My seed starting fixation started with a moment of curiosity. When I was a teenager, I wondered if the seeds from the peppers we were cleaning for dinner would grow. I really like peppers and I thought it would be nice to have a supply outside my door.
Up until then, we’d always purchased seedlings. We didn’t really have an available sunning window for flats of plants, but my Dad said, “Let’s try.”, and so we did. We tried peppers and corn and tomatoes and a few other plants that did not fair as well.
Since then, I’ve learned about hybrids that surprise you with things that look nothing like the original plant and heirlooms, that opened a vast new world of seeds to me. And that’s where I am now, astray in a land of possibilities and temptations.
I have forsaken the sunny window for high intensity grow lights. I always expect the police to show up at my door and ask why my basement windows glow from early in the morning to well past sunset. I guess now that they are legalizing pot growing, I won’t be such an oddity.
Truth be told, my reason for starting seeds is as much about the heady scent of wet soil as it is about growing beautiful or offbeat plants. Getting my hands back in soil and tending the tenuous beginnings of my garden soothes my soul far better than a quick trip to the Bahamas. I know I’m not alone here.
I may be pushing my luck, starting some seeds in February, but since my basement is not particularly warm, there are a few slowpoke seeds that appreciate the extra growing time. For me, those are onions and hot peppers. I use a heat mat, to get them started. The high intensity lights give off a good amount of heat, too. I would like to switch to T3 lights, but my cats love sleeping under these warm lights so much, I don’t have the heart to change. As long as they leave me enough space for my flats, we can peacefully coexist.
How Long do Seeds Last?
While most vegetable seeds last at least 3 years, there are a handful that need to be fresh, if you are to expect a decent germination rate. Onions, parsley and parsnips, in particular, are very unreliable if the seed has been saved for more than 1 year.
This is a handy cheat sheet I culled together many years ago, of how long vegetable seeds last. Since I tend to grow different flowers every year, I never made a cheat sheet for them.
Vegetable Seeds that Last:
|1 – 2 Years||3 Years||4 -5 years|
How to Know if Your Old Seed is Still Good
With some vegetables, like tomatoes, I always have at least half a packet left over each season. I mean seriously, how many tomato plants can you fit in a small garden, especially if you want some variety.
You can check their viability by taking 10 seeds and folding them inside a damp paper towel. Put the paper towel inside an unsealed plastic bag and place it somewhere relatively warm.
Check the seeds daily, for germination. You should see green in about a week or two. Count how many of the 10 seeds sprouted and you have the percentage germination rate. If 8 sprouted, it is 80%. If only 2 sprouted, the germination rate is a mere 20%.
The important thing to take from this is that if less than 100% germinated, you are going to have to plant extra seeds and expect some duds. If less than 70% germinated, you would be wise to buy some fresh seed.
Seed or Seeding?
I know most gardeners don’t give a hoot about starting their own seeds. Many don’t have the space, light, time, or inclination to be bothered with this messy endeavor. That’s fine. There will be plenty of plants for sale in just a few months. In the meantime, head over to a nursery or plant show. If you live near an Adams Fairacre Farms, you can spend the whole day at their Annual Lawn and Garden Show for free. The Capital District Flower Show (Troy), the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show (Hartford), and even the Philly Flower Show, are all worthwhile day trips. You can get your fix of eau to damp soil there. Inhale deeply. It will have to last another 46 days.