Ask Our Experts

Answers to your questions about gardening, energy, homesteading and other sustainable living topics.

Testing Seed Viability

2/21/2012 4:09:00 PM

Tags: seed viability, seed starting

Seed PacketI have unused vegetable seeds in packets leftover from the last several years. Are they still good to plant this spring? 

Stories of viable, 1,000-year-old seeds from Egyptian tombs aside, seed viability depends on the plant species and the seeds’ storage conditions. Under ideal conditions — dry and dark, with a temperature in the 40-degree-Fahrenheit range — some seeds will germinate well for five or more years. Others will germinate strongly for only a year or two.

Iowa State University’s Department of Horticulture gives the following average seed storage limits for common crops. Seeds aged past these limits will have lower germination rates, and plants that do germinate will grow with less vigor.

Onions: One year
Corn and peppers: Two years
Beans, carrots, peas: Three years
Beets, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, watermelons: Four years
Broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, lettuce, cantaloupes, radishes, spinach: Five years 

If your seeds were stored near or beyond their expected shelf life, or in less than ideal conditions, you can gauge their suitability for planting by doing a simple seed viability test. Write the name of the variety on a paper towel with an indelible pen and then moisten the towel with water. Count out at least 20 old seeds of that variety onto the towel, roll up the towel and place it in a plastic bag. Put the bag in a 70-degree location. Check daily for germination. After some seeds have germinated and a week has passed without additional germination, compare the number of sprouted seeds with the number you started with. If the germination rate is 70 to 90 percent, you could use the seeds and simply sow them more thickly.

If germination is less than that, planting those old vegetable seeds would probably be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Yes, you might save a few dollars on seed this year, but your garden will most likely yield many fewer pounds to harvest than if you had planted fresh seeds. Besides, buying new seeds is a great opportunity to experiment with new varieties.

— Vicki Mattern, Contributing Editor 

Photo by Matthew T. Stallbaumer 


Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on .



Related Content

Holidays From the Olden Days

This blog post tells about holidays from the olden days, as experienced by Pearl O'Neill who grew up...

A Composter Anyone Will Ever Need

The Aerobin 400 uses a patented aeration core inside an enclosed bin to promote aerobic break down o...

Kasco Manufacturing Acquires Herd Seeder Corporation

Herd Seeder is the primary name in the industry, having produced quality seeders and spreaders for m...

Sun Powers More Than Rice Fields

Lundberg Family Farms announces the opening of a new warehouse that is powered by 100% solar energy....

Content Tools
RSS




Post a comment below.

 

MY COMMUNITY






Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.