Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Seed Box Wisdom Part 1

With the arrival of the seed catalogs comes the reminder that its time to sort through the seed stash.  If you are like me you have a lot of seed packets in that stash and over the years have spent endless hours going through them, dreaming, organizing, swapping and etc. As I was going through my box last week I was recounting all the mistakes I've made and realized there are a lot of you who may not have the slightest idea some of the things you may be doing that are possibly damaging your little treasure of seeds and causing failure...I know that was me.  I'm hoping by what I share in this series of posts will help you avoid some common pitfalls and benefit from some ideas that really work.

Organize for better production is key to reaping a good harvest.
#1 - Shopping
Being a wise seed shopper is sometimes a hard thing to do if you love to garden.  How many of you feel like a drunk in a liquor store when it comes to buying seeds and find yourselves sucked into the marketing tactics of seed purveyors?  You are not alone.  (I raise my hand)  Seed companies are masters at getting us to drool over every new or reintroduced variety of seed out there; note those gorgeous photos and well worded descriptions, its their job after all to get us to part with our money for their products.

A small sampling of what comes in the mail.
It seems this is pretty easy to get us to do too because of the simple fact that one seed packet don't cost much and if we fall prey to their tactics we will soon have spent a small fortune.  I figure I've wasted at minimum a couple hundred dollars over the past 15 years and probably much truth be told.  Just think, I could have bought a really nice little fountain with that money or other needed things. These days my rule of thumb is this...I have to have a place to grow it, I have to have a good reason to grow it (food, beauty or utility) and it has to be a good value.  I am notoriously cheap as a gardener after working in the nursery industry, a fact I find ironic...maybe it was just easier to get more stuff that way.  So lets take a look at some tips to help you with your seed stash.

My bread box turned seed box where all my treasured seeds are stored
#2 Where are your seeds?
I know that may sound simple enough for many of you to answer but there are so many people I know who just toss the seeds any old place.  It becomes an important question I think when you consider that seeds cost money you wouldn't stash dollar bills in junk drawers or other odd places.  I'm of the mind that seeds need to be kept in one place and kept in an environment that will ensure their viability for as long as possible otherwise I may as well just flush that cash down the toilet or toss it out the window.  When we buy seeds we are investing our money in the hope of a harvest so make that money go as far as it can.

#3 Know what you have!
How many of you have your seeds organized so you can quickly see what you have?  I'm guessing not many.  I used to hoard seeds and love to collect them from any where I could which left me with two huge boxes of seed packets and a very long list of what was in those boxes.  Needless to say there was no good way for me to keep up with what needed to be sown let alone remember what I had.  It was so exciting getting new varieties every year but honestly, its so much more exciting to me these days to actually reap a harvest from the seeds I have than just be a collector and keeper of the stash like I used to, if you know what I mean.  If you want to take hold of the reigns of your stash you have to make some hard decisions...get rid of what you won't sow and organize the rest so it makes sense and serves you the gardener in your efforts to garden.

Organized and ready to sow!

#4 Know what to throw out!
I have bad news...seeds don't last forever.  Its true and that's why its important to go through and edit your seed stash every year. Seeds get old and as they do their ability to germinate declines.  So how do you know what is maybe getting old or is no longer good?  Start by looking at those dates on the seed packets.

Save this date!
Oops that may me cost later.
If you forget and accidentally cut off the date its good to have a pencil handy to make note of that date on the package somewhere so you don't loose track of it again.  This is important because take onions for instance, onion seed is only good for one year which means you will need to replace it every year while tomato seeds last for several years.  The old seed can be tossed onto compost heap and if you're lucky, some of it may sprout but don't hold your breath.  Finally its a lot more fun to find unexpected plants you can transplant than to find the seeds you have sown were dead after you waited a month for them to germinate so just get rid of them already!

#5 - Knowing when to sow.
Its easy to find good information on this subject out there today.  Tons of garden blogs offer tips, Local Master Gardener offices and websites have seed sowing schedules as do seed companies and even some nurseries.  When you find one that suits your region keep a copy of it in with your seed stash, it will save your bacon and help you stay on track with your sowing.  It was interesting when over and over again I found people suggesting seeds should be stored in the order in which they are sown seasonally.  What genius!  A system that tells you what needs to be sown by a quick peek in the stash box!  Another thing about this system is it is not static but a migrating system.  That means if you have a crop like kale, that is sown more than once in a growing season, you just transfer that packet of seeds from its first position in the system up to the next month/season it needs to be sown in and it will be ready and waiting when you are.  Its a really beautiful system for the home vegetable garden or any garden actually.

Extra seeds saved just to give away
#6 - Seeds are for sharing!
Storing seeds and swapping seeds are really beneficial to most gardeners as seed packets hold more seeds than the home gardener will use in a year in most cases.  This makes a well organized stash a gold mine of sorts for if you have extra seed and wish to share them with others or to have on hand for a little seed swapping.  Seed swapping is totally fun and can be addicting though so be ware!  If you have a lot of extra seeds consider your local food bank as a place you might share them with.  More people are gardening than ever and those seeds could go to help feed a family or beautify an elderly person's yard, so put those still viable seeds in the hands of folks who can use them up before they die.

Happy Gardening!

Copyright © 2011 by Patty Hicks
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  1. super great article! thanks patty :) i really like the idea of storing them in order of when you sow... up here in MN, we have a short growing season, but to maximize it, that would help tons...

  2. Thanks Patty``I Love Your Blog``:)
    Brenda Harmon