Here are some good tips for germinating seeds that are hard to start or are having trouble germinating. Have some patience though as it could take anywhere from three days to three weeks for a seed to germinate. Some of these tricks I would only use if the seed has not sprouted after two to three weeks or if you have a few seeds in reserve from a batch that haven’t germinated.
Seeds are comprised of an outer hard layer and an embryo which is inside the hard shell. The reason that older seeds don’t germinatem well is that the shell has become to hard and water is unable to penetrate, this process of imbibition is the start of the germination process. The seed will swell with water and eventually the shell will pop open and a small tap root will erupt.
One thing i wouldn’t do is to germinate your seeds on a paper towel. White paper is filled with bleach and other chemicals and is not a good thing for your plants. Use small jiffy starter blocks or a light soil:
1. Dilute 10ml (roughly one tsp) of Fulvic acid per litre (33 oz) of water.
2. Scuff the outer shell of the seed with some sand paper. Roll up a small cigar or sand paper or line a match box and gently shake the seeds over it. This will create micro abrasions letting in more water.
3. Use a lightly carbonated water. The extra Co2 will help the water penetrate the seed.
4. Use a light enzyme or seed booster, Plagron Nutrients has a very good one.
5. Finally if all else fails use an Exacto knife to slightly slice the seed open down the spine of the seed. This will make it easier for water to penetrate the shell.
- Germination Bomb For Old Or Difficult Seeds
- How to successfully germinate old cannabis seeds
- Tips for Storing Seeds
- Testing Seeds
- Seed Life Chart
- Want to learn more about storing seeds and how long seeds will last?
- How Long Do Seeds Last?
- How and Where to Buy the Best Heirloom Seeds
- Be Prepared with Heirloom Seeds
- How Long Do Seeds Last: 10 Easy Grow Seeds with a Long Viability
- Benefits of Heirloom Seeds Instead of Hybrid Seeds
- What to Do with Extra Seeds
- How Long Do Seeds Last: Flower and Herb Seeds
- Final Thoughts on Heirloom Seeds
- Are old seeds still good? When do you start seeds? Can you time Pumpkins for Halloween harvest?
Germination Bomb For Old Or Difficult Seeds
Germinating old seeds is of great interest to me. I have a pretty good collection of seeds dating back to around 2003-2007 plus bag seeds that I saved from around 1996-98. All the seeds I saved from back in the 70’s are long gone, sigh. I am using some of the old bag seeds for these experiments. They were stored initially in film canisters (with dessicant) at room temp until around 2000, when they went into the fridge.
Here is the original inspiration – I saved this post from the original Cannabis World forums years ago:
Through the university, I have been exposed to a ‘germination bomb’ that coincidentally was the same university Steve Tuck attended and learned the same technique (contrary to what he would tell you). Here’s what he stated about it @ OG during his stint and simply, it is as follows:
“Also here’s a free bone for all you old schoolers, while in collage me and a buddy developed a pressure bomb to open/germinate really old seeds. I have taught this trick to a few friends who were amazed at how well it works but neccesity is the mother of invention, here’s how it works at home.
Take an old mayonaise jar and punch a hole in the top a little bit bigger than an aquarium bubbler hose, and run one through it, silicone all around hose on both sides and allow to dry overnight. Now put a little bubbler air blower in it with a stone on end. Now fill with water and 10 drops of superthrive or similar concentrated b1 solution. Next use 10 drops of DMSO per 8 oz.’s of water, float old seeds on top and screw lid on tight, run motor for 24-48 hours to build a little pressure to imbibe fluid in seeds then place on 90 degree F wet dirt and they will usually get a good percentage of those with a spark left in them, let stay at that temp for 3-4 weeks in dirt as some may be slow to respond. You should be able to get DMSO from a pharmacy. And personally I like to add a little sugar water as old seed loses it’s carbohydrates over time. If you cannot find B1, a kelp based mixture will work as well.”
The nutrient solution he stated can, obviously, be replaced by the natural banquet of hormones in kelp (like 3LB & VC stated). This ‘germination bomb’ essentially covers each mode of seed scarification in heat, pressure, and water. The air pump provides constant agitation which in turns creates oxygen which is the most abundant element needing in root formation. I have improved my germination by easily 80% since using this technique. I grow solely landrace and heirloom cultivars so needless to say most seeds I posses are old and require special attention.
