There are a couple of steps I follow when preparing to order new seeds each year. I reorganize seed packets in the shallow boxes where I keep them, replacing the spring, summer, fall planting order they’ve been in since the start of the last planting year with an alphabetical order that matches most seed catalog layouts, and then I check the contents of each packet and decide what seeds I need to order for the year ahead. This year, however, my seed boxes seemed fuller than ever and the challenge of alphabetizing so many packets prompted me to look seriously at my seed-ordering habits. Just how long have I been keeping some of these seed packets and why?
If I want more of a variety and the seed packet is empty, it’s an easy decision to order more. But if there are a few, or more than a few, seeds left in packets ordered one, two, three or more years ago, do I order new seeds and avoid the risk of running out or do I stay with the old seeds, plant what’s left, and hope for germination? I confess to the habit of ordering new if there’s the slightest chance I’ll need them but also keeping the old even though I do know that seeds don’t stay viable forever. As a result, my seed boxes have arugula going back to 2011, beets to 2009, broccoli to 2008, corn to 2007 and on through the alphabet to some really old zucchini seeds. Two boxes have become five.
Getting serious about sorting out these overflowing boxes, I searched for some seed viability charts. Of the many charts online, I settled on one from the High Mowing Seeds, a table that lists seeds alphabetically in one column and “longevity under proper seed storage conditions” in the next. Using it, I separated my seed collection into two boxes of probably viable and three boxes of most likely not viable. I’m not ready to discard these older seeds quite yet; I do remember times when some officially expired seeds of corn, peas and onions have germinated. But at least when this year’s seed packets arrive, I’ll have a much easier time filing them into the current, thinned out, viable seeds boxes.
|Seed Type||Longevity Under Proper Seed Storage Conditions|
|Brussels Sprouts||4 years|
|Summer Squash||4 years|
|Winter Squash||4 years|
Another thing I do while sorting through seed packets is to note the especially successful varieties from the year before. There were four new varieties from 2017, all from Territorial Seeds, that I will definitely plant again:
Redbor Kale: advertised as “vigorous and cold hardy…both beautiful and tasty. Mild and crisp, this finely curled kale adds a flash of color to salads.” I’ll grow even more plants next year.
Hunter Butternut Squash: I really like Burpee’s Butterbush butternut squash but the description of Hunter tempted me to order seeds for comparison. Hunter is everything the description claims and I’ll plant it again next year: “A classic butternut that sprints past most common varieties, maturing faster than any of them that we’ve trialed! The shapely fruit have creamy, smooth textured, sweet orange flesh, and average 1 1/4 to 2 pounds each. Healthy plants are highly productive too. These long-storing squash will provide delicious eating all winter long.”
Cherokee Carbon Tomato: “The best of Cherokee Purple and Carbon, these beautiful beefsteaks have a dusky blush and rich, delicious flavor.” Who knew there’d be a tomato even tastier than Cherokee Purple? From Territorial’s Heirloom marriage series, Cherokee Carbon is one that I will definitely plant again.
Orange Paruche Cherry Tomato: I’m always tempted to try taste-test winners and I can see why Orange Paruche won. It has replaced Sungold as my favorite orange tomato. “The quintessential flavor of summer is captured in these succulent, sweet and flavorful fruit. Orange Paruche excels in productivity with astonishing quantities of brilliant, glowing orange fruit that are irresistible and vitamin-packed. The 1-inch round fruit crowd branched trusses on the indeterminate, vigorous plants. The winner of our in-house taste test.”
And how long will I keep these seeds before reordering them? According to the seed viability chart, seeds of kale, winter squash and tomatoes should be good for four years. Unless I run out, I’ll try not to order more until 2021.