quick rundown of corn diseases from an Iowa State University Field Pathologist.

Farmers want to make sure they know what is occurring in their fields, so they are sure to scout for weeds, pests, and diseases. Next time you drive by a corn or soybean field, take a look to see if there is someone out scouting a field.


P.S. Did you ever spend time walking fields as a crop scout? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

Montana Cattle in Iowa?

I’m originally from Montana, but I’ve been living in the Midwest now for more than a decade. I love finding connections between my birthplace and my adopted home. We recently did a FarmChat program with students from Gilmore-City Bradgate Elementary. Through this program students get to take a virtual tour of a farm. They interact live with a farmer and get to ask questions, see a live feed of the animals, and get to have all of the interactions of a field trip (maybe minus the smells).


On this virtual tour, the farmer was describing his black Angus cattle and his operation. He feeds the animals up until they are market weight before selling the animals for butcher. He has very few cows and calves on his operation. Most of the cattle he raises are steers or market heifers that were born somewhere else. In fact, most of his cattle come from my home state – Montana!

Montana is known for raising a lot of cattle. The wide open grasslands are ideal for grazing animals. Montana has 2.5 cows for every person! Grass-fed beef extols a lot of positive benefits, but for taste reasons there are few things better than corn-finished beef. And Iowa is ideal for producing corn-finished or grain-finished beef. We’ve talked about the differences between grass-fed and grain-finished before. And we’ve discussed the effect that diet choice can have on the quality of the meat. But we haven’t talked about why cattle from Montana (or Wyoming, or elsewhere, even as far away as Florida) might come to Iowa.

The answer is simple economics. It costs less to ship cattle from one place to another than it costs to ship feed from one place to another.

Consider that a cow will consume between 1.8% and 2.3% of its body weight in feed everyday. For an average 1,200 pound cow that would equate to 21 and 32 pounds of feed per day. That feed could be a mix of grass hay, alfalfa, corn silage, corn, soybeans, wheat straw, or a variety of other ingredients. Corn and soybeans mixed in rations have been shown to provide quick weight gain and ultimately lead to marbling of the meat which gives steaks added flavor. To grow an animal from 500 lbs. to finish weight, they might be on feed for 170 – 200 days.

Let’s assume that we wean calves at 500 lbs. Weaned animals are separated from their mothers to convert to a diet that doesn’t include milk. The process of raising weaned animals to a weight that is full-grown and ready for market is called finishing. To finish the animals they need to be raised from 500 lbs. to 1,200 lbs. Their diet is going to change as they grow with more and more corn being added to the ration as they get closer to the 1,200 pound mark. Over that time period (170-200 days after weaning) we will use approximately 50 bushels of corn. There are 56 pounds per bushel, so roughly 2,800 pounds of corn per animal. So farmers are faced with a choice: Ship a 500 pound animal or ship 2,800 pounds of corn. It becomes easy to see that it would be cheaper and more cost efficient to ship a 500 pound animal to the feed rather than shipping 2,800 pounds of feed to the animal.

Iowa is the number one producer of corn in the United States. Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, and a handful of other Midwestern states are known for raising and finishing cattle because of this access to feed that the cattle love so much – corn. So cattle born all over the United States come to Iowa feedlots to be finished on corn. This finishing gives the meat its distinctive taste and quality.

cow eating grass 2.JPGSo this May, help celebrate Beef Month with a nod to the process that makes use of the most efficient process of producing beef – breeding them in places like Montana and then finishing them in Iowa. Sure, Iowa has plenty of cow-calf operations and you can see calves all over the state this time of year. But just as many farm operations focus and specialize on the finishing process so that they can produce high quality beef.


Science 101: Germination

germination stages

Seeds are amazing. Although they might appear to be tiny lifeless objects, seeds are powerful living things just waiting for the right conditions to do their thing! Each seed contains exactly what it needs and is designed specifically for the job it must do. All seeds have the same mission. To germinate and grow into a plant that will produce more seeds.

