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Tips for Saving and Using Old Seed


Tips for Saving and Using Old Vegetable Seed – Save Money!
by Dawn Lesley Stewart

Vegetable gardening is an investment, and the returns are tasty. However, there are ways to save money. One of those money-saving methods is to reuse older seed. Here are some tips to successfully determine what seed to save and use.

Where to Save Old Seed

I am frugal by nature. After all my seeds are planted, I make sure to write the year on the remaining packets filled with seed. A bold Sharpie marker works well so that the date stands out. It is best to store seeds in a cool, dark, dry location. I place all my dated seed packets in a large rectangular tin that once held cookies. Taking this one step further, I place the most “current year” seeds in one area of the tin, and the older seed packets in a separate area. That way, at a glance, I immediately know which seed is the newest.

So Which Older Vegetable Seeds Grow Well?

The longevity of seeds depends on several factors. It is important to properly store the seed. Another consideration is age; older seed will not germinate as readily as when the seed was new. Some seed packets list the germination rate of the seed, and this might offer an indication of how viable the seed will be in the future. If the germination rate listed on the package is low, then the likelihood of the seed being useful several years in the future slims.

As a general rule, most seed can be reused within one to two years after it is purchased. The seed packet will most likely have an expiration date (or “best used by” date) on it.

Based on my experiences, here is a list of what I’ve discovered:

Beans – save seed up to 5-7 years. 
I have planted very old bean seed with great success. This includes both bush beans and pole beans.

Carrots – save seed up to 3-4 years.
Usually older carrot seed works well for me, but sometimes I have mixed success.

Corn – save seed up to 2-4 years.
I lean toward using older corn seed as soon as possible. I find that sometimes the plants aren’t as robust as when the seed was fresh.

Cucumbers – save seed up to 6-7 years.
Again, cucumber seed is one that I have mixed success with planting. The seed may sprout fine, but sometimes the plants don’t thrive.

Lettuce – save seed up to 3-6 years.
Saved lettuce seed grows well for me. I have the best luck growing lettuce in hanging baskets.

Peas – save seed up to 4-6 years.
I recently found a package of pea seed that was 10 years old and planted it. Some of it is actually growing! 

Peppers – save seed up to 4-5 years.
This is another seed that has been good to me. I am currently growing plants from pepper seed leftover from last year.The germination rate is 100% from both varieties of bell peppers.

Pumpkins – save seed up to 4-5 years.
Pumpkins belong to the squash family, and follow the same rules. I have no problem using older seed.

Radish – save seed up to 4-6 years.
This seed never fails to surprise me. Radish seed has no problem growing in my garden.

Squash – save seed up to 4-7 years.
The seed I have saved falls within the zucchini and summer squash families. I have planted very old seed with success. Currently, I have growing several types of zucchini seed that are two years old. The seed had about a 90% germination rate.

Tomatoes – save seed up to 5-7 years.
Every year I overbuy tomato seed. Some varieties definitely have better germination than others. Overall, though, the older seeds grow well for me.

Tips for Planting Older Seed

Now that you’ve saved your seed, you are probably wondering if there are any special tips for planting it.

When directly sowing older seed into the ground, be generous. The older the seed, the more sharply the germination rate will decline. Worse case scenario, all the older seed will germinate, and you’ll have to thin the plants. That picture certainly wins over the image of sparse plants with the wish that you had been a bit more free-handed with the seed.

I start most of my vegetable seed indoors. The plants are started upstairs where it is warmer, and then once germination begins, the plant trays are moved into the basement where the plants grow under fluorescent lights. Using this planting method, it is easy to spot seeds if they don’t germinate. Replant each pot as needed. If you have to replant seed, look at it as if you were planting crops to grow at staggered intervals to extend the harvest.

What is a Hybrid?

If the seed packet or description of the vegetable lists it as a hybrid, then seed cannot be saved from the plant. A hybrid seed comes from several varieties of plants that have been “crossed” to create a new plant variety. If you were to save seed from the plant, and try to grow it the following year, 1) it might not grow at all, 2) the seed will most likely revert to one of its parent or grandparent plants and not grow “true”.

However, if you have packets of old vegetable seeds that are labeled hybrid, you might be able to plant those seeds with good results. As with planting all older seed, germination success often depends upon the type of plant and its germination rate. You’ll have to experiment to see what works best for you.

I hope these guidelines bring you a bountiful garden! Not only will you have healthy, home-grown food on the table … but a bit more money in your pocket.

Happy Gardening !

Dawn Lesley Stewart has enjoyed organic gardening for over forty years, learning at a young age from her father. First love is vegetable gardening followed by her interest in butterfly and bee habitats. She considers her yard a sanctuary for birds and wildlife. Her writing has appeared online and in print and has won writing awards. Dawn is the author of Harriet’s Horrible Hair Day (picture book), Mist-Seer (paranormal novel), and her newest book 300-Plus Quilting Tips, Tricks & Techniques features over 35 years of quilting knowledge.

Copyright 2010 Dawn Lesley Stewart

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Copyright 2000 Dawn Lesley Stewart