We have now approached that time of the year again where we are putting our gardening things away for the year.
If you are like me, you have extra seed left over that you would like to save for next year but maybe you are unsure how to approach saving seed so you can use it again next year.
The first step is to make sure that the seed is kept cool and dry plus it is important to protect it from insects and especially rodents.
Since seeds are basically a plant embryo which lives on the stores of the seeds while it waits to be planted, it is important to slow down the seeds use of the food that the plan embryo is using so it has a store of food to use after it has been planted.
The first step in keeping your seeds viable is to make sure they are very dry. Very dry seeds will pass three tests: the brittleness test, the envelope test and the percent moisture test. Basically, the seeds should snap when you bend them. This is more difficult to test when the seed is very tiny but most tiny seeds tend to be drier then say, pumpkin seeds or green bean seeds.
The envelope test is also pretty simple. An envelope placed in the container along with the seeds overnight should come out crisp, not feeling moist. The percent moisture test involves having a small scale to determine the weight before and after seeds have been placed in an oven or toaster oven.
So, how do you get your seeds to the very dry stage? You can use silica gel which is available at most craft stores.
I think most people know the outcome of using silica gel but there is a point that once your seed has become very dry, that you have to remove the silica because you can get your seed too dry. Seeds 3 percent moisture and under will go dormant or become damaged. Depending on the dryness of your seeds, silica should only be used for two to seven days. You can also use a food dehydrator to dry your seeds. Again, over drying will cause the seeds to become overly dry and lose their ability to germinate.
After you have determined whether or not your seeds have been dried properly (5 percent moisture), then you need to come up with an appropriate container to keep your seeds in good shape. There are two points to consider: does it keep the seeds at the appropriate moisture level and will it keep rodents out.
Paper and cloth work well to make sure appropriate moisture levels are stable but it doesn't keep out rodents. Plastic bags can be used but your seed must be at the very dry moisture level and bags will not keep rodents out. Plastic tubs, bins and buckets work well as does glass jars. Glass containers work well to keep rodents out but seeds must be at the very dry level.
Seeds can be kept in the refrigerator but only for midterm. Freezer use works better for long storage of seeds. And one last key point: there are some seeds that under the right conditions, will give you good germination for many, many years (such as amaranth) while others (leeks, onions) will only give you good germination for a short period of time. The bulk of seeds will give you good germination after storing them properly for about three to five years.
After this time, throw them out. Seeds may still germinate after the five-year period but the viability and quality of the seeds (and plants) may come to question.
Seeds, under proper conditions, can be kept for a long period of time. A good example were some seeds located in China that were estimated to be 3,000 years old and most that were tested for germination, actually germinated.
For more questions on gardening, you can reach me at Stephanie@starpoint.net.