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"Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons. It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth."
- Walt Whitman
  You are here:  PublicationsArticles for ReprintingOrdering Seeds - Inventory, Plan   
 Ordering Seeds: Inventory the Old, Plan for the New Minimize

By Jean English, Copyright MOFGA, 2007

The hubbub of the holidays over; it’s time for gardeners to get down to the nitty-gritty of ordering seeds, and the first step in that process is to inventory what’s in that shoebox on the shelf. Many seeds that are left over from last year or even previous years will still be viable. An organized checklist can help you go through your stock, see what you have, and order what you don’t.

Most garden seed, properly stored, will last for at least a couple of years; some last five to 10 years with little loss of viability (the ability to germinate and produce a healthy seedling). The Fedco Seeds catalog offers a list of exceptions—seeds that are good for only one year: onion, parsnip, parsley, chives, shiso, scorzonera, Batavian endive, licorice, pennyroyal, St. Johnswort, liatris, delphinium, larkspur, perennial phlox, and pelleted or hot-water treated seed. Seed longevity averages are listed in a table on page 8 of the Fedco catalog (available from Fedco Seeds, P.O. Box 520, Waterville ME 04903 or at www.fedcoseeds.com).

Photo by Victoria Marshall. 2007.

Regarding the term “properly stored” -- that shoebox on the shelf doesn’t really qualify. Seeds retain their viability longest if they’re kept in a cool (32 to 41 degrees F.), dry place out of the sun. Gardeners are often advised to store extra seed in a glass or other airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer, with a packet of powdered milk from a freshly opened box, or absorbent silica gel (sold by craft stores to dry flowers), in the bottom of the container to extract extra moisture. A tablespoon or two of powdered milk per glass jar will absorb excess moisture for about six months. Do this with the seeds that you order this year, and you may get more for your money in the long run. (You can put more than one packet of seed in each jar.)

If you’re in doubt about existing seeds, try germinating 25 or so on a damp towel or paper towel. How many send out roots within a week or 10 days? If the percentage is quite low, order new seeds. If about 50% of the seeds germinate, you might want to use these up this year, sowing them thicker than recommended, and order new ones next year. If germination is good, you’re all set for this year, and maybe more. Remember, though, that seeds will germinate more easily on a constantly moist towel than they will in the ground, where they’re subjected to more stresses.

Once you know or make an educated guess as to which seeds are viable, cross them off a checklist and you’ll be left with names of plants for which you’ll need new seed. The index on the back of the Fedco catalog can serve as a checklist; or you can download a list from www.mofga.org and use it as is or adapt it to the kinds of flowers, vegetables and herbs that you like to grow.

This article is provided by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), PO Box 170, Unity, ME 04988; 207-568-4142; mofga@mofga.org; www.mofga.org. Joining MOFGA helps support and promote organic farming and gardening in Maine and helps Maine consumers enjoy more healthful, Maine-grown food. Copyright 2006 by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

    

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