Whenever I purchase seeds vegetable and flower varieties that are advertised to be “bigger,” “brighter,” and “better,” I usually end up having lots of leftover seed. I don’t have enough room to accommodate them in my garden, nor do I want to grow one hundred plants of the same variety. So, besides trading some seeds, I often end up storing most of them.
The best place to store seeds is in a cool, dry location, since the two most important factors affecting their longevity are temperature and humidity. Sorry, but squirreling away seeds in dresser drawers and the pockets of jackets and sport coats is not an option. Place the seeds inside air-tight containers with a packet of silica gel desiccant to ensure dryness. Use a screw-type container that has a rubber gasket, such as a peanut butter jar or canning jar. Then place them in the refrigerator.
For longterm storage, seeds will survive for the longest time if they are frozen. Seed banks in the business of preserving germplasm store seeds at subzero temperatures. However-and this is an important warning–the seeds must be completely dry or they can be damaged by the formation of ice crystals. An indicator of sufficient dryness is brittleness. A dry bean, for example, should shatter when struck by a hammer and not simply be mashed. Most of us gardeners are probably safer storing our extra seeds in an ordinary refrigerator.
Whether you stored your seeds in the fridge or stashed them in in a cubbyhole in your crawlspace, consider testing their viability with a simple germination test. But before you begin, answer these three questions:
1. How old is the seed? Seeds remains viable or are capable of germinating over a certain period of time. When stored under cool, dry conditions, expect these seeds to produce a good stand of healthy seedlings: 1 year or less: Onions, Parsley, Parsnips, and Salsify; 2 years: Corn, Okra, and Peppers; 3 years: Beans, Cowpeas (Southern peas), and Peas; 4 years: Beets, Fennel, Mustard, Pumpkins, Rutabagas, Squash, Swiss chard, Tomatoes, Turnips, and Watermelons; 5 years: Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Collards, Eggplant, Muskmelons, Radishes, and Spinach.
2. Is the seed the actual variety you wanted to save? Expect true-to-type varieties with self-pollinated beans, peas, lettuce, and nonhybrid tomatoes. However, surprises abound with insect-pollinated varieties cucumber, melon, squash, or pumpkin, or wind-pollinated sweet corn, spinach, and Swiss chard.
3. Was the seed collected from a hybrid? Hybrid or F1 hybrid seed is the offspring of a cross made between two parent varieties. If you prefer the original hybrid, discard them.
If your seeds are worthy of being sown this Spring, perform this simple germination test. Count out at least 20 randomly picked seeds (50 is better; professionals use 100) and space them out on two or three layers of moistened paper towels. Roll the towels up carefully to keep the seeds separate and place the roll in a plastic bag. Keep it in a warm location between 70 to 80 degrees F. Check the seeds in 2 or 3 days and every day thereafter for about a week or so to see if any germinated. Wait at least 3 weeks outside of the normal germination time for most seed varieties. If the germination percentage is very low, you may want to discard the seed to make room for those bigger, brighter, and better varieties.
Bob Polomski © 2016