Tucked inside a seed packet, the seed itself is a living life form awaiting the moment to be germinated. In its dormant state, it can maintain an optimal lifespan if it is kept in good environmental conditions. So much depends upon the “keeper” to ensure the seeds have every chance to grow and thrive. With a few simple steps, you can save your most precious flower, vegetable and herb seeds.
A Seed’s Lifespan
Not all of us have the forethought and organization to take the time and write the year on each newly purchased seed packet. In the eagerness to plant, we often buy more than we need. It’s not true seeds last a maximum of two years. Contained in the right conditions, seeds can maintain their high standard of germination rates. To help you understand how long specific seeds can remain dormant, use the list below. You may not have to toss what you presume is an “old” seed packet, and be able to eliminate the expense of buying seeds annually.
Two years: Anise, chive, cumin, marjoram, oregano, and parsnip
Four years: Beans, broccoli, carrots, celery, corn, eggplant, fennel, leeks, lettuce, parsley, peas, peppers, and tomatoes
Five years: Basil, dill, Brussels, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, radish, rocket, turnip, and rutabaga
Six plus years: Artichoke, beets, celery, cucumber, gourds, melons, spinach, squash, sunflower, and Swiss chard
The Role of a “Keeper”
Seeds are greatly affected by humidity and warmth; therefore, the chance of successful germination could be reduced by 50% without proper care. This year, keep your seed packets in Mason jars with a sealable or gasket lid. Add a small hand full of rice to each jar to absorb the moisture, and place each jar in the back of your refrigerator or, better yet, the freezer. Seeds require a consistent, stable location, and would benefit if the door remained closed.
When the time arrives to remove the jars, allow them to sit at room temperature for 48 hours before opening. If exposed to air, condensation will form and saturate your seeds – and your effort!
Preserving the Year’s Seeds
To be keepers of the year’s planting, it is often desirable to dry the seeds of your healthiest flowers, herbs, and vegetables. It is true these particular seeds will last longer in storage and thrive when planted. The most challenging part is knowing the right time to gather the seeds; therefore, research before you take a chance.
Pepper plants: Once the pepper plant begins to change color, indicating ripeness, it is safe to pluck the pepper from the plant. Scrape the seeds onto a plate and allow to dry in a non-humid and shady location. (When drying “wet” seeds, only use a glass or ceramic plate. A paper plate or paper towel will incur sticking.) The seeds are dry when they no longer bend.)
Cucumbers: The most important preparation you can do for the cucumber plant is to continue removing the fruit. Without this effort, the plant will stop producing. Towards the end of the season, begin to choose your cucumbers for seed preservation. For wet plants with a coating, it’s a good practice to allow the seeds to soak in water for 24 hours before rinsing and drying.
Melons and Squash: When the flesh of the squash or a melon can be punctured with a fingernail, its seeds are ready to be preserved. Some fruits, like the cantaloupe, will have a seed cavity; therefore, take care before you begin cutting. Wet seeds require the seeds to be washed in a strainer and rinsed thoroughly before setting out to dry.
Newspaper Drying: It’s always sad to witness the beauty of an exceptional flower or herb begin to wilt and die; yet, the seeds can carry life anew to another season. For dry seeds, consider labeling individual pieces of newspaper with the name of the flower or herb. Choose a dry day as soon as you notice the seeds head ripen. (You may need to force some capsules open by using a bag and shaking.) Make sure all seeds are thoroughly cleaned to eliminate pests, mold, and diseases. Once you have stored in a small paper bag, prepare your Mason jars and space, preferably in the freezer.
Be prepared! Your garden and flower beds will be bountiful and beautiful next season! The hardest part is waiting!