Seed Storage, Organization and Viability Testing

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Do you have a ton of seeds falling out of their packets? Are you tired of going through every box of seeds to find the one that you want? Every time you rummage through your seeds you promise yourself you’re going to organize them. Right? Now is the time!

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I wish I could reach through the screen and give you this ‘round tuit’. Well, you could borrow it at least, it belonged to my grandfather so I’d hate to part with it. But, I digress, it’s time. Today is the day. Go get your seeds. I’ll wait!

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Got ‘em? Good, let’s get started! These are my Seeds of the Month from Mike The Gardener.

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Organize Your Seeds

The first thing we need to do is organize those seeds. There are a couple of logical ways to proceed.

Alphabetical–This choice is simple enough. Take all your seeds and put them in alphabetical order by variety, type of plant, name or whatever will jog your memory. However, if you have a ton of seeds this system might get cumbersome really fast.

By Category–Probably the most popular way to organize seeds is by category. Put all your herbs together, then all your beans together and so on. You could go alphabetical inside the category but let’s not get too crazy, we actually want to do some gardening this year.

By Plant Date–This is organization for serious gardeners. You’ve outgrown the organization by category and need something that helps you organize your gardening calendar.

By Difficulty–This is a category that could be for beginners or seasoned gardeners depending on your goals. A beginner might really benefit and have a successful more predictable growing season with organization like this. Then a seasoned gardener can make plans for food storage or profits if they sell any of their leftover harvest.

By Age–This is a great way to organize seeds if you’re one of those gardeners that likes to try something new every year and likes to keep a big variety. Simply organize your seeds according to the date purchased or obtained.

A Combination–This is the category for most OCD gardeners. You’ve got your seeds organized by plant date but then have them organized by category too. Then on top of that everything is alphabetized.

Seed Storage

Once you’ve got your organization method picked out it’s time to move onto exactly what kind of container and where you will need to store your seeds.

While doing research for this post I came across a Martha Stewart video. Yeah, I’m not a big fan either, but hey, I was curious. So it turns out she stores her seeds in plastic containers. Impressive and relatable, right? Well, come to find out she stores her plastic containers in a refrigerator in the basement of her greenhouse. Dangit, she had me all the way until she got to the greenhouse. So for those of us who don’t have a basement in their greenhouse, or even a greenhouse for that matter,  what kind of container works best?

Seed Containers

Plastic Bin–That’s what Martha and I both store our seeds in. You can pick them up at your favorite box store. You might want to take a seed packet with you to make sure they fit.

Photo Album–This is a great idea because the seeds fit perfectly. The sleeves are not air tight and you can place them on a bookshelf. Here is an example of seeds stored in a homemade seed organizer made from a photo album. You can also get fancy and buy an album especially made for storing seeds.

Mason Jar–No, I’m not putting this here because I have a obsession with Mason jars. Well, maybe a little but they do work especially if you decide to organize by plant date or month. Most of us will need less than 8 jars. You can just place a jar for each planting month on a shelf then place the seeds to be planted that month in the coordinating jar. Here’s a great example.

Plastic Bags–You could place your seeds into a plastic bag but be careful because your seeds need air. If you use a plastic bag be sure not to zip it all the way.

Metal or Wooden Crate–You could get really fancy and store your seeds in a container especially designed for seed storage. There is nothing truly special about these container other than they look pretty and seed packets usually fit with not problems. They would make a great gift for the gardener in your life, but they are not necessary for good seed organization and storage.

Other Container–You get lucky and find a storage solution that was designed for something else, or you could go old school and use a cardboard box. Check out this old victory garden seed storage box.

Whatever container you choose to use make sure it’s big enough, or you can buy enough of them to accommodate all of your seeds. And if you’re like me you’ll need a little room for growing your seed stock.

Where Is The Best Place In Your Home To Place Your Seed Box?

Your seeds need to be in a cool dry place.

Freezer–Some people will tell you that the freezer is an option, and it is, but in order to make sure your seeds live through the freezing process you need to make sure they are completely dry. If they have any moisture remaining in them they the freezing process will destroy the cell walls of the seed. Also, be sure that your seeds can be frozen. Citrus seeds, for example, will die if they are completely dried out. They don’t go completely dormant. So if you freeze your seeds be sure you know what kinds of seeds you have and whether or not they can be frozen.

Refrigerator–This is probably a better option for most people than the freezer. Your seeds are kept cool but there is no damage to the cell walls from freezing. However, who has room for all those seeds in their refrigerator? Oh right, Martha does. I really should stop. I hear she partners with bloggers she really likes. Ha! What do you think? Martha and I could take over the DIY industry! Don’t you think?

A Cool Dry Place In Your House–Most of us just need to find a cool closet or shelf to store our seeds. Mine are downstairs because our downstairs tends to be much cooler than the upper floor. You seeds might not last years and years but they’ll probably make it a few seasons. If you have some heirloom seeds that are from grandma and are super precious to you, consider placing them in the refrigerator. But for most seeds just keep them cool and dry.

Storing your seeds in a cool dry place will help your seeds have a higher viability rate over time.

Seed Viability

Having a good seed viability rate means that a large percentage of your seeds will sprout if you plant them. Over time this rate goes down. So if you have seeds that are a few years old you might want to test their viability before you plant them. After all if you go through all the trouble to plant them at the correct time and in the correct soil, that means some planning went into your garden and if the majority of your seeds do not sprout then your efforts are in vain.

Testing for seed viability sounds like a lesson in a biology class, it probably is in somewhere, but luckily super simple to do.

The whole idea is that you want the majority of your seeds to sprout and if the majority does not you’d like to know exactly how many do not sprout. So let’s work with easy numbers like 10. If you test 10 seeds and 9 sprout, then your viability rate is 90% and you can go sprout those seeds and the likelihood of those seeds sprout is very high. If on the other hand only 2 sprout then your viability rate is only 20% and if you were to plant those seeds then you should not expect very many to sprout.

Here’s how I Check For Seed Viability

Start by placing all your seeds in a container of water. The seeds that float will not sprout so you can weed those out.

Count out 10 seeds. Place between paper towels. You use coffee filters for this too. Moisten the paper towels. Place in plastic bag but do not zip the bag all the way closed. You can also use plastic wrap for this. Label your bags and place in a cool dark place for 3 to 10 days depending what kind of seeds you are testing.

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Here you can see a high percentage of my okra seeds sprouted. They’re good to go.

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This is butternut squash and all 10 seeds sprouted so these seeds are good too.

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This is a plant my mother-in-law gave me seeds to many years ago. It’s called a moon plant and blooms at night. Anyway, you can see that none of these seeds sprout and they are no longer worth planting.

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It’s a gardening post. I needed a shot of the one of gardens, right? Actually my oldest got this herb garden ready this year so I’m a proud mama!

Low Seed Viability

Oh course the obvious thing to do when you have seeds with a low viability is just to plant more seeds, and you can do this if you have them. However, if you don’t have a ton of seeds you try a few things that might help your seeds germinate.

Use Hydrogen Peroxide–Soak your seeds in a 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide to help the outer coat of the seed soften for 20 to 30 minutes.

Scuff Your Seeds–Use a lightweight piece of sandpaper and gently run your seed across it. This does the same thing as the hydrogen peroxide – it weakens the outer coating of the seed.

Use A Commercial Seed Booster–Sometimes seed boosters will have enzymes that help seeds sprout.

See, that didn’t take as long as you thought it would! Now, all your seeds are organized and you won’t have to spend anymore time searching endlessly for what you need.

Do you have a different way to organize or store your seeds? Leave your ideas in the comments.