I saved seeds from flowers last fall and I saved seeds that I bought over the last few years if I didn’t use them all. And now the colourful seed catalogues are arriving in the mail enticing me to buy more seeds.
Before I head to the store or order online, I need to get out my box of seed packets that I’ve harvested or bought in previous years. First, do I have all the seeds I want? Last year, I didn’t look in my box of seeds and ended up buying 2 sets of duplicate seeds! Then my thoughts focus on which of them and how many I’ll grow this year. Before I am done, I consider which of them will I start early and then plant as seedlings and which seeds will be planted directly into the ground in late May.
Of course, the most important question remains unanswered.
Are the seeds I already have still viable? Will they sprout or are they too old or dried out? Now is the time that it matters if the seeds I’ve been keeping are still usable.
A general rule of thumb from my father who was raised on a farm was that most seeds last a couple of years if stored in a dry, cool place. Also, different plant seeds may last longer than others! For example, seeds from “tougher” vegetables like kale, swiss chard, cabbage, pumpkin, and radishes may last up to 4 years while delicate veggies like lettuce, onions, parsnips may only last 1 year. But how long have I been storing my seeds? It would have been a good idea to date each of the packets. Note to self to do that this year.
I’ve decided it is best to test my seeds to see if they can still sprout. Several other members do this as well if they are concerned and don’t want a garden missing some of their favourite flowers or vegetables. You can do this testing now.
Just take a few seeds – make it ten for easy counting – and put them into a damp paper towel. Fold it up and place it in a plastic bag. Put the bag in a warm spot and after a week or so, count how many of the seeds germinated. i.e. sprouted. If none sprouted, they are no good. If less than 30% (3 of those 10) sprouted, then you may consider replacing that packet with a new one from the store. If say 70% plus sprouted – you’ve got good seeds. Anything from 30% to 60% success would suggest that I should overplant that flower or veggie when I set out to use those seeds just to be sure I get enough of the crop.
This sounds easy but you need to test each seed type and if you have 2 groups of one type of seed from different years, then you’ll be testing 2 sets of those seeds – 1 test per year. So be sure to have a marker with you to write the type of seed and which packet it came from.
Bottom line – with this knowledge you’ll know what you have already that will grow this summer and what you need to buy online or at the store. This for me is the first step, in planning your garden and daydreaming of what your harvest will give you.