What’s great about it is, that if the seeds sink – they’re viable. And as I stated, this germination bomb covers all forms of scarification. In my mind, it is the ONLY way to germinate seeds.
And oh yea, DONT USE PAPER TOWELS! Yes, they may work and get the job done(for freshly produced hybrids). But it is an artifical medium and devoid of the microbes necessary to break down (tough, old) seed coats.
For a germination medium I use worm castings and mychorrizal innoculated perlite.
GERMINATION BOMB EXPERIMENTS
Initially, I was primarily interested in whether the seeds would germinate. Since the long-term goal is to pop some of the elite seeds in my collection, I will be germinating the seeds in medium. I will keep track of how many seeds actually grow as well as how many germinate.
I use pint size mason jars with metal lids. Since the air pump I am using has 4 ports, I run 4 jars in each experiment. One jar is a control, the other three jars have different strengths of whatever additive I am testing.
Glass jars with tight screw-on lids. I use wide-mouth 1 pint Mason jars since replacement lids & rings are easy to get (the lids are going to rust, probably sooner rather than later)
- Aquarium air pump
- Small airstone for each jar
- Air tubing
- Silicone sealer
- Drill bit the same size as the air hose
- Wood block (scrap)
View attachment 455485
To prepare the mason jar:
Set the lid on top of the piece of scrap wood to drill the hole in the lid. This greatly reduces the chances of getting sharp shards around the edge of the hole as you drill it. The hole in the lid needs to be just large enough to pass the air hose through. Put a small air stone on the end of the hose coming out the bottom of the lid. Set the lid on top of the jar & adjust the length of the hose inside the jar so that the airstone just touches the bottom of the jar. Seal around the hose on the top & bottom of the lid with silicone; allow to cure.
View attachment 455486
The jars are filled halfway with water (8 oz). In general, I use reverse osmosis filtered water. The experiment with GA3 was done with distilled water because the instructions specified distilled.
Put in each jar (this amount to 8 oz water):
- 10 drops Superthrive
- 1cc food-grade molasses (from the grocery store, a previous experiment using horticultural molasses resulted in a problem with mold)
- 1 tsp 3% hydrogen peroxide
View attachment 455487
View attachment 455488
The jars are set on top of a seedling heat mat to keep them warm with a towel draped over the top to block light. Attach the air line to the air pump and plug the pump in/turn it on. .
View attachment 455489
EXPERIMENT 1 – DMSO STRENGTH
A word of warning – DMSO is not something to handle casually. It can be dangerous. Before opening the bottle, wash your hands and any exposed skin thoroughly & put on rubber or surgical gloves; long sleeves are also a good idea. Be VERY careful not to get any on your skin. DMSO will take anything it comes in contact with (including anything that is on your skin) and help it to penetrate into your cells – this includes oil, gasoline, and everything else. The system below works reasonably well without the DMSO (unless your seeds are really old or were not stored well), but I suggest scuffing the seeds before putting them in the mix if you don’t use it.
The first experiment I did was to see how various strengths of DMSO affected germination. DMSO can be found easily at Tractor Supply Co or most feed stores. DMSO facilitates penetration of the nutrients & amendments through cell walls/membranes into the seed – no scuffing required. This experiment was done using reverse osmosis (RO) filtered water.
Each mason jar has a different amount of DMSO per 8 oz of water:
- Jar 1 – 5 drops DMSO
- Jar 2 – 8 drops DMSO
- Jar 3 – 10 drops DMSO
- Jar 4 – 13 drops DMSO
The jar with 13 drops of DMSO had the best rate of root development. Of course, since the seeds are 18 years old & weren’t stored well at the start, most of the seeds didn’t develop beyond popping roots. Here are the results:
- Jar 1 – 16 of 20 seeds cracked. 14 developed visible roots about 1/16 – 1/8″ long
- Jar 2 – 17 seeds cracked & all developed roots average 1/8″ long
- Jar 3 – 19 seeds cracked & developed roots average 3/16″ long
- Jar 4 – all 20 seeds cracked & developed roots average 1/4″ long
Once the seeds had roots at about 1/4″ long, I transferred them to seed starting trays with purchased sterile seed starting medium. I watered the seedlings with a dilute mix of nutes, Superthrive, & a bit of molasses. Most of them died, but 1 seedling from the jar with 10 drops DMSO grew & 2 seedlings from the jar with 13 drops DMSO grew. They were not the strongest seedlings, of course.
