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

Gigante d’Italia

Mamma mia, those are BIG & HEFTY seed packets!

Bavicchi seed packets

Gigante di Perugia! Italian seed packets are always HUGE!

I love Italian seed packets because there’s so much to love. The graphics are huge, the packets  are huge (5″ x 8″) the contents, again, huge, and the brilliant and thorough cultivation information cleverly done with idiot-proof symbols  and signifiers requiring no language skills ( and I’m not just talking about italian language skills, I mean any skills at all, in any language) are pure genius. I thought the company called FOUR was unique in its packaging pizzazz and seminal largesse but today’s delivery of seeds from Bavicchi in Perugia indicates otherwise. Gigantic! Tremendous! Fantastic!  Is there more to love? Oh yes there is…seed viability dates and germination rates.  I have never seen a packet of Burpees seeds that indicates its contents’ viability dates. They usually print something like “Packed for 2009” or “SELL BY 2009” but that could easily lead one to think that the seeds lose viability after that date  and must be discarded and replaced with fresh seed the following season (call me a cynic but I believe that’s the idea). Well, there are, in fact, some seeds whose germination rates decline after one year or even lose viability entirely but they are the exception, not the rule.  My Bavicchi seed packet for Eggplant tells me that it was packed in 2009 and remains viable through 2012. It also tells me that the seeds will do best in a ph5.5 – 7.5, the distance and depth by which to plant them, the rate of germination, how much ground this packet will cover and that 100grams of this particular eggplant provides 18 calories containing Vitamins A, B1, B2 and C. Were these the most expensive seeds I purchased? Not by a longshot. In fact, there are so many seeds that I may be giving some away as gifts. Bravo Bavicchi!!

Seeds glorious seeds…

Our seed orders are being filled and some little bubble-wrapped envelopes are appearing in the mailbox.  This year, fearful that I would be tempted to go overboard,  I practiced tremendous restraint by repeating the mantra “thrift, thrift thrift” as I prepared my list.  I  now grow suspicious that I may have erred on the side of stinginess. Andrew will remind me that our seed stock from last year is still filled to the brim and that’s only counting the shoebox storage. He will not remind me (because he will not tell me) that all those bits of brown paper bags that I notice peeking out of the baskets above the hutch (which I am too short to reach and too lazy to go through the effort of accessing) contain seeds that he’s indiscriminately saved. F1 hybrid? Open-pollinated? Oh its all the same to him in his experimental science-project world of gardening. Of course there are those lupine seeds that we surreptitiously swiped from the roadside on Campobello Island last year. Will they be blue? Pink? Who knows.. not having the best track record with lupines we’ll be lucky if we find out. At this point I’m tempted to forego all the fuss and just fling the seeds on top of the snow in the general vicinity of where we want them to be as this seems to be how they propagate on their own in nature. I doubt the germination rates could be any lower than those in our greenhouse.