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Test old seeds before buying new ones

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By Dennis Morgeson

Every good gardener has noticed that seed catalogs are continually showing up in their mailboxes and seed and garden hardware are in full display at garden centers and department stores.  Many of you are like me, you have seeds left from last year and an eye for more plants than your garden can hold.  Don’t buy new seeds just yet.  There is a good chance that your old seeds will still germinate even if they were stored in the cupboard.  Most vegetable and flower seeds are still viable after several years.

The key to keeping seeds for many years is storage.  Left over seeds must remain as dry as possible.  Unlike when you want seeds to germinate, moisture is your enemy.  Enclosing you seeds in a glass jar, plastic food storage bag, or any other air tight container is you best defense against moisture.  These storage containers will keep your seeds dry as well as keep out insects and rodents.  You should check your seeds periodically to make sure there isn’t any mold; discard any damaged or moldy seed.  Refrigeration is not necessary to keep seeds viable; however you should avoid excessively low or high temperatures.  The best place to store seeds is actually in your refrigerator.  The best temperature for seed storage is 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Before you determine whether or not to purchase new seeds, do a germination test on your old ones.  The first step is to wrap ten seeds in a moist (not wet) paper towel.  Put the rolled or folded paper towel in a plastic storage bag and seal it.  Make sure you label the bag properly, you don’t want to make a mistake on which seed lot they came out of.

Place the bag in a warm area where the temperature generally stays in the 70 degree Fahrenheit range.  The top of a refrigerator is generally a good spot.  If your seeds are going to germinate they should do so in a week or so.  Check the seeds every few days for germination.  If seven out of ten seeds germinate there is no need to buy new seeds.  If only five out of ten germinate simply plant your seeds twice as thick as you normally would.  If germination is lower than five out of ten it is generally a good idea to discard that group of seeds and buy new ones.

When you purchase seeds, make sure to read the label carefully.  Some inexpensive seeds may be packed for the previous year.  On the back of each seed packed is a packed for date.  To make sure you are getting the freshest seed that date should be 2010.