One area that I’ve been able to be particularly frugal in is my seeds. If you are a gardener and start your own plants from seeds… you are already saving money and are ahead of the game (compared to someone who has to buy all their starter plants from the greenhouse, or buys all their produce from the grocery store). If you consider the average seed packet can have 100 seeds, that’s 100 plants, more than you’ll ever need. Big savings.
But seeds have a viability lifespan – that means they do lose their ability to germinate as the years go by. Some have a short lifespan – like the onion family (1-3 years). Others, like wheat, pretty much will last your lifetime.
For a gardener, year after year, a big ol’ collection of seeds can gather. We are told by seed companies that seeds don’t last more than 2 years, and that you should buy new seeds every year, just to be safe. Well that sounds convenient for them, but is it really necessary? On the eve of day 365, does the seed all of a sudden die? No.
Remember that a seed is a living thing, and it is slowly respiring, using up its energy stores. Once the energy store is used up, it will not germinate no matter what. Just like batteries will slowly lose their power even while in storage, so do seeds. Most flower and vegetable seeds will remain viable for 3-5 years. Depending on the conditions where seeds are stored, that viability period can be shortened (stored in humid and/or warm location, temperature fluctuating), or lengthened (cool, dry, dark conditions).
Old seed gets a bad rap because the germination rate is often low. Rather than 90% of seeds germinating, perhaps only 10% will. This is a huge waste of a gardener’s time and energy if they’ve seeded lots of pots and only 3 plants came up. The gardener, in frustration, vows to buy seed every year and never use old seed again.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. Here’s my method for re-using my old seeds. I have alot of old or unknown origin seeds because I’ve inherited seeds or raided my mother’s stash. She often just labels them something like “melon” and I have no idea how old or what variety they are. But if she saved them, they must be good, because if there’s one thing my mom knows, it’s gardening.
I have alot of seeds. I do buy new seeds each year, but only if I want a different variety or am completely out. I do NOT buy new seeds just because my other ones are ‘old’. Nope, I use my old seeds!
This method enables me to determine an actual germination rate for my seeds. Rather than guessing, I will know an exact % rate that the seeds are good for germinating. It also enables me to only pot and plant seeds with a 100% germination rate. That’s right, 100%. I no longer sow 3-4 seeds per pot, hoping one will make it. Every single seed that I put in a pot is a gooder.
First, I count out 100 seeds. If I don’t have or need that many, I’ll take 50 or 25. The above ones are my mom’s… note they are just labelled “Flat Stuffer Peppers”. Not alot of information on them, they are hand-me -downs, but I know these peppers are awesome, so I want some for sure.
I fold a piece of paper towel in half, and wet it so it’s damp. Then spread out the 100 seeds. The pictured seeds are my treated Red Beauty red onion seeds I’ve used up, that’s why they are green. I no longer buy any treated seeds – they are best stayed away from, a must if you want to go organic.
I fold the paper towel up and put it in a plastic baggie and seal it, labeling it with the contents and the date. Obviously I’m not too fancy about it.
I keep the packets in a warm place. I have a heated seed bed, but you could put them on top of a fridge or somewhere similar where it is consistently warm.
# of germinated seeds ÷ # of seeds you started = % germination