Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Precious Seeds

Many people have been getting their seed orders and showing how they store and organize them. It is fun to see all the weird boxes people use. Kathy of Skippy's Vegetable Garden, organizes them planting date, which is a smart system. I tend to organize by type (Nightshade, Lettuce/Greens, Brassica, Cucurbits, Root Crops, Flowers, Herbs, Beans/Peas/Corn). Half my box is taken over by my biggest seeds - beans, peas and corn. I really have too many peas. I had some left over from last year but wasn't sure I would have enough to plant. I think I over did it.

It may be hard to tell in the photo, but I'd better not get too many more seeds. It is bursting at the seems. I'm not sure I can shove anymore in. Luckily peas get planted first. Then I will have space.

I love the box even though it could be a couple inches longer. It is just the right height for seed packets and it has an airtight seal. I usually store it in my fridge. Yes. I give prime refrigerator space to my seeds. I should put them in the basement since the seal is airtight, but I like the low even temperatures of my fridge. I'm hoping my onion seed can be used again next year.

Most seed lasts a long time, but if you store them right they will last longer. They need dark, even cool temperatures and low humidity. A lot of people will say that cucumbers will last 5 years, but the truth is they can last twice as long if they have been treated right by you and the people you buy them from. I've heard they can last up to 10 years. Everyone will give you a different number for how long seeds will last. I tend to think of them as short, medium or long keepers.

Short keepers are the onion family, parsnips, corn, and spinach. Most people will say to buy new seed every year, but I like to try to keep them for a second year. I never finish a whole packet in a year and the seed must earn its keep.

Medium keepers are beans, carrots, peas, peppers and eggplant. These are said to last about two to three years, but you just know that I'm going to plant them at four and five years if they still are hanging around my seed box.

Long keepers are the tomato, cucurbits, brasiccas, beet family, lettuce, and radish. If kept in a good storage space, they can be kept almost forever. Ok others say four to five years. I say my seeds could last longer, but if I haven't used it up by then, I'm probably sick and tired of that variety and will try something new.

I mean really, five years? If I haven't used it up by then, they are wasting the precious space in the seed box and will be told in no uncertain terms that they are unwelcome. Ok tomatoes get a exemption from the chopping block. You can never have too many varieties of tomatoes in your seed box, but if I haven't used a packet of lettuce or radish up in that time, there is something wrong with them.

Of course your seed won't last long if you don't take care of it. My kids are off at college so my mothering instinct gets all used up on my seeds and seedlings - hmm maybe that is why I'm growing all my plants from seed this year. I do remember years when I kept seed in a clear container in my pantry where it can get up to 90°F in the summer.

Now, however, I'm doing it right. I store their container in a nice, dark, cool place. I don't open it up straight from the fridge during the summer when humidity will condense on it. I plan ahead and let it sit on my counter for a few hours to get to room temperature. In the summer I never open the main box except twice (for getting out all the fall seeds then putting them back in). Ok maybe more often. I do have a bad memory and forgot some seeds last year, so had to open it again...and again. My intention is to just open it twice, or three times, maybe four.... At least for succession crops like lettuce and tatsoi, I leave those out all summer. It isn't worth risking my main stash of seed anymore than I already do. I try to treat them right, but sometimes I'm just a bad mother.


  1. I keep my seeds in the fridge, too. But my container isn't ideal - it's an old floppy disk container, which is a bit too short, so the packets get folded to fit. I do have them roughly in seed-planting order. I agree about keeping seeds - this year I've only ordered parsnip and pepper seeds (oh, and Christmas tree seeds - but that's a blog entry in itself). Every thing else is last year's seed. I did spend an awful lot, last year though...

  2. All these photos of organized seeds make me think I am being a little bit of a slacker when it comes to seed storage. I have some in a box row cover came in, some in coffee cans and some on the shelf in my shed.

    Maybe it is time to look into starting a seed storage system and have a deticated spot for them. It would have certainly help when I could not find my seeds in December.

  3. HA Daphne, I don't think you are a bad mother at all! It sounds like you are very careful with your seeds. I have never kept mine in the fridge, but will start. I also would in the past dump the whole packet, how wasteful, in the pots, then feel bad that there were too many to keep. That is the hardest part for me, the thinning. Good to know which are the longest keepers too. Thanks.

  4. Well, I think you're a wonderful mother! You are much better with your seeds than I am. I hope to someday have an extra fridge in my garage for my seeds and bulbs. I do keep mine in a very cool location and sealed, and I put in a little packet similar to that found in vitamins to keep the moisture out. The only seeds I've found that don't last from one year to the next, if I don't use them all, in corn salad- then again, if I kept them in the fridge maybe they would last longer!

  5. I've got to build another seed tower to hold all of mine....I'm planning on separating them by cool/warm seasons. This seed stuff is addictive! Thanks for posting the info about how long you can keep seeds, looks like I need to buy some new corn, for sure! Oops!


  6. That's a good system. I need to do something like that with my seeds before I lose track of them altogether.

  7. Amanda, Christmas trees? That sounds like an interesting project and will be fun to read about.

    Dan, I do think the number one priority for your seeds is to be able to find them. I personally have no memory, so I have to be consistent where I put them. The things I always have trouble finding are my innoculants. This year they were put in the fridge too (where they are always in the way, but many years I've been tearing up my basement to find them. I've only moved to the fridge since my kids left. I have so much more room in there now.

    Frances, at least that way you can pick the strongest seedlings to pot up. I'm always trying to make the seed last longer. Frugality runs in my family (at least on my mother's side).

    DirtDigger, I've heard of using those silica gel packets. It seems like a really good idea. I ought to do that. I take vitamins so I get them. I just have to start collecting them.

    engineeredgarden, I went over and did a search on your site for the seed tower. Very nice. I when people find useful ideas to reuse things.

    Pam, go for it.

  8. Daphne, I think I'd be classified as a horrid grandmother! I put my leftover seeds in a big plastic Ziploc bag and pinned it to the bulletin board in my laundry room. The following spring I became ill, and those seeds ended up living in my laundry room until spring/summer 2008. The germination was great with all of them!

  9. I am interested in flower seeds viiability..found aster, daisy, Angel trumpet vine seeds and others that I had squirreled away four years ago. What do you think the chances are that they are viable? Not kept in refrigerator.. Thx PMB

    1. No clue. Every species is different. Some you need to collect every year. Some can last ten or more. I'd do a germination test with them. Put ten seeds in a paper towel. Dampen it and put it in a plastic bag. Put it in a warmish spot. Occasionally give it air. Some seeds need dark to germinate too and some light. Not sure about the ones you have, but most will germinate regardless.