Ordering Seeds for Spring

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The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
The Heart of New England
Ordering Seeds: Inventory the Old, Plan for the New
by Jean English

The hubbub of the holidays over; it's time for gardeners to get down to the
nitty-gritty of ordering seeds, and the first step in that process is to inventory
what's in that shoebox on the shelf. Many seeds that are left over from last year
or even previous years will still be viable. An organized checklist can help you
go through your stock, see what you have, and order what you don't.

Most garden seed, properly stored, will last for at least a couple of years; some
last five to 10 years with little loss of viability (the ability to germinate and
produce a healthy seedling). The Fedco Seeds catalog offers a list of
exceptions-seeds that are good for only one year: onion, parsnip, parsley,
chives, shiso, scorzonera, Batavian endive, licorice, pennyroyal, St. Johnswort,
liatris, delphinium, larkspur, perennial phlox, and pelleted or hot-water treated
seed. Seed longevity averages are listed in a table on page 8 of the Fedco
catalog (available from Fedco Seeds, P.O. Box 520, Waterville ME 04903 or at

Regarding the term "properly stored" -- that shoebox on the shelf doesn't really
qualify. Seeds retain their viability longest if they're kept in a cool (32 to 41
degrees F.), dry place out of the sun. Gardeners are often advised to store extra
seed in a glass or other airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer, with a
packet of powdered milk from a freshly opened box, or absorbent silica gel
(sold by craft stores to dry flowers), in the bottom of the container to extract
extra moisture. A tablespoon or two of powdered milk per glass jar will absorb
excess moisture for about six months. Do this with the seeds that you order this
year, and you may get more for your money in the long run. (You can put more
than one packet of seed in each jar.)

If you're in doubt about existing seeds, try germinating 25 or so on a damp
towel or paper towel. How many send out roots within a week or 10 days? If the
percentage is quite low, order new seeds. If about 50% of the seeds germinate,
you might want to use these up this year, sowing them thicker than
recommended, and order new ones next year. If germination is good, you're all
set for this year, and maybe more. Remember, though, that seeds will germinate
more easily on a constantly moist towel than they will in the ground, where
they're subjected to more stresses.

Once you know or make an educated guess as to which seeds are viable, cross
them off a checklist and you'll be left with names of plants for which you'll need
new seed. The index on the back of the Fedco catalog can serve as a checklist; or
you can download a list from
www.mofga.org and use it as is or adapt it to the
kinds of flowers, vegetables and herbs that you like to grow.

Copyright Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association (2007)

This article is provided by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners
Association (MOFGA), PO Box 170, Unity, ME  04988; 207-568-4142;
mofga@mofga.org; www.mofga.org. Joining MOFGA helps support and
promote organic farming and gardening in Maine and helps Maine consumers
enjoy more healthful, Maine-grown food.
Photo by Victoria Marshall
MML Promo
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