After running this experiment, I decided I wanted to test other mixes, so I will not be using as many seeds for future experiments. I want to use the same seeds for all experiments to eliminate that potential variable. If I keep using 20 seeds in each jar, I won’t have enough seeds to complete all of my experiments. I am also going to germinate using my normal mix of perlite with a bit of vermiculite rather than using a purchased seed starting mix. I grow in an Ebb & Flow system, so it’s easier for me to start the seeds in the same medium I will use for growing. I put the seeds into cups of perlite with a pinch of vermiculite around the seed.
Since the jar with 13 drops DMSO worked best, that will be included in my standard mix. The new mix is (this amount per 8 oz of water):
- 10 drops Superthrive
- 1cc molasses (from the grocery store, a previous experiment using horticultural molasses resulted in a problem with mold)
- 1 tsp 3% hydrogen peroxide
- 13 drops DMSO
EXPERIMENT 2 – GA3 STRENGTH
Using 90% GA3 powder, I created a 150ppm batch of GA3 by dissolving 1 scoop (1/32 tsp, 0.8 gram) GA3 in 0.5cc 91% rubbing alcohol in a shot glass. The alcohol evaporated as I was working on dissolving the powder, so I added more alcohol as needed (I used close to 1cc total). I then added the dissolved powder/alcohol mix to 16 oz distilled water. I used distilled water (purchased) for this entire experiment since the GA3 instructions specified it.
In addition to the base mix shown previously, I used the following:
I put the seeds in a 1:20 mix of H2O2 & water (1/4 tsp H2O2, 5 tsp RO water) for 1/2 hour to kill pathogens on the shell before putting them in the pressure jars.
After 36 hours in the pressure jar, I put the seeds into cups to germinate:
- Jar 1 – 4 of 5 seeds popped open, one not popped. One seed the shell was completely off and the cotelydon leaves were opening. The one that did not pop is in position 4 (bottom left); the one with leaves is in position 3 (center)
- Jar 2 – All 5 seeds popped open with roots growing. One seed the shell was completely off and the cotelydon leaves were opening. The one with leaves is in position 3 (center)
- Jar 3 – 4 of 5 seeds popped open, one not popped. One seed the shell was completely off and the cotelydon leaves were opening. The one that did not pop is in position 4 (bottom left); the one with leaves is in position 3 (center)
- Jar 4 – All 5 seeds popped open, one just barely. One seed the shell was completely off and the cotelydon leaves were opening. The one that did not pop well is in position 4 (bottom left); the one with leaves is in position 3 (center)
Long term survival:
- Jar 1 – 2 seedlings grew successfully. The seed that hadn’t popped open never grew.
- Jar 2 – 1 seedling grew beyond 1st set of leaves; very stretched – survived a couple of weeks but died. The other 4 grew but did not survive to grow 2nd set of leaves. All somewhat stretched.
- Jar 3 – The others made it above ground, but stretched & ended up dying – from the center out, oddly. These died out second quickest. The seed that hadn’t popped open never grew.
- Jar 4 – The others made it above ground, but stretched a lot & ended up dying – from the center out. These died out quickest.
The GA3 did not seem to make a significant difference in the number of seeds that developed at least a root tip. The more GA3 in the mix, the shorter the eventual life of the seedling & the more stretch it experienced. The germination bomb without the GA3 seems to be the best long-term germination method.
I want to do another experiment with DMSO using 15, 18, and 20 drops per 8 oz of water. Since the strongest mix I tested at the beginning was the best, I want to find out if a stronger mix is better.
I want to try an experiment using IBA in the mix.
I would also like to test using different sources of nutrient for the older seed – molasses, sugar, kelp, mild mix of standard hydro nutrients
How to successfully germinate old cannabis seeds
Weed seeds are a hardy bunch, they can last for up to ten years if they are stored properly. Many growers both experienced and otherwise will hold onto seeds that were taken from marijuana strains that they enjoyed in the past. Those genetics will stay safely preserved for many years while encased in a protective shell, but sometimes time passes, they got misplaced, or simply forgotten about, and dug up some time later only for the person to assume they aren’t any good and throw them out. The thing is, that even if you are having difficulty germinating old seeds, there are several things you can do to achieve a higher success rate and breathe new life into cannabis seeds that might just need a little bit of extra love and care to get started.
