Seeds of future feasts

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Feb 10, 2014
Seeds…I love them. I love to look at the pictures on the seed packages. I love to read the information on the backs. I love to flip through the seed catalogs and plant gardens in my mind.

Some gardening seasons, that is about as far as I get with my seeds.

As I start to plan this year’s garden, what can I do with all of those seeds that I have collected and stored in that gallon-sized Ziploc bag? Can I still plant that unopened packet of organic collard seeds labeled “packed for 2010, sell by 10/2010”? How about that partial package of Italian parsley, “packed for 2008, sell by 12/08”? Those bean seeds loose in the bottom of the bag — I am not sure what variety they are — should I give them a try?

Some quick research on several state extension websites offer help. As living things, seeds are perishable, and different seeds remain viable for different lengths of time. According to experts, seeds stored in air tight containers in a cool, dark location may remain viable for longer than the dates printed on the packages. Charts place the viability of onions, parsnips, parsley, and spinach seeds at one year; corn, peas, beans, chives, okra, and dandelion at two years; carrots, leeks, asparagus, turnips, and rutabagas at three; peppers, chard, pumpkins, squash, watermelons, and basil at four; and most brassicas, beets, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, muskmelons, celery, and lettuce at five years. But, the experts don’t always agree.

Now on to my seed collection. First step, perform a visual examination of the seeds. Viable seeds that were smooth and round and plump when purchased will not germinate well if they are now pocked and wrinkled. Seeds wrinkled to begin with that are now shriveled and dried should be discarded.

Next, proceed to the viability test. To check for germination, moisten a coffee filter or several layers of paper toweling and spread some seeds, a specific number, maybe ten, or fifty, or more if you have lots. Label and place the seeds in a plastic bag in a warm place. Inspect them daily, spraying with water as needed to maintain moisture. Look for a root or cotyledon protruding through the seed coat to indicate germination. When some seeds have germinated and a one-week wait indicates that no more are about to emerge, calculate your rate of germination. Divide the number of seeds germinated by the number tested. Did half of them germinate? If half germinate, is that enough for you? Discard the seeds if the rate is too low or else plan on doubling or tripling the number you plant.

Back to my seed collection… I am planting the complimentary Pipe Creek Watershed Black Oil Sunflower Seeds directly into the ground this season – no germination test, just pure hope and a belief that most will make it. Sunflowers = happiness. The others I am examining on a specimen-by-specimen, package-by-package basis. I hate to discard any of them, but it’s time to purge.

Seeds are fun, but thin your stash and get them into the ground. The logic follows that It will make room for some more.