The seed…

Seed stock: Dec 2007

Keeping up with the early start, I got out the seed from its storage chest to take a look. With the tiny farm’s growing HISTORY (hey, Year 6, coming up!), keeping the seeds sorted for freshness is an ever more…serious consideration. Old seed won’t work, and there’s always lots of carryover from year to year. For this garden’s veggie selection, seed life in cool, dry storage conditions falls into three categories: nice and long (around 5 years, for brassicas, cucumber/squash family, lettuce, tomatoes,…), medium (around 3 years: beans, peas, carrots,…), and SHORT (1-2 years, for onions, corn, parsnip, parsley,…not too many here). Luckily, this is all book info, not gathered from painful personal experience! But I listen closely, ’cause one of my biggest garden nightmares is THINGS NOT GERMINATING… There are enough reasons why gazing happily on those newly seeded, semi-straight rows might be the greatest satisfaction they ever offer, and dead seed shouldn’t be one of ‘em. My first germination test last year seemed to bear out the wisdom of others: normally-stored seed is not forever… So, it’s checking packs and taking dates!

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12 Responses to “The seed…”

  1. Anne says:

    What book(s) did you get the germination info from?. I would be interested to have the same information. I have had decent luck with older seeds, but they really have to be babied – like presoak, warming pad, grow lighting and all that. The newer seed doesn’t seem to need as much attention.

  2. oooooohh errrr…. I know that feeling, the dread fear of “THINGS NOT GERMINATING”…

    Maybe you need to add another category, though “Things that seem to last for ever”, inhabited solely by Swiss Chard and Beetroot. I have an ordleplex of Swiss Chard seed that’s going on for 8 years now, living in an ordinary cupboard — no “cool conditions” around here — and still going strong. Still; I have a batch going to seed now, just to get a refresh before it all ends in tears.

    I don’t think the seed read the books…

  3. Mike (tfb) says:

    Mike: I believe you’re right, seed doesn’t read the books, it’s me reading the books and going (less and less), “Oh, I better do it that way,” or (more often as time goes by), “Hmmm, wonder how exactly accurate that is, what if I didn’t…” I also sometimes use the accumulated wisdom of the books to add a dash of adrenaline to the tiny farming mix: “Uh-oh, maybe all my seed has JUST EXPIRED.” And so, I immediately do a thorough seed inventory with germination tests (which may have been a bit of a chore without the extra motivation…. :)

    I think a semi-reliance on book reference comes from not growing up on a farm, missing formative childhood experiences like playing with a freshly severed cow’s head on the gangway to the barn as the local butcher does a housecall to prepare some family food right on the spot (story from a farm-raised friend). That way, you gently learn that things are what you see, not what people tell you they should be! (Life-long farmer Bob never reads research, he does read instructions, like how to assemble the new sand spreader delivered in 65 pieces. From reading, I’ve come up with stuff that he didn’t know, but I can’t see him failing at the same things just ’cause he didn’t read, he’d likely figure it out…!)

    The other concern, though, is that less viable seed may result in weaker, less vigorous plants… Uh-oh. Always something!

    Anne: The seed viability chart I’ve been using is from a book called Seed Sowing and Saving (Carole B. Turner; Storey Publishing). No particular reason, except that it’s easy to flip to at the back of the book, and I tend to trust Storey publications, they’ve been on point so far. But they’re only starting points, and like everything else in books, I’ve found you’ve really gotta look around if you want a measured opinion, ’cause they seldom all agree on ANYTHING. For example, here are three online viability charts: Seed-Storage Times and Viability, Seed For The Garden, Easy Seed Germination (short chart, scroll down). They all more or less agree on quite a few veggies, but then you have, say, spinach, which lasts 1, 3, or 5-6 years, depending on the chart (my book says 5, and my experience agrees with at least 3 no problem). So much for second (and third) opinions… I’ve found that books are good to the point where you use their advice, then you find out for yourself! :)

  4. Anne says:

    Thank you. I have always been curious about recommendations for seed shelf-life. I have never paid much attention to it, but I can see on larger farms where it would be a much bigger concern.

  5. Donna Munson says:

    I am interested in buying long shelf life seeds (mostly vegetable, but some fruits too) and storing them in vacuum sealed bags (through my food saver). I already have my basement stocked with beans, rice, canned meats, etc for what I am afraid is coming.  I would like to store the seeds for as long as my food supply is, which is about 3 years. And no, I’m not a nut, I’m just a realist who plans ahead.

    My question is, does anyone know if seeds will last longer if vacuum sealed, and if so, how much extra life does is give them?

    Thanks for any info you may have on this.

  6. Mike (tfb) says:

    Donna: The quick answer is: vacuum storage may help, probably won’t hurt. That’s based on some quick online research.

    Important factors in maintaining seed viability are moisture (low is better) and temperature (lower is better). Beyond that, there’s oxygen levels and pests (insects, pathogens). Vacuum-packing will reduce oxygen. And all that varies by crop, and the quality of the particular seed harvest.

    From what I read and from experience, keeping high quality, dry seed in an airtight container in a cool place is the minimum you need to maintain good viability for 3-5 years for most North American garden veggies.

    I keep seed airtight in ziploc plastic bags (air pressed out when sealing), in reasonably cool conditions, and 4-5-year-old seed in general seems to be fine, at least 60-70% germination, most higher than that, although I haven’t tested every last crop and variety at that age. (My seed storage could be much better, starting with cooler storage.)

    Try a search engine with “vacuum seed storage” and variations on that, and there’s a fair bit to read! Some studies say partial vacuum seed storage helps, but there’s at least one that says it doesn’t!

  7. kp says:

    donna-wow i thought it was just me.all the other people i know whow are worried are big conspiarcy people.My husband and i arent but we are getting worried.weve started stockpiling amazing how expensive it is.i believe were gonna add seeds to the list just in case.if you type in foil bags on ebay it comes up with these gallon sizes foil ziplocs that are vaume sealed.I thinl im gonna try the envelopes of seeds in a ziploc with rice and oxygen absorber then in those foil vacume ziplocs.may be overkill but hopefully it will work.Just curious have you added any canning,foxfire,books to your stash

  8. Dean Lund says:

    Try buying some silica gel, often sold to dry flowers in hobby shops or nursuries.  I store my seeds immersed in a gallon canister immersed in silica gel to keep them dry.  Summers hot here so I bring them into the house. Winters cool, occasionally down to 0 (rare) and usually around 25 (all F.) Oh, the seeds are in their packets.

  9. Holly says:

    So helpful!  I just did a major seed clean-out, dumping some packets that I had held onto from 2001.  I’m happy to see that many of the keep/throw-out decisions I made match up with the rules you have listed!  Thanks.

  10. Sharon says:

    I found an old envelope dated 1989 with musk melon seeds that my Grandmother had saved and passed along to me. It had gotten lost in the shuffle of a couple of moves, but when I found the seed two years ago, decided to plant them and see what happened. They sprouted just fine and we enjoyed the best musk melons I’ve ever eaten that summer! You just never know!

  11. Vivek Hebbal says:

    Reminds me so much of the Verse in the Bible, “Unless a grain of seed falls to the ground and DIES , it remains alone.When it dies, it bears much fruit “

  12. whoa! you have a lot of seeds.. Storing up for the winter?

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