1. Water – soil free method
If you want to revive your old marijuana strains than you will need to start with a massive dose of hydration. This can happen one of several ways, but the simplest and most common is a soaking in a glass of water to soften the shell and make it easier for the sprout to escape.
- Drop the weed seeds into a cup of lukewarm water that is ideally 21 degrees Celsius for 24 hours. Watch out for early openers, and if you see any split before the 24-hour mark, remove them immediately to prevent drowning.
- After 24 hours, remove the cannabis seeds, and place them on a moistened paper towel.
- Fold the paper towel in half, and place it into a Ziplock baggie in a warm room
2. Fulvic Acid – soil starting method
Not everyone feels comfortable with starting their precious cannabis seeds in water, and for them, there are other options like fulvic acid that can be added after the seed is planted directly into the soil.
- Plant the seed approximately 1 inch deep.
- Combine 1 liter of water with 10 milliliters of fulvic acid.
- Use the mixture to water the soil that the weed seeds are planted in.
3. Carbonated water – soil starting method
Another soil germinating option that works great with aged cannabis seeds is carbonated water.
- Plant the seeds spaces at least 1 foot apart and one inch deep.
- Combine 1 cup of carbonated water with 1 liter of regular water.
- Moisten the soil that surrounds the weed seeds that have been planted.
4. Germination enhancer – soil starting method
There are specially designed germination enhancers that are edible plant safe and can be used for marijuana strains, and each one will require a different amount of preparation and application. For the best success, it is always recommended that you invest in a cannabis specific product to avoid unnecessary toxins or other complications.
The most important part of having weed seeds that still sprout nearly ten years later is mainly in how they are stored. If you are just coming across some old cannabis seeds now, then this advice isn’t overly helpful, but if you store them in a sealed, dry, cool space, they can protect the genetics of your favorite marijuana strains for almost an entire decade. Giving you plenty of time to decide when you’d like to grow them.
6. Last ditch effort – sanding
If all else fails, and you have nothing to lose anyway, then there is the risky option of sanding away at the shell to thin it. This is often enough to provide a small boost for sprouts to escape but is rarely recommended as it can damage the integrity of the entire seed if done wrong. If you do decide to try it, make sure that you don’t remove any more than the surface colors before using one the moisture techniques above.
Each year you’ll inevitably run out of garden space and have a certain amount of seeds left over after planting. Don’t throw them out just yet! Depending on the type of seed and its quality, you may be able to store them and use them next year or the year after. In fact, some seeds, if properly stored, can be viable even after ten years. Some varieties of tomato seeds have even been known to germinate after as long as 16 years!
Tips for Storing Seeds
Storing unused vegetable or flower seeds does require some care. To remain viable, seeds must not be exposed to any moisture or extreme temperature fluctuations. They should be kept in a cool dry place. Some people store them in sealed plastic bags, while others keep them in glass jars in the refrigerator. Whatever works best for you is fine, but the important thing is that they not be exposed to moisture. Wetness can quickly cause mold to grow, killing the seeds.
Let’s say you have some seeds that are a couple of years old. At this point, you really can’t be certain if they are going to germinate, even if they’ve been stored under optimum conditions in a dry, cool place.
In this situation, you can test the seeds a few weeks before planting time by taking several seeds, placing them on a moist paper towel, covering it with plastic and placing it in a warm spot. Check back in a week or so and if you have sprouts you’ll know the seeds are viable.
Seed Life Chart
To help you figure out if your seeds are still viable, refer to the following chart, which indicates the life expectancies of certain types of vegetable seeds stored under ideal conditions. The chart has been modified from D.N. Maynard and G.J. Hochmuth, Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers
, 4th Edition (1997).
Vegetable – Years
Asparagus – 3
Bean – 3
Beet – 4
Broccoli – 3
Brussels Sprouts – 4
Cabbage – 4
Carrot – 3
Celeriac – 3
Cauliflower – 4
Celery – 3
Chard, Swiss – 4
Chicory – 4
Chinese Cabbage – 3
Collards – 5
Corn, Sweet – 2
Cucumber – 5
Eggplant – 4
Endive – 5
Fennel – 4
Kale – 4
Kohlrabi – 3
Leek – 2
Lettuce – 6
Muskmelon – 5
Mustard – 4
Okra – 2
Onion – 1
Parsley – 1
Parsnip – 1
Pea – 3
Pepper – 2
Pumpkin – 4
Radish – 5
Rutabaga – 4
Salsify – 1
Spinach – 3
Squash – 4
Tomato – 4
Turnip – 4
Watermelon – 4
Want to learn more about storing seeds and how long seeds will last?