It is important for farmers, and gardeners, to understand the science of seed germination so they can maximize yields while efficiently using resources.

So, what exactly is germination? And how does it work? Let’s explore these questions and others.

What is germination?

In simple terms, it is the process of a seed developing into a plant. Germination occurs below ground, before the stem and leaves appear above the soil.


How does germination work?

To understand the process, you’ll need know the main parts of a seed and their function.

All fully developed seeds contain three basic parts, the embryo, endosperm and seed coat. The embryo is the part of the seed that develops into a plant. It contains the embryonic root (radical), embryonic stem (epicotyl and hypocotyl), and one or two seed leaves (cotyledons).

structure and fuction of dicot and monocot seeds - lumenlearning.com

Structure of Seeds (Source: Lumen Learning)

The endosperm contains the starch or stored energy for the developing embryo. The endosperm is the largest part of the seed and packed around the embryo. The seed coat is the outer layer that protects the seed’s internal structures.

The first stage of germination, called imbibition, occurs when the seed is exposed to water. The seed absorbs water though its seed coat. As this happens, the seed coat softens.

Next, water triggers the seed to begin converting starch to sugar. This provides energy for the embryo during germination.


More water is then absorbed and the seed’s cells start to elongate and divide. The radicle, or primary root, is usually the first part of embryo to break through the seed coat. It grows downwards to anchor the seed in place and absorb water and nutrients from the soil.

Next, the shoot and seed leaves emerge from the seed coat. The process and order depends on type of seed. Monocot and dicot seeds are structurally different, which affects how they germinate.

Soon the shoot will emerge from the soil. The seed tissue will diminish as the plant’s roots, stems, and leaves develop.

What do seeds need to germinate?

All seeds need water, oxygen, and the proper temperature to germinate.

The soil temperature must be warm enough so seeds can germinate, but not so hot as to damage the seed. Cold soil temperatures can cause seeds to remain dormant, increasing their vulnerability to diseases and insect damage. Temperature requirements vary between species. Soybeans, for example, need a minimum soil temperature of 50 °F for germination, but 77°F is optimum.


Water triggers germination to start and is needed throughout the germination process. Soil should be moist, but not saturated with water. Some seeds require more water than others. The critical soil moisture level for corn is 30%, while soybeans need soil that it at least 50% moist in order for germination to occur. That’s because beans absorb more water. Beans take in two to five times their weight in water, while corn only absorbs about 1.5 times its weight.

Oxygen is found in the air we breathe, and in soil too! Oxygen is usually on the list of things plants need to grow. However, it’s not always included when discussing germination.

When a seed is exposed to the proper conditions, water and oxygen are absorbed through the seed coat and cause the embryo cells to enlarge. If there is not enough oxygen present, germination may not occur. The most common reason for a lack of oxygen is too much water in the soil due to over-watering or flooding.

Do seeds need light to germinate?

Sometimes, not usually. Most seeds do not require light for germination and germinate best in dark conditions. However, some seeds like carrots & some lettuce varities need light to germinate. The stimulus of light causes them to break dormancy and start germination once exposed to water and proper warmth. These seeds germinate best when planted on the soil surface or just barely covered with soil.

soybeans in field

Why does planting depth matter?

Although it may be tempting to plant seeds shallow so they emerge sooner, it is important to follow the recommended planting depth. Planting too shallow can result in insufficient soil moisture for germination or a weak root system. Planting seeds too deeply causes them to use all of their stored energy before reaching the soil surface. Like temperature and moisture, ideal planting depth varies by plant species. As a general rule of thumb, larger seeds can be planted deeper because they contain more stored energy to reach the soil surface than smaller seeds. Farmers consider other factors like soil type, planting time, and temperature when deciding how deep to plant.

Nearly everything we eat and most of what we use would not be possible without germination. Vegetables, grains and fiber crops are grown from seed. Meat, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that were fed seeds or plants that grew from seeds.

As you drive past fields of emerging crops this spring, think about the amazing science phenomenon happening before you.

– Cindy