Do seeds really expire on their sell by date?
Gardening Tip – For the week 6th Nov. – 13 Nov.
As November sets in, the gardener witnesses the year winding down before his eyes. The end of British Summer Time brings earlier darkness to the world and automatically changes the frame of mind into winter mode. The fallen leaves from the trees and just that slight hint of frost is enough to cripple the annual vegetation leaving the whole allotment looking like one large compost heap begging for a major clean up. The gardener will make note of the crops that failed, or the crops that took up too much of his time or too much space. The silver cloud at the back of their mind is that next year will be a better year, mistakes will not be repeated, and hopefully my plot will be the best of the lot!
In addition to my plans for overhauling my allotment, this year I have decided to have a major clean up of my seed boxes too. Of course I will be buying in fresh seed, especially of the new varieties that the seed catalogues tell me that I can’t resist. But what will happen to my old seed packets – over the years I have accumulated seeds of every description. Some have found their way into my house as freebies stuck inside magazines sleeves, these are of varieties that I have never used and never intend to use, others were bought on impulse whilst shopping in a garden centre like a ‘walking stick kale’ and after returning home I thought to myself ‘do I really want to grow a walking stick when I thankfully have no need for one’!
Like all gardeners, I also have so many seeds that are lying in my seed box from days gone by, and I think to myself should I use them or are they no longer viable and I will just be wasting my time planting them. Seeds do have a sell by date on the packet, but is it an unsatisfactory reason to throw away a seed packet just because it is past its sell by date. Do seeds go flat like a can of coke? The Guinness Book of Records states that seeds from the Arctic Lupin found in Miller Creek in Canada were germinated in 1966 and were radio carbonated to be dated back from thousands of years ago, so don’t you think my radish seeds can last at least 10 years? When we find weeds growing on our plot from no where we are told that the baddy seeds (weed seeds) stay viable in the soil for tens of years and digging encourages them to come to the surface and germinate, so maybe some of the goodies (flower and vegetable seeds) also do?
Seed Germination Test
I decided on a simple test plan, which I call my “seed germination test”. I took a few used grape and plum plastic punnets and filled them with wet tissue paper. I then emptied a few seeds from the packet, labelled the container and covered them with black tissue paper as most seeds prefer dark conditions to germinate. I placed the punnets into propagators and laid them on the table in my conservatory to enjoy these optimum germinating conditions. I will discard the packets of the seeds that fail to germinate; surprisingly few so far! I am still waiting for the parsnip seed to germinate because this a genus that all the text books write -“ always use fresh seed” – I hope to prove them wrong!
A voice inside me, tells me that the plants from old seed will not grow well but I don’t see any truth in that theory; once the seed has germinated they should grow as strong and healthy as any other.
Try this easy experiment yourself and you will be amazed!
Nevertheless as I wrote earlier, I love buying seeds as it gives inspiration for the coming gardening year and I will still be buying many more during the next few months.
Follow my column next week to check out your best seed buys!
Boris Legarni .