Check out these helpful websites:
Storing Leftover Garden Seed from Ohio State University Extension Service
Go Through leftover Garden seeds from Oregon State University Extension Service
Wondering how long seeds last? These heirloom seeds have a long viability, so you don’t have to throw the packet away next year if you didn’t use them all.
You won’t be gardening very long before you’ve got a fat stash of half-used seeds in packets with the tops rolled down, maybe all taped up in an effort to re-secure them. When you get to that point in your journey as a home gardener, it’s time to start thinking about their viability and hardiness.
How Long Do Seeds Last?
The sad fact is that packet of 250 onion seeds you only needed half of last year aren’t going to grow too well this year. Onion seeds only have a viability of about one year so a germination test will show a great deal that failed to sprout. Many, like green bean seeds, will last longer, about 2-3 years. But there are others that will last four years… or more!
Knowing how long seeds last and will be viable for is vital when planning your seed purchases, cleaning up your inventory, and knowing how many to purchase.
How and Where to Buy the Best Heirloom Seeds
Before we dig into all the details about heirloom seeds, knowing where to purchase them is the first step. Not all Heirloom Seeds are created equal. We will cover the top companies who are dedicated to excellent quality yield and keeping the namesake history of the seeds.
Companies that support the Safe Seed Pledge are committed to non-genetically modified seeds. This is a great place to start when vetting various companies to make sure they are genuinely non-GMO. With all of these companies, you can find their sites online and go from there, since they are scattered all through the country.
1. Safe Savers Exchange
This Iowa company deeply cares for keeping the history of heirloom seeds fully intact. Safe Savers Exchange is non-profit and focuses on the seed types of all kinds that immigrated families, preserving them and protecting them. This brand is a top favorite when it comes to non-GMO companies!
2. Seeds of Change
This Californian company provides 100% certified and open-pollinated seeds of both hybrid and heirloom kinds. The company Mars bought them, but they are following suit in the organic brand trend. Because this is such a mainstream brand, you can go pick up seeds from Seeds of Change stores around the nation.
3. Fedco Seeds
If you are looking for an affordable option, Main has a great one for you. Fedco is a shared business. The employees own 60 percent, and the members own the other 40 percent. As a cooperative, the main purpose does not have to do with how much profit they can earn. That means these seeds are affordable and on top of that, they have hundreds of various kinds! Their heirloom seeds are known for delicious produce and are perfect for the northeastern climate.
Be Prepared with Heirloom Seeds
It’s not a bad idea to use this knowledge as part of a crisis preparation plan. Seeds are inexpensive and buying some heirloom seeds with a long viability every four years or so specifically for the purpose of going into storage is wise. Hopefully, you’ll never need them, and they can be used and replaced at the end of that time. But it gives peace of mind knowing if there is anything that happens to your finances, the seed bank, the distribution channels, or our nation, you can at least count on eating well because you had the foresight to be prepared.
Now, I am by no means a “prepper.” I know, I’m an odd-duck among odd-ducks, right? I had self-consciously decided to be optimistic because when I was worried about all of the “what-if’s” I was being ruled by fear, and it was causing depression over a “maybe.” Generally, instead of preparing in cache’s I prepare in skill-sets and knowledge, but having a supply of heirloom seeds is one of the areas I do have stockpiled. If I ever need them, I have them and can harvest the seeds each year so long as I need to for a continuous supply.
Why not grow heirloom seeds all the time and not worry about it?
For our family, I’ve learned (the hard way) that the ideology of feeding my family fresh, healthy, organic produce is more important than my ideology of growing 100% heirloom seeds. For years I tried with mixed success. There are reasons hybrid (note: not GMO’s- that’s different) seeds are used. They can be more vigorous, hearty, disease resistant, and productive. During our year of market gardening, I learned that I could grow so much more per plant of larger, more quality produce by going hybrid. It literally means that my garden doesn’t have to take up as much room! So if an heirloom like jalapeño peppers grows well for me, I will use it, but if I can grow better vegetables, like bell peppers, from hybrids then it’s Ace for me all the way!
