How Long Can You Store Vegetable Seeds?
How long can you store vegetable seeds depends on the type of seeds and how they are stored. Many gardeners purchase a large packet of seeds, only to find they need just a handful. Can you store them and use them from year to year, or should you just throw them out? If you do plant older seeds, will they germinate and produce vegetables that are equally as tasty and nutritious as the ones you grow from newer, fresher seeds?
You can indeed use seeds saved from years past, but with a few cautions. Performing a seed viability test can save you time and headaches later by testing the stored seeds to see how much life is left in them. When in doubt, throw them out. If you plant older seeds, don't expect the same germination rate, and know which seeds have the longest shelf life. Lastly, save seeds properly, store them properly, and don't be afraid to purchase new seeds if there's any doubt about what will sprout. You'll be glad later on that you did when your vegetables germinate and grow into healthy, strong plants.
How to Store Seeds
In order to keep seeds viable for as long as possible, it's important to store seeds properly. Follow these tips for storing your vegetable seeds:
- Always store seeds in a cool, dry location.
- Keep seeds in the original seed packages if you can. Tape the top shut. Write the date when you opened the seed package on the front in permanent marker.
- If storing seeds you gathered from your own garden, store them in a paper bag or a paper envelope. Do not store them in a plastic or glass container; anything airtight will either make them germinate (sprout) in the jar or cause them to rot.
- Store them where you can find them easily. Many people forget where they've stored their seeds, and then the following year, end up buying new ones when older ones could have been used, or they discover the stored seeds years later!
Vegetable Seed Storage Chart
How Long to Store Seeds
Up to 2 years
Beans, Carrots, Peas
Up to 3 years
Beets, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, watermelons, cantaloupe
Up to 4 years
Broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower, radishes, spinach, chard
Up to 5 years
What Happens If I Plant Old Seeds?
What happens if you plant older vegetable seeds? One of several things may occur. The seeds may germinate normally and provide you with vegetables. That's the best case scenario. What's more likely to happen is that some, but not all, of the seeds will germinate. Of the seeds that do germinate, you may notice that some plants are smaller than others or produce fewer vegetables. A tomato plant grown from older seeds may produce smaller fruit, or it may not attain the same height as plants grown from younger seeds.
Lastly, you may experience a total crop failure, or a failure of the seeds to germinate at all. This happens most frequently with very old seeds or when opened seed packages are stored improperly.
There's nothing that can be done once seeds lose their vitality. Seeds contain the blueprint for the new plant, but that blueprint is viable for only so long, and only under the right conditions. Use your vegetable seeds quickly, and purchase only enough for the current growing conditions. When in doubt, throw out your older seeds. And always write the date when opened on all seed packages that you save; this way, when it comes time for you to shop for new seeds in the spring, you can see at a glance which seeds are questionable, and which you may need to replace.
Starting vegetables from seeds is an economical method of growing your own fresh vegetables. With the emphasis on eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, it makes sense to try to grow your own, and many vegetables can be grow in small spaces such as in pots on patios, balconies and the like. Start your garden early, test your seeds, and you'll be in a better position in a few weeks to grow and harvest your favorite vegetables.