Planning for the Spring Planting Season, Part 2: Taking Seed Inventory

I derive a great satisfaction from saving my own seeds from my garden every year. Perhaps it is because some giant monopolizing seeds companies (ahem, Monsanto) will have us believe that we shouldn’t be doing it. Or perhaps it is because it symbolizes just how self-renewing and self-sustaining gardens really are. But either way, saving seeds is a simple task from which I receive great pleasure. So if you’re reading this blog, hopefully that means you’re a seed saver, too. With spring on the way, it’s time to start taking inventory of your saved seeds. It is wise to not let your seeds get too old, and to track just how long you’ve been storing them.

Each time I save seeds from an item from my garden, I dry them out completely, place them in paper envelopes, then file them inside a plastic file box or glass jar. (For full details, you can read my tips on saving seeds here.) This storage system helps to keep the seeds from being exposed to extreme heat or cold and moisture, which is very important.

Now you’ll notice that in the above article, I recommended planting seeds within a year. This is the best case scenario- to plant seeds the year after you save them. But of course this is not always possible. So if this is the case, it is very important to rotate your seeds storage. As with any survival food that you store, you should be rotating the oldest seeds forward and using them first. The newest seeds should be rotated to the back of your storage.

Not all seeds have the same shelf life, so you can actually safely and effectively save some seeds longer than others:

  1. Short Lived– Short lived seeds are ones for which the one-year rule applies. I generally do not recommend keeping corn, leek, onion, parsnip, or spinach seeds for longer than one year. Try to plant your seeds the next planting season after you save them. These items all are a high priority in my garden- I’ll pull these seeds out of storage first.
  2. Medium-Lived- These include beans, carrot, celery, chard, eggplant, parsley, peas, pumpkin, and squash. Medium-lived seeds should be planted within 2 to 3 seasons. So if you have pea seeds from last season that you don’t intend to plant this year, that’s okay. You can rotate them to the back and plan to keep them for another year or two.
  3. Long-Lived- Here’s some good news- lots of seeds that you can easily store are long-lived seeds. These include include beets, all brassicas (such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, collards, and kohlrabi), chicory, endive, escarole, radicchio, cucumber, kale, lettuce, melons, mustard, peppers, radish, rutabaga, sunflower, tomato, and turnip. Whew! So for long-lived seeds, you should rotate your oldest ones to the front. If you have cucumber seeds that are 5 years old, you can still plant them this year. And the newest ones can go to the back. You can store long-lived seeds for 5-6 years.
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