These dates are suitable for all seeds regardless of being heirloom or hybrid. But if you plan to save your own seeds from one year to the next, they must be heirloom seeds to grow true to their variety. If you want to produce seeds with a long viability here are ten types that are easy to grow! I suggested some varieties for you to try that have done really well in my gardens!
How Long Do Seeds Last: 10 Easy Grow Seeds with a Long Viability
Lettuce• Lasts up to 6 years• Try Paris Island Cos or Heirloom Iceberg
Beets • Lasts up to 4 years• Try Detroit Dark Red
Cabbage • Lasts up to 4 years• Try Red Express
Swiss Chard• Lasts up to 4 Years• Try Bright Lights
Radish • Lasts up to 5 Years• Try Cherry Belle
Winter Squash• Lasts up to 4 Years• Try Sweet Meat or Waltham Butternut
Cucumber • Lasts up to 5 Years• Try Boston Pickling
Tomatoes• Lasts up to 4 Years• Try Brandywine or Principe Borghese
Summer Squash• Lasts up to 4 years• Try Black Beauty or Golden Zucchini
Kale • Lasts up to 4 Years• Try Red Russian or Lacitino
Turnips • Lasts up to 5 years• Try White Egg
Kohlrabi • Lasts up to 4 Years• Try Early Red Vienna
Spinach• Lasts up to 4 years• Try Bloomsdale
Benefits of Heirloom Seeds Instead of Hybrid Seeds
1. Don’t Sacrifice Flavor and Nutrition
The first reasons we would suggest heirlooms over hybrids are taste and nutrition. Taste matters so much when it comes to growing produce, as you undoubtedly know. Flavor in hybrids is typically the first thing to go in the name of mass production. Some of the most well-known produce has seeds that breed a product meant to be grown and ripped off the vine as soon as possible. A lot of heirlooms have been saved for a long time and are intended for a specific market and grown in a particular setting. Typically, they are seeds that can sustain quite a beating while being transported over many miles. When it comes to gardening produce on a small farm or in a backyard, you don’t want the most valuable aspects (good nutritional value and yummy flavor) to be sacrificed for excess produce.
A significant aspect of working with hybrid seeds is the level of yield produced. For the commercial grower, this is a major need. But for the homestead gardener, that purpose is not essential since mass production is not the goal. Did you know because of the demand for hybrid seeds to create a ton of production, all farmers are now paying more for more yield? You will be paying hidden costs regardless, so it is wiser to purchase better quality heirloom seeds that supply your family and customers with better taste and healthier food. Big picture thinking!
2. Heirloom Seeds Have a Story
It’s exciting to know that these tiny heirloom seeds have a story. Passed down from generations, you will rarely find an heirloom seed that is less than 50 years old. Many of these seeds have come over to the US through the wonderful farmers that have made this land their own. That means the history of these seeds can be traced back to other countries, past centuries, and gardeners from different times. What a cool thing to know you are using something that holds value.
3. Let Nature Move at Nature’s Pace
Another beautiful thing about heirlooms is how they work the same as all the rest of nature. There is no exact science here, meaning the yield from these seeds does not all ripen at the same time. When it comes to the commercial growers, they are all about getting the most consistent and highest return for their work. When you are gardening in your backyard or small farm, you don’t have the same needs. It’s okay if there is a more gradual production. This simply means fresher produce! Heirloom seeds have a free flow adds a bit of quirk to them, and this shows nature is doing what it does best: surprising us in the most pleasant of ways.
4. Open-Pollination & True-to-type
For heirloom seeds, the typical issues people have with their yield are usually eliminated. When it comes to pests and diseases, heirlooms withstand these and more, especially with small farm care. As you turn hybrids into your own seeds, they will give you much return with their ability to be reused and in not having to do much of the legwork. These remain true to their original type and allow you to add your own personal touch.
What to Do with Extra Seeds
How long seeds last depends on the expiration date on the packet and how well they were stored before planting.
How to Store Seeds
Seeds must be under stored 50 degrees with low humidity. A cool, dark place like your refrigerator is perfect. The average years of viability in the chart above reflect those storage conditions. If you store seeds in less than ideal conditions, they may not last as long. If you store them in even colder temperatures (like in the freezer), they may last even longer!
Learn more about How to Store Extra Seeds
When it’s time to use seeds that have been in storage for a year or more, it’s a good idea to do a germination test. It’s easy and will give you an idea of how much you should over plant to plan for those seeds that simply won’t sprout.
