Tag Archives: seeds

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!

New Seed Procurement

Getting new seeds is always a challenge. You can order them from a catalog, you can save your own seed or you can swap seeds with others.

There are mountains upon mountains of different catalog companies, some that I frequent include High Mowing Organic Seeds, Territorial Seeds, and I recently ordered the D. Landreth catalog, which is being put out as a fundraiser to help pay off some debts. Some catalogs are printed on newspaper, whereas others are printed on glossy pages reminiscent of a coffee table book. One of these “coffee table books” is the Baker Seed Co catalog. The pictures are amazing and the pages are so smooth and soft on the hands.

Saving your own seed will help to “breed” your own lines that are suitable for your specific microclimate. Saving the seed from the hardiest, the earliest maturing, or the most flavorful will help you get exactly what you want. Just remember, if you plant a hybrid, that the child generations will not be the same as the original. Open pollinated seeds will offer the most true to previous generation seeds.There are many online articles and printed books to explain the art of saving seed, so I will not go into depth here, but will in individual articles in the future.

Then there is the option of seed swapping. There are small scale operations, neighbors sharing with neighbors, friends with friends. The Community Harvest of Southwest Seattle holds one each year (this is the flyer from 2011). Then there is also the Seed Savers Exchange. They are a non-profit that is dedicated to saving open pollinated and heirloom seeds. You can become a member of their organization for $40 per year and get four publications of the quarterly offerings by members around the country and world.

So, if you are looking to expand your gardening choices, think of one the above ways to breathe new life into your seed selection. Do you have any novel ways of saving and sharing new seeds?

Storing Seeds

What do you do with the seeds left over from planting in the spring? Do you just file them away in the closet, garage, or shed for next year? Do you discard them on the thought that they will be no good?

Well, first of all, tossing them is the wrong way to go. You should hold onto them for next year. Their viability, or their ability to grow, does not dramatically decrease from one year to another in seeds that have been cared for properly.

Proper care, what is that? It is not keeping them in temperatures that can fluctuate wildly based on what is going on outside. Proper care is taking care of the seeds so that you can use the left overs for next year. There are a couple things you should know…

  1. Humidity and warmth are a seed’s biggest enemy. Keeping seeds in an airtight container such as an airtight food storage bin or a food storage bag will help prolong their lives. Placing the seeds in the fridge will give you the most constant temperature, so long as the fridge is plugged in!
  2. Keep seeds in the container dry. You can use a silica gel packet to help with this. You can reuse the ones from shoe boxes to help out with this.
  3. If you are saving your own seed, be sure to label the seed with as much information as possible. Date, variety, and other important information.
  4. Just remember, sometimes seeds just won’t grow after a prolonged time no matter how careful you are. Don’t get discouraged, saving seed is a very cost effective venture for us home gardeners with out a huge plot of land.

There are many kits out there to store your seeds in, but I just keep them in the seed envelope, combined in a freezer bag stored in the fridge, until the next time I need them.

Just remember, each year you do not need to try a new variety. Keep going with the variety you have and learn from it!