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How to check if your older seeds are still good.

Many types of seeds will still be alive even after being stored for many months, some even for years. You only want to plant seeds that will germinate and grow. How do you know if your seeds are viable? Do this simple germination test.

What does viable mean?

Seeds that are viable are alive and able to germinate, they still have life force in them. Seeds that are not viable are dead, they cannot germinate or grow into plants.

How long do seeds last?

How long seeds will last depends on many factors including the type of seed as well as the saving and storage methods. Some seeds will only stay viable for one year, while others might last over a decade when stored properly. Lettuce and onion seeds often have a very short life, while tomato seeds have been known to stay viable for well over 10 years.

How do I know if my seeds are still viable?

Are you wondering if those seeds in that drawer in your basement are viable (able to germinate and grow)?

saved seeds in drawer

Maybe you didn't plant all the seeds that came in those packets last year or the year before, or, if you're like me, your eyes were bigger than your calendar, and you bought more seed varieties than you could plant or manage, so you want to try them this year? OR perhaps you tried saving seeds last year, and now your are wondering "are my saved seeds viable?".

It is much easier to test the germination of seeds prior to planting, then to wait and wonder over moist earth.

Supplies you need to test the germination rate of your seeds:

You don't need any fancy equipment to test if your seeds are still good. Many people recommend placing each type of seed in separate plastic baggies, but I prefer to avoid using plastic when I can, so I have modified the method.

  • seeds

  • a glass casserole dish with a lid (or a similar container)

  • paper towel

  • water

  • a piece of paper (for making your legend)

Steps for a simple paper towel germination test:

1) Set out 5 or 10 seeds of each type in a glass casserole dish lined with moist paper towels.

In this case I was able to check 25 seed types in one go.

It is important to keep a legend when using this method! I like to anchor around something obvious, peas in this case, so I can remember which edge is the top.

Checking seed viability Day 1

2) Cover with another layer of moist paper towel and then a lid.

3) Check after 2-3 days by carefully peeling back the top paper towel, and then again every day after that. Make sure the paper towel stays moist, but not wet. Most seeds will germinate within a few days to a week.

If a seed has germinated you can take those out and eat them as sprouts, plant them, or compost them. Leave the others for at least 2 weeks, or even longer if the seed is known to be particularly slow to germinate.

What do the results mean?

Most of the seeds I tested germinated at 80-100% (8/10-10/10 seeds grew a little sprout) ) even though some of them were 4-5 years old. If the germination rate was less than 50%, I may still plant them, but at much higher density than the package recommends. For the varieties that didn't germinate at all (a few of my only 1-2 year old lettuce varieties) I know I'll need to get fresh seeds this year.

Checking seed germination Day 4.

Do you have seeds lingering somewhere that you are considering planting? Use this simple method to check if those seeds are viable so you know before you plant!

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