What’s Neri Eating?
From farm to table in Southern California
- About the author
Don’t throw out your expired vegetable seeds!
Both packets of seeds expired over 3 years ago, but had an one hundred percent germination rate.
Shortly after filling my self-made planter, (yes, I built it, but I didn’t cut the lumber) with organic potting mix, I found several packets of seeds that had expired several years ago. I decide to do a little experiment and scattered the mesclun seeds on one side and the arugula seeds on the other. A few days later my container was a giant chia pet, with barely any visible soil.
Expecting a germination rate of less than 25%, I was shocked at how many seeds were still viable. The seeds had been stored in a cool dry place inside their original unopened packets, placed in a freezer bag.
We have been eating sprouts and thinnings for a few weeks and the plants are finally approaching their mature size. Normally my plant rows are more even, but I wasn’t expecting to thin-out 50-60 little seedlings.
The moral of the story: Test your expired seed packets before you toss them, unless they have been stored improperly. What is improper? If the packets have been left in a very hot environment, become wet or both, then it is unlikely they will germinate.
I don’t recommend using your garden beds or containers to test your seeds, unless you have a large yard. The easiest way to test the germination rate of your seeds: THE PLASTIC BAG METHOD
- Dampen a paper towel and ring it out if necessary. You do not want it to be soaking wet.
- Lay the single or double layer of damp paper towels flat in a standard 1 gallon freezer bag.
- Next count out ten seeds from each packet and place each seed evenly apart on the paper towel, leaving a large space between sections for each packet. You may label the sections using post-its or a sharpie if you are testing more than a few packets at a time. Seal the bag, pushing out most of the air.
- Place the bag on a flat surface in the warmest room of your home or near a warm, heat generating appliance (top of the refrigerator, near a printer, DVR or cable box). The bag creates a mini-greehouse and many be reused indefinitely for this purpose— unless you forget about your germinating seeds and the bag becomes moldy.
- Check the seeds every 1-2 days to ensure there is moisture in your bag and to see if the seeds are germinating. Use the number of days for germination on the seed packet as your guide.
- Once the seeds have sprouted, count how many of the seeds have germinated from each group.
- Since we are using 10 seeds this makes calculating the germination rate easy.
- 1 out of 10 seeds = 10% germination rate vs 9 out of 10 seeds = 90% germination rate
If the seeds are going to be used to grow plants as opposed to eating or growing sprouts, it is safe to use them past the expiration date. This is a small way to reduce waste and save money. Start with small changes to make sustainability part of your life.
Shortly after filling my self-made planter, (yes, I built it, but I didn't cut the lumber) with organic potting mix, I found several packets of seeds that had expired several years ago. I decide to do a little experiment and scattered the mesclun seeds on one side and the arugula seeds on the other. A…
Planting Old Seeds – Can You Use Out-Of-Date Seeds?
It happens to all gardeners. We tend to go a bit hog wild in the spring, buying way too many seeds. Sure, we plant a few, but then we throw the rest in a drawer and next year, or even many years later, we find them and wonder about the possibility of planting old seeds. Is it a waste of time germinating old seeds?
Can You Use Out-of-Date Seeds?
The simple answer is planting old seeds is possible and okay. No harm will come from using old seeds. The flowers or fruit that come from out-of-date seeds will be of the same quality as if they were grown from fresh seeds. Using seeds from old vegetable seed packets will produce vegetables that are just as nutritious as those from current season seeds.
The question is not so much about using old seeds, but rather your chances of germinating old seeds.
How Long Will Old Seeds Stay Viable?
In order for a seed to germinate, it must be viable, or alive. All seeds are alive when they come from their mother plant. There is a baby plant in every seed and, as long as it is alive, the seed will grow even if they are technically out-of-date seeds.
Three major things affect a seed’s viability:
- Age – All seeds stay viable for at least a year and most will be viable for two years. After the first year, the germination rates for out-of-date seeds will start to fall.
- Type – The type of seed can affect how long a seed stays viable. Some seeds, like corn or peppers, will have a hard time surviving past the two year mark. Some seeds, like beans, peas, tomatoes, and carrots, can stay viable as long as four years. Seeds like cucumber or lettuce can stay viable up to six years.
- Storage conditions – Your old vegetable seed packets and flower packets will have a much better chance of keeping their seeds viable if they are stored well. Seeds will stay viable much longer if stored in a cool, dark place. Your produce drawer in the refrigerator is a good choice for storage.
Regardless of the date on your seed packet, germinating old seeds is worth a shot. Using old seeds is a great way to make up for last year’s excesses.
It happens to all gardeners. We plant a few seeds then throw the rest in a drawer, finding them later and wondering if they're still good. Is it a waste of time germinating old seeds? Read here to find out.