Jan 23, 2013

Storing, Sorting, and Testing Seeds

Sorting seeds by type.
This time of year, I must practice great restraint to not buy every seed in my favorite seed catalog. Fortunately, it's easier to resist this urge if I do a little seed housekeeping before I place my order. The process of sorting, testing, and storing seeds saves time, energy, and money - and now's a great time of year to get started.

Begin by pulling out your old seeds and examining them. Give or throw away seeds you know you'll never use again. (For example, one year I attempted to grow tomatoes from seed using a small plastic greenhouse. But in our short warm season, those tomatoes didn't get enough warmth to produce fruit. So this year, I threw those seeds away.)

Next, sort your seeds by type. For example, stack all the lettuce seeds, all the carrot seeds, all the corn seeds, and so on. Use a rubber band or a piece of elastic to hold seeds of the same type together.

Now I like to refresh my seed-storing container. For best results, either refrigerate or freeze seeds in air tight containers. Place either silica gel or powdered milk inside (to help absorb moisture). Check your silica gel and recharge it in the oven, if needed. Dump out any powdered milk and give it to the chickens. Replace it with about an inch or so of some fresh powdered milk. (It's a great idea to change the powdered milk every six months.)

Next, I put most of the seeds back in the container, making notes of what I have so I don't order seeds I already have on hand. Then, little by little, I test my seeds for viability.

No matter how well you store your seeds, over time they grow less and less fertile. To determine whether you should dump old seeds and buy new ones, there is a simple test.

1. Moisten a paper towel with a spray bottle filled with water.

2. Fold the paper towel in half. Place about five seeds on top.

3. Gently roll up the paper towel and place the whole in a seal-able plastic bag. Seal. Label the bag with the date and type of seed.

4. Place the bag in a warm location. I put mine a few feet from our wood stove, but on top of the refrigerator works, too.(Remember: Seeds don't need light to sprout; they only need warmth and moisture.)

5. Check the seed packet for how many days the seeds should take to germinate. After that date, check
the seeds. If the seeds are good, most will have germinated and you can use them this season. If most of the seeds didn't germinate, throw away the seeds and buy new ones.

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