Saving Unused Seeds

A typical packet of vegetable or flower seeds may contain dozens or even hundreds of seeds. Yet, I might only plant a few seeds because I only want one or two plants of a certain variety of tomato or pepper. I love leaf lettuce salads, but a small family is hardly going to need several hundred lettuce plants that you would get if  you planted every seed in the packet.  It is hardly efficient to buy a pack of vegetable seeds only to use a few of them. The solution is to save the seeds and use them over several years.  

Seeds will last a long time if properly stored. You just need to keep them dry and cool. I keep them in glass and plastic jars in the refrigerator. I only take them out when I need some for planting. Most seeds will last 5 years or more. I had some hot pepper seeds that were 14 years old and still sprouted.  Some of my 16 year old tomato seeds sprouted right next to their fresh cousins. Some seeds like corn will last only a couple of years.

If you are worried about germination rates of old seeds, plant extra. You can also test the germination. A few weeks before planting time put 10 or so seeds on a damp paper towel. Put the towel in plastic bag and put that in a warm spot. Check it in a week or so and see what kind of germination rate you get. At planting time, sow an appropriate amount to get the number of plants you need.  

Saving your vegetable seeds does have its down side. Every January I get these seed catalogs in the mail.   I go through and find a few new varieties I want to try. The problem is that I already have the majority of seeds that I need from previous years. It does not make sense to pay shipping charges for a few packs of seed.

Seed savers also save seeds harvested from the current year for planting in the next.  Usually they save heirloom varieties. I applaud people that do that. Preserving genetic variability in our food crops is important.  Many of the vegetables that I grow are hybrids, and if I saved seeds from these plants, the next year's crop would not be anything like the parent crop.

My seed collection

I do save seeds from my favorite pole bean. It is a flat Roma type. It is very flavorful. The advantage of pole beans is that they are steady producers over the summer. There are enough for a meal every few days. Bush beans are bred to have all the beans be ready to harvest at the same time for commercial growers. Flavor is a secondary consideration. A home grower gets more beans than can be used, then nothing. Pole beans do take longer to start producing, so I plant some bush beans to provide a first crop until the pole beans are ready.

I also save garlic bulbs from the current crop for the next year. I grow two varieties of hard neck garlic plus elephant garlic.  I have no idea what varieties the hard neck are. They were given to me years ago.

In Wisconsin, garlic is ready for harvesting in late July or early August.  After harvesting and letting them dry out I select the largest bulbs for replanting. In mid to late September I plant them for the next year. 

Elephant garlic also produces hard little bulb like things outside the main bulb. You can plant those and the next year you will end up with a single section bulb sort of like an onion. You can plant that for the following year and end up with a normal multi section bulb. I usually just eat them.

Saving vegetable seeds can greatly reduce the costs of gardening. You can save even more by buying discounted seed packs at the end of the season and putting them into the jar in your refrigerator right away. 

© 2009 - 2022 Gary C. Sutcliffe


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