Where to Start

So the new year is upon us. The seed catalogs have been beckoning us from the counter. But we have a handful of seed packets sitting in the shed, or in the fridge.

So what seeds are still good?

I’ve got seeds that are labeled for 2010. Are they still good? Do I want to waste possible time in the event that the seeds are now duds? I know that I don’t want to waste time, and I bet you don’t either.

So I’ve decided to perform a germination test.

And here it is, and how you can perform it too:

1. Gather what you’ll need.

  • Paper towels
  • Quart sized zipper plastic storage bags (I use 6 at a time, and reuse the bags, to prevent waste)
  • Permanent magic marker
  • Glass or plastic storage container to wet the paper towels

2. Fold the paper towels so that they’ll fit in the bags, but don’t put them in the bags.

Papertowel IMG_0491 IMG_0492

3. Put a paper towel in the storage container and wet it slightly with water. Think more than damp, but less than soaking.

Unfold the towel and place either 10 or 20 seeds onto the paper towel in an organized pattern. This will help later, I promise!


4. Fold the towel back up and place into a baggie named with the seed, date and quantity of seeds. For instance: “Golden CA Sweet Pepper 2/1 (10)”


5. Now let these baggies sit in a average temperature area for 4-7 days. The temperature in your kitchen would be fine.

When they’ve sat for 4-7 days, open up the baggies and check how many have sprouted. For example, if you have 9 of the 10 sprout, then you’ve got 90%, which is typically above the minimum seed germination rate.

The photos above are from my second set of germ tests, and here is the breakdown of what my first test produced.

  • Cucumber – Packed for 2010 – 90% germ
  • Pole Bean – Packed for 2012 – 50% germ
  • Cucumber – Packed for 2011 – 90% germ
  • Broccoli – Packed for 2012 – 85% germ
  • Tomato – Packed for 2012 – 80% germ
  • Lettuce – Packed for 2012 – 100% germ

Here’s the broccoli with 85% germination:


Based on the above, I would probably pitch the pole bean, but the others, even some being more than 3 years old, are good enough to plant and be done. So doing this quick test would possibly save you a seed order, or if you do need a couple replacements then its easy.

So – I urge you – do your own germination tests! And give me the results in the comments below! And if you’re up to it, let me know how much you’ll save!

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