As a housekeeper, I am far from gifted. I can stay on top of the necessary things – dishes, laundry, and the bathroom sink – but jumbled drawers and other small pockets of chaos take on a life of their own. A prime example is the bin where I store my garden seeds. I put off its annual cleanout because it feels like housework, but the job comes with a big reward: getting to order new seeds! To know what you need, you must first know what you have.
Organizing Stored Seeds
As detailed in my 2011 article, Seed Storage Made Simple, I use a plastic bin kept in a cool, dark room to store my seeds. In many homes, under the bed in the coolest bedroom would be a comparable spot. I also use desiccant packets from shoes and other goods to maintain constant low humidity, because swings in humidity are the main enemy of stored seeds. Two commenters to that article mentioned using pill bottles and bead sorting trays for seeds, wonderful ideas that inspired a reuse for my empty mint containers.
Another innovation I’ve made in recent years is to package my homegrown saved seeds in window envelopes gleaned from junk mail. I know at a glance how much seed I have without opening the envelope, and whether I have enough to share with the local seed bank, which provides its own envelopes.
I sort my seeds by plant type, with these general groups: cabbage family, cooking greens, flowers, herbs, onions, roots, salad greens, and tomatoes/peppers. For years each group was in its own messy plastic bag, but this year I switched to paper lunch bags because they are easier to label.
Some gardeners prefer to organize their seeds by planting date, which can certainly work. I suppose I use a hybrid system, because during the growing season, I keep a bowl of seed packets appropriate for immediate planting in the kitchen, and change up the selection every few weeks. Disorder sets in quickly in the seed storage bin, but the garden keeps getting planted anyway.
Uses For Old Vegetable Seeds
I may not have much money, but I am rich in seeds, especially old vegetable seeds. This year I found many seeds in my collection more than 3 years old, which is not good unless the seeds are cucurbits or certain cabbage family crops, which often stay good for 5 years, as shown in the table below.
|When to Discard
||Commonly Grown Crops
|After 5 years
||Cucumber, melon, radish, collards, annual flowers
|After 4 years
||Eggplant, tomato, squash
|After 3 years
||Beans, peas, cabbage family crops, carrot family crops
|After 2 years
||Leek, mesclun, sweet corn
|After 1 years
After going through my seeds packet by packet, I amassed a small mountain of seeds so old they could not be trusted to make a good crop. In a second sort, I plucked out seeds of some organic seeds that are edible. Broccoli and radish seeds make great sprouts, and corn grows good microgreens. When you sow old seeds in the garden, you can waste two weeks waiting for a failed planting, but old seeds that punk out in a sprouting jar are no big deal.
As the payoff for these housekeeping tasks, I get to shop for seeds I really need! Armed with my list of most-wanted seeds, I can transform a wretched winter day by spending time studying new-to-me varieties of carrots, squash or basil. It's a seductive way to start the new season.