How viable are your stored seeds?

image by lovelihood

A lot of us have seed packets left over from years gone by or we’ve saved seeds from our own gardens.  Have you ever wondered if those seeds are viable anymore?  What is their germination rate?  It truly would be disastrous to store seeds, only to find that, when planted, nothing sprouts.  Here is a simple way to find out just how viable your seeds are.

Take ten seeds of the same variety and lay them on a moistened paper towel.  Fold the towel in half so the seeds are covered.  Check on the seeds each day and keep the paper towel moist.  If, after several days, five seeds have sprouted, you can assume that the seed packet has a germination rate of about 50%.  If 2 seeds have sprouted, it’s 20%, and so on.

It will be up to you to decide when a germination rate is too low to bother with.

Keep in mind that heat and moisture are the enemies of seeds.  It’s important to keep seeds in a cool, dry place if you’re storing them for the future.

There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

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  1. JEFF says

    Does anyone know if dried beans you buy in the store can be planted? I know they will germinate, but will they be viable? It’d be alot cheaper to buy them that way for te garden.

    • says

      Beans are naturally self pollinating and therefore almost all can be termed “open pollinated” or “heirloom” and will grow their same variety of beans when planted. If you want to plant grocery store beans, it is possible, but keep in mind what you don’t know about them: age of the seeds, vine or pole variety, necessary growing conditions/growing season length. Some beans will grow fine where I live, but some require a much longer growing season than I have in order to fully mature and dry on the vine. It’s worth a try if you’re willing to experiment. :)

    • says

      There is a good chance that the type of bean you bought in the store is actually a hybrid and it may also be genetically modified. The plants used in production have been heavily modified to fit that industry and usually the farmers are forced to re-buy seed each season because of it. If you plant it, it may produce a plant but the resulting beans it bears will likely not taste (and may not even look like) the originals. You may get no beans at all. My grandparents had a bad watermelon experience like this. It grew a great big vine but the fruit it produced was strange and tasted gross.

      My advice on the overall blog topic is to store seeds in a container (we use old miracle whip and peanut butter jars) and put it in the back of the fridge. If you keep them there the seeds will be viable for years. I have seeds I have stored for 3 years this way that I still get close to 100% germination with.

    • scott says

      yes. if they sprout they are “viable” however try getting a bean that has a varietal name such as “black eye peas” rather then say “green Peas” so at least you know for sure what your growing

    • rainy says

      I’ve read many other gardeners on another forum say this works, just remember that specific seeds grow better or worse in your climate area, so I try to buy seeds that are known to grow well in my climate area.

    • Chandra says

      I planted black turtle beans this year that I bought five years ago. The results were great. Excellent production. They were a little smaller than the original seed but then there was no rain here from Apr through to early Aug. Also the black turtles can be planted in cold soil and seem happy with a 3 inch spacing in deep beds.

  2. SANDY says

    Put them in the freezer and they will last for decades…..make sure they are in tightly sealed jars. Light is also a problem so do what you can there. Its good to organize and log what you have and where exactly it is as well as who you bought it from and its posted date on the packet. This is for your own reference…Also …they don’t need oxygen while in a freezer….or in the frig…The don’t need oxygen..quite the opposite…to stay viable…they need darkness, cold, tight seal to keep oxygen out. I have seed that I froze a decade ago and I know it will still be great a decade from now…as long as we keep it frozen….use it every year…If you’re not sure …I never am of anything I read…just try it…put some in the freezer now and try them in the years to come…unless they were dead when you put them in there..they will be fine…there are seed banks in various places of the world…they freeze them far colder than what our home freezers can…

    • Chandra says

      Be careful freezing seed. They have to be dried down to six to eight percent moisture. Otherwise the ice crystals can harm the viability of the seed.


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