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The Importance of Fresh Seed

April 6th, 2017

I’ve talked before about the importance of using fresh seed. Some types of plants, like brassicas and nightshades, maintain seed viability longer than others. Other seeds like alliums barely germinate after a year. Lettuce is supposed to last a few years, but I have found that fresh seed is worth the few extra dollars each year. The length of time it takes for old seed to germinate and grow can mean that you are harvesting your lettuce two or three weeks later than if you had fresh seed. In a short growing season like mine, those 2-3 weeks aren’t worth it. I also find that the time saved under grow lights is another reason to purchase fresh seed each year. If I can move plants outside 2 weeks earlier I can start another flat much earlier.

In order to illustrate this point, I used year old lettuce seed (these seeds were purchased in 2016) and new lettuce seed. The variety that is from last season germinated very quickly last year and grew very vigorously. In fact, it was the first lettuce to produce heads. You can easily pick out which seed is from last year and which ones are from this season. I’ll keep you updated on the growth rate throughout the season.

One of the reasons for the decline in viability can be due to age of seed since we don’t know how old seed is when we buy it. That’s one reason I like buying seeds from Johnny’s Seeds, they do germination tests and put the date of the test and germination rate right on the seed packet. Old seed not only has lower and slower germination rates, but it has less vigor overall. Plants take longer to grow and reach maturity.

Just because seed isn’t fresh¬†doesn’t mean you have to throw it away. Mix all your lettuce and endive seeds together to make a mesclun mix and direct seed that in the garden or under grow lights in the fall/winter.¬†Purchasing and sharing seeds with friends is a great way to be able to have fresh seed every year without increased costs. Truthfully, most seeds stay fresh for a few years, lettuce and alliums are the only two I make certain to purchase fresh every single year. The rest get a few years before they are repurchased.

What seed do you make sure to purchase fresh each year? Have you noticed reduced germination rates and slower plant growth in certain varieties?

Head on over to this post for a seed viability chart I made a few years ago.

Fresh Seed

February 18th, 2016

I’ve blogged about the shelf life of seeds and even made a seed viability chart a few years ago. You can see the shelf life of seed chart here. You may think it’s not important to check seed freshness, store seed in specific ways, or purchase new seed of specific types of vegetables each year. Here’s a great demonstration of the importance of fresh seed:
lettuce seedlings 1
As you can see by this image the seeds on the right hand side had slow or very low germination. This seed was purchased last winter for spring sowing. It germinated beautifully last spring. This year, germination is slow and spotty. Most likely these seeds will still germinate, though they will do so in a few weeks instead of a few days.
lettuce seedlings 2
As you can see on the right hand side of the flat, germination was great with the fresh seed purchased this spring. With garden seed, you don’t know exactly how old the seed is when you get it. Thus, lettuce seed may have a decent shelf life, but the seed you purchase may already be a few years old. It pays to watch germination rates and figure out if your seed supplier is perhaps using not so fresh seed. I have great long-term germination rates when purchasing seed from farm supply business like Johnny’s Selected Seeds and High Mowing Seeds.
Shelf life of seeds
When it doubt about the viability of your seeds, throw them out (or feed it to the chickens like I do). The longer I garden the more I realize the benefits of starting with fresh seed. For me, an extra 10 days under the grow light waiting for slow germination throws off my entire system. I’d much rather spend an extra $4 buying a fresh pack of lettuce seed that will germinate faster, grow faster, and reach harvest stage a week or two early than it is to save seed packets from year to year. If you want ultra fresh seed, save your own lettuce seed. I do this for a few varieties that I love.

How often do you cull old seeds and get fresh?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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