I learned the hard way that even with proper storage commercially produced seeds lose their viability with time. In 2003/2004 I bought a boatload of seeds and have been trying ever since to get them all used up. Well, I think I’ve finally succeeded. I should have thrown them away about a year ago. None of the carrot seeds I sowed in the garden germinated, nor did the chrysanthemum, corn salad, arugula, dill, beets or chard.
Thankfully, after years of trying I do have a successful and attractive bunch of cilantro. My mache is growing and so is my craquante de quatre saison. Rabbits ate the tops off all my radishes before I could harvest so they were a bust. You could see their little teeth marks in the top of the radish.
Here is a plan to not get stuck with too many seeds. Find a friend that likes to garden and share your seeds with them. Sometimes one package of seeds is too many for a small home garden so splitting it gives both (or more people) something to share. There are several sites across the internet that offer seed sharing and trading, including, Wintersown.org, Gardenhere.com (as of 4/22/16 when I checked the link the site is no longer in existence), and Gardenweb.com from iVillage (now it is actually part of the houzz family of forums).
There is a plethora of people willing to share their seeds and plants for postage and you can too. When you buy seeds don’t go cheap. It is tempting to buy cheap packs from Big Lots that offer a lot of seeds, but often their viability is much lower than other seeds thus the bulk just gives you more with which to gamble.
[dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”5″ border_color=”#f83a2d” ]Since I first wrote this article in 2008 there have been some changes in the law which you should be aware of that affect seed sharing. Though the federal government and most states agree that seeds should be properly labeled, checked for viability and well packaged for commercial sale some states have extended this to “giving away” seeds. Check with your local USDA office/website to see if this is indeed the case in your state. http://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-agriculture/seed-saving-seed-libraries-illegal-united-states.html
What I found in this HackPad started by Shareable was informative and disturbing. Definitely look up your state in the list and check the codes for words like “sharing”, “giving away” or “distributing” to see what their definition of that is for the State. I’ve contacted my local USDA office for clarification on the Ohio revised code and it may not hurt for you to do the same.[/dropshadowbox]
Really consider your space and pick plants/seeds that will fill, but not overwhelm each other and you. Also, think about what your family likes and will likely eat in one season. If you happen to have seeds leftover at the end of a season that you weren’t able to use don’t fret. Keep them in a cool dry place until the beginning of your next season. A freezer is OK; a small college size refrigerator or a corner in your fridge (if you have room) would be ideal. Put them in small plastic boxes with silica gel packs from your shoe boxes so that no moisture bothers them and causes them to mold and rot.
If you visit Trudy at Wintersown.org you will see that she has a number of ways to store her seeds, most of them out of cold storage. You must remember though that she turns over those packets very quickly and will rarely have all of those seeds in her possession for a whole season. In any event, try to get your seeds shared or used by the end of the next season. After that it may be time to add them to the compost heap.
Remember – buy for your space, share your seeds (if it’s legal) and enjoy your garden!
Hoping you have a very bountiful 2016 gardening season.