You do a germination test much the same way you would pre-sprout or “chit” seeds like onions. Simply place 10 seeds between 2 wet paper towels and put it in a plastic bag in a warm, light spot for as many days as it should normally take the seed to germinate. (It varies greatly depending on what you’re growing.)
After you notice them beginning to sprout, give it another day or three. The number of seeds that sprout tells you what your germination rate will be. So if 5 seeds sprouted, your germination rate is 50%. Plant double for the number of plants you need to grow.
Vigor vs. Viability
While seeds that have been in storage for over a year may very well be viable, there is a chance they may not be as vigorous as they would have been if they had been grown when younger. (That’s why the packets have expiration dates.) While it seems wasteful to throw seeds away, you’re probably saving more in the long run by not fighting to keep a week seedling alive. It’s just as frustrating investing all of that time and effort into starting your seedling only to lose it after a while.
Keep a Seed Inventory
Keeping good homesteading records, including an inventory of your seeds, is another part of homestead management that makes the simple life easier! It saves you a ton of time by not having to sift through seed packets. Or trying to remember when you purchased the seeds. When it’s time to make purchases in the winter, simply reference your Seed Inventory sheet and know exactly what you have in storage and what you’ll need to buy.
Seed Inventory and garden planning worksheets are part of the Homestead Management Printables! Load your Homesteading Binder with them today as part of your homestead management strategy. You’ll be amazed at how much keeping homestead records will give you a better overall picture of the health and efficiency of your homestead.
How Long Do Seeds Last: Flower and Herb Seeds
The discussion in this article is specifically geared towards vegetable plants you will eventually eat. But there is another type of gardening. Gardening of flowers and herbs! Many people enjoy gardening flowers and herbs either separately or along with their produce. If you are one of those people, you may have never considered that the length of time those seeds last is different then let’s say a tomato seed or a radish seed.
As a basic rundown:
Annuals last about 1-3 years.
Perennials last about 2-4 years.
For Popular Herbs:
Marjoram, Oregano – 1 year
Chives – 1-2 years
Sage – 2 years
Parsley – 1-3 years
Arugula, Fennel – 3-4 years
Final Thoughts on Heirloom Seeds
Heirloom seeds are an excellent alternative to hybrid seeds. They are proven, tried, and true seeds that will outserve you in the long run. With a long history of working well, heirloom seeds are especially great if you have a home farm or do not work as a commercialized farmer. There are plenty of heirloom seeds with great vitality, and we hope this article has helped to educate and inform you on some of the vegetables you can grow with them!
What are your favorite vegetable varieties?
Are old seeds still good? When do you start seeds? Can you time Pumpkins for Halloween harvest?
Q. Are seeds from last year still good? There are no expiration dates on the packages….
- –Don in Mt. Vernon, Ohio
A. Most flower and vegetable seeds will stay viable for at least a few years if they’re stored at a low enough humidity and temperature. The ideal situation, says the USDA, is a room where the temperature and relative humidity add up to less than 100. Get one of those multi-purpose thermometer and hydrometer sets and find the best room in your house for long-term storage. (Or use it to test the room your seeds have been stored in thus far.)
And there are dates on your packages, Don! They should be stamped “Packed for 2006”, or 2007, or whatever year the seeds were sold at retail. Seeds that are only a year old, or slightly older but whose packets are still unopened, generally germinate nicely.
If they’re several years old, the packs were opened and/or the seeds were stored in less than ideal conditions, subject them to a germination test. Place some sample seeds inside moist paper towels and slide the towels into a plastic bag. Mark the type of seeds on the front, but don’t seal the bag. Let them sit out in the warmest room of your house and check them at day five and every day thereafter. Viable seeds should sprout by day ten. If they don’t, or if less than a third wake up, get fresh seed.
In the future, store excess seed in sealed glass jars to which you’ve added a few of those little moisture-absorbing desiccating pouches that come with vitamins and shoes. (The things that say, “Don’t eat me!”) And keep the jars in the room that best meets the ‘100 rule’; not in your always-damp garden storage area.
Q. Mike: When do you start indoor seedlings for spring planting outdoors?
- —Herman in Decatur, Alabama
A. Basically, you want to allow about two months from the time you start the seeds indoors to the day you plant them outside. That’s a week for the seeds to germinate, six weeks to grow strong stocky starts, and a week to harden them off before planting.
