Savvy Garden Seed Care

Proper garden seed care — sorting, storage and organization — will produce a more successful garden.

| December 2006/January 2007

One of the best ways to escape the winter blahs is to let your thoughts wander into next year’s garden. Imagine your frozen soil thawed into glistening loam where robins pluck up earthworms. Then put yourself in the picture, poking fat pea seeds into the ground, or patting compost over a newly sown bed of lettuce.

Come to think of it, where are your seeds? No doubt they are resting somewhere; after all, seeds are plants enjoying their ultimate state of dormancy. But are they in a comfortable place, protected from heat, humidity and strong light? Did you put them in order before you forgot about them last fall? Maybe you should check on your garden seed, and take the first step toward actualizing your horticultural fantasies by tending to the needs of sleeping beans or tiny onion seeds.

Proper seed care is indispensable, especially if you have a diverse collection. Seeds are valuable property, both financially and personally. Should an enterprising mouse enjoy a midnight snack of the heirloom mahogany marigolds passed down from your great-grandmother, no amount of money could replace them. There’s no better time than now to organize your seed collection into secure containers.

Sorting Seeds

Begin by setting aside seeds you collected last summer, which are probably floating around in a multitude of paper or plastic bags (we’ll get to those in a minute). Then divide the rest into categories that reflect each plant’s place in the garden. For example, you might start with three piles — veggies, herbs and flowers — and then divide each of those piles into cool-season and warm-season groups. As you sort, look at the packets and check them for dates. Toss seeds that are too old to germinate well, or those that you tried and didn’t like. Use the "How Long Will Seeds Keep?" list at the end of this article to take some of the confusion out of this step.

If you have a lot of seeds, you may want to further sort them into plant groups such as beans, salad crops or cucurbits (members of the cucumber family). The main thing is to come up with a plan that suits your garden. Next, make lists of what’s in each pile so you won’t have to dig through your collection before you put together a seed order or get ready to plant (big index cards are great for this). Once you make your lists, use rubber bands to keep seed packets together by category. I keep these lists — along with recent seed order invoices — in a file folder taped to the lid of my storage box.

Seed Storage Strategies

Seeds store best when they are kept cool, dry and dark. Address the dryness issue first by finding an airtight container that will protect your seeds from changes in humidity. Glass jars with tight-fitting lids work well, or you can use a plastic storage bin with a tight-fitting, snap-on lid. Or, do both! After enduring years of disarray, I found that a plastic storage bin, outfitted with homemade cardboard partitions, is perfect for my needs. The partitions keep veggie, herb and flower seeds separate, plus there’s a fourth section for supplies.

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