Don’t throw away last year’s seeds!

The seed catalogs are rolling in and piling up fast and as I surveyed my index card files crammed with seed packets I began to wonder about seed viability from year to year. I went to the library and got a few books and while I was checking them out, I mentioned to the volunteer what I was after; namely seed viability information. She said, “oh, I think they’re like over the counter medication…they say that they’ll expire but really, I think they last forever.” Hmmm, rather dubious, if you ask me but she’s got a point. Seed packets usually state the year in which they were packed or, misleadingly phrased as “Packed for 2009”, which leads one to think that they might have a shelf-life of a year or so. I wanted to get to the bottom of this.

I realize that this may not be important to non-organic gardeners who purchase their seeds at their local garden center. If the seed doesn’t germinate, they can always go and get a new packet. For gardeners who are concerned about GMO’s (genetically modified seed) and want to use organic seed, or those who want to grow unusual or heirloom varieties, this isn’t a reliable option. If the seed doesn’t germinate, you’ll need to place another mail order and that will involve valuable time (as well as the possibility that your choice has been Sold Out).

I may not store my seeds under optimal conditions (dark and cold) but I come pretty close and I wanted to get to the bottom of this.  I prepared an inventory of the seeds I have, including variety name and date packed (this is 8 pages long). I then did my research and prepared a list of the plants I grow and the length of time, in years, in which the seed will be viable if stored under perfect conditions. Wow! I was shocked to learn how much money I had potentially wasted over the years ordering fresh seed when I had plenty of year old seed in stock. I share the fruits of my labors below: Continue reading

The Mystery Breadman

Several months ago a very kind, thoughtful, senior fellow showed up at our door encumbered with a massive bag of Italian bread. He seemed shy, embarrassed, awkward, and in a bit of a rush and mentioned that he used to have chickens and that his friend, the commercial breadbaker, who’s name appeared on the paper sleeves protecting the loaves, used to give him the day old bread to feed to his chickens. Now chickenless, he somehow came to know of us, and wanting to do his part in the ‘waste-not-want-not’, recycling thing, decided to pass-on the abundance in a neighborly and nostalgic way. We thanked him, profusely, insisting that he take a dozen eggs, but he declined. This then created a bit of  a quandary for us. We feed our chickens and ducks organic feed and this ‘supplement’ of white bread was not exactly ‘organic’. (But then, neither were the FEMA baloney and cheese sandwiches on Wonder bread that were ‘donated’ to our birds after Hurricane Irene. I swear that they never developed mold, even after a week or more in the feed-shed!!!!  The chickens weren’t crazy about them either.) Furthermore, the chickens can’t quite manage them. They ignore the bread, unless it’s broken up into very small pieces,which is laborious and conflict-inducing if you’re doing this in the presence of the birds. The Cuisinart can be put into service to render the loaves into crumbs, but this just seems like a lot of work for free,stale white bread. This ritual of the anonymous bread supply left on the doorstep continues with monthly, or bi-monthly regularity. The turkeys and ducks can manage larger pieces and, now, seeing this flinging about of bread as a sort of game, seem to enjoy the sport of dashing around and winning the prized offerings. I know that what I’m about to say will sound hugely ungrateful and callous, but, the distribution of these massive quantities of stale Italian bread that are left with us in a spirit of generosity and cooperation have become a responsibility that I feel burdened by.

So, tonight, running out of ideas, tired of the pressure of entertaining the birds with valuable time, and, in a spirit of effective time management as well as perpetuating the ‘waste-not-want-not’ approach to rural living, I prepared bread pudding for Andrew, with chocolate chips, dried cherries, cinnamon, nutmeg, eggs and skim milk. I also threw a few of the loaves into the freezer for future culinary or avian adventures; croutons, bread crumbs, winter poultry entertainment, etc… (We, ourselves, are not so particular about what we ingest, although we should be). The mystery breadman remains a mystery. He is kind, thoughtful, considerate and generous with his gifts. The birds appreciate the entertainment, and we thank the gentleman for his efforts. I’m hoping that the next time he shows up I will have a nicely prepared bread pudding or a flavorful bag of croutons to offer him.