The common advice is to begin two months before your area’s “last average frost date”; that’s the date, on average, when temps will stay above freezing. Your local county extension service can provide your local date, and the dates are pretty easy to find online.
But ‘averages’ don’t mean much when cold air sweeps down from Canada to say hello to your newly planted tomatoes a week after ‘the book’ says they shouldn’t. And most of the plants we grow in our summer gardens—tomatoes, peppers, melons, beans, etc.—are tropical, and don’t enjoy nighttime temps that dip below the 50s. So rushing the season can be a big, bad mistake.
I personally start getting everything ready around the Ides of March, and make sure my seeds are all sown by April 1st for planting in the ground around June 1st (as opposed to my ‘last average frost date’ of May 15th). I urge my fellow Northerners to also be climactic cowards and start their seeds about 6 weeks before their last average frost date.
If you live in a cool clime and want early tomatoes, start two weeks sooner and be prepared to protect the young plants with hot caps and cloches their first couple of weeks outdoors. Maybe use a cold-hardy variety for the early crop as well.
Down South, where the Canadian threat is much less, I’d say six weeks before your last frost date (provided you even have one!) would be fine.
Q. I have about an acre and a half and have decided to plant pumpkins to sell as decorations around Halloween and Thanksgiving; some colored corn as well. When should I plant to harvest for Halloween and Thanksgiving? I have read about ’90 day’ and ‘120 day’ varieties, but June or August seems a bit late, as we normally plant our garden crops sometime in April. Any advice you can give would be appreciated.
- —Scott in wonderful Oklahoma
A. Ornamental corn is easy; it keeps really well after it reaches the dry stage on the stalk, so you can start that crop as soon as the soil is nice and warm. And you should start it all at the same time, as the more plants you grow, the more corn pollen will be in the air at tasseling time and the more ears of corn you’ll get. Those ears will be fuller too.
Now, about those ‘maturity numbers’. The “days to maturity” for crops that are direct seeded, like corn, peas, and beans, is what you might expect: The number of days from sowing the seed to picking the crop. So if the soil is warm enough when you start, your corn should be ready to pick pretty much when that number of days is up. And if you care for it correctly after picking, an August harvest will still look great in October and November.
Ornamental corn growing tips: Try and have a big load of composted horse or poultry manure delivered, as corn (all corn, including the sweet corns) is a heavy feeder that craves lots of nitrogen (water and sun too). For drying corns (like your ornamental crop) wait until the stalks are completely brown and the colorful kernels are hard to the touch; then harvest during a long dry stretch. Never harvest drying corn when it’s wet! Store the harvested cobs where they’ll get good airflow to aid in their continued drying. And make sure to protect them from mice and other miserable munchers.
Pumpkin timing is more critical. And the “days to maturity’ are entirely different for fruiting crops like pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers, etc. For crops like these, that are typically transplanted out to the garden as opposed to being direct-seeded, the days to maturity refers to the number of days, on average, it will take a six-week-old transplant to produce its first ripe fruits. So ’90 days’ is really more like 140 days if you start counting at seed-sowing time. Confused? I’ll explain how it works in this specific situation. I’ll even show my math!:
Let’s say you want to grow a 90-day pumpkin variety for sale to Halloweeners. People start buying their carving pumpkins around October 1st and are pretty much done acquiring them about a week before Halloween. So lets allow a week for the seeds to germinate, six weeks to reach transplant size, and roughly 13 weeks for those ’90 days to maturity’; that’s a total of about 20 weeks from the day you start the seeds to the day your first pickable pumpkins will be ripe. Pumpkins are a form of winter squash, and also store pretty well; so let’s plan to start harvesting the crop around mid-September.
My ciphering says this takes us back to around May 1st as an indoor seed-starting date; that’s pretty close to your usual timing. So for 90-day pumpkins, start a third of the crop on May Day, and stagger the rest of the seeding throughout the month. The later plantings will provide some insurance against an early crop loss, and some late ripening fruits for Turkey-time. (Note: Pumpkin vines need a LOT of room to sprawl, and the fruits need protection from pests like the vine borer.)
Oh, and if an early frost threatens, pick all of your full-sized pumpkins and get them indoors. As with tomatoes, the green fruits ripen up nicely at room temperature.
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