Growing Things: Just how long can you store your vegetable seeds?

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Q: We are getting ready to plant our vegetable garden and went into our collection of seeds that we store in our cold room and found several packages of the same seeds. For example, we have three packages of carrots, four of corn and so on.

While some of them have dates on them many do not. We are wondering how long the seeds will keep. Most of the seeds in our little collection are no more than four years old. Is this too old? Your help is always appreciated.

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A: I have been receiving quite a few questions as of late on how long seeds that have been stored will retain their viability. I thought this a timely topic with many of us getting ready to plant our gardens. While there are no hard and fast rules there are guidelines out there on how long you can use your seeds. Firstly, how you store your seeds is as important as how long. The tip is to store them in a cool, dark place and preferably in a well-sealed container. The vegetable crisper in your fridge would be an ideal place if you don’t have a cold room.

For years I would store mine in the basement in the open envelopes and then wonder why only half of the seeds germinated. I now put the seeds into a sealable plastic bag and then place the sealed bag into a Tupperware type of box. This then goes into my vegetable crisper. I have had very good success storing seeds in this manner. As for the question of how long they will remain viable, that depends a great deal on the type of seed.

Some general guidelines for seeds:

One year: Onion, parsnips, parsley

Two-three years: Beans, lettuces, leeks, celery, corn, peppers, carrots, peas

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Three-five years: Beets, chard, radish

Five+ years: Cucumber and tomato

When it comes to flower seeds a good rule of thumb is that annuals will last one to three years and perennials two to four years. Remember though that these are very rough guidelines. If you are unsure how old the seeds really are or about their viability you can always use a pot filled with potting mix as a test. Plant a few of the seeds in the pot and see how many germinate.

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