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How To Save Leftover Seed

Updated on November 11, 2015
Patsybell profile image

I inherited my love of gardening from my mother and grandmother. I am a garden blogger, freelance writer, and Master Gardener emeritus.

Save most extra seeds to use next year.

Tape seed packets closed when saving them for next year
Tape seed packets closed when saving them for next year | Source

Save you own seed

Saving you own seed year after year will create a variety uniquely suited to your environment.
Saving you own seed year after year will create a variety uniquely suited to your environment. | Source

Will my extra tomato seed be good next year?

Yes - you can keep the remaining tomato seed for 3 or 4 years. If it is stored properly. A packet of tomato seed always has more seed than I need. It would take a homesteader or farmers marketer to use all the seed in one year.

I do buy some heirloom tomato seed every year. Just because I like to try different heirlooms. And, I use up some of the older seed as well. If the old seed fails to germinate, there will be other plants to take their place.

This year, I decided to use up my expanding collection of old heirloom tomato seed. There are healthy tomato plants in the garden; all started from seed that was 1, 2 or 3 years old. All with a 99% germination rate.

Store all seeds in a

  • cool,
  • dry,
  • dark place.

And keep them away from insects and mice.

Some recommend storing seed in the freezer. I believe that freezing is unecessary. If you do freeze seed, let it return to room temperature before opening the container. Exposing seed to freezing temperatures, then thawing can cause water to condense on the seeds and may cause premature sprouting and possibly rotting.

First, if you have any special notes or advice write it down and put a sticky note on the seed packet. You think you will remember, but you won't. Tape the seed packet closed.

Save packets in a Mason jar. I have several old jars and the seed looks good stored in there. But remember: cool, dry dark.

Another good container choice is a freezer weight plastic zip bag. Put each seed family in a seperate bag. Or, sort packets by cool season and warm season, labeling each sandwich sized bag. Now put all of those smaller zip lock bags into a gallon size heavy weight plastic bag. Press the air out and seal the bag The cooler and drier the seeds are stored, the longer they will last.

Label Everything. Even if it is obvious. You only think you will remember, come next spring.

Keep seed in freezer weight zip bag

Pastic bags will keep moisture from your seed.
Pastic bags will keep moisture from your seed. | Source

How long will left over seed last?

  • Bush and pole beans - 2 years
  • Beets - 2 years
  • Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi - 3 - 5 years
  • Carrots - 3 years
  • Collards, Kale - 3 - 5 years
  • Sweet Corn 1 year
  • Cucumbers -3 years
  • Leeks, onions - 2 - 3 years
  • Lettuce - 3 years
  • Melons - 3 years
  • Oriental greens - 3 years
  • Parsley - 2 years
  • Parsnips - 1 year
  • Peas - 2 years
  • Peppers - 2 years
  • Radishes - 4 years
  • Rutabagas - 3 years
  • Spinach - 1 season
  • Squashes - 3 - 4 years
  • Swiss Chard - 2 years
  • Tomatoes - 3 - 4 years
  • Turnips - 4 years
  • watermelon - 4 years

Flower seed - annuals are generally good for one to three years; perennials for two to four years.

Soak seeds

Soak parsley seed overnight before planting to speed up germination.
Soak parsley seed overnight before planting to speed up germination. | Source

Storing Extra Seed

Your fresh seed is at it's best the first year. Perhaps every single squash seed you planted, sprouted. The germination rate decreases with time. Don't expect every single seed to germinate next year. Even fewer will sprout the following year.

Corn, for example, probably won't keep. I say this knowing there are exceptions to every rule and a great deal depends on the environment in which you store the left over seed. My recommendation is plant all your corn, onion and parsnip seed this year. Lettuce seed germination rapidly decreases.

You probably have way more lettuce seed than you can plant this spring. After the spring growing season, tape the packet closed. Plan on sowing some of that left over seed this fall as a late season or cool season crop. Since you have the seed, might as well give it a try.

If there is till seed left over, seal and store it. In the spring, I will use the bit of lettuce seed first and then plant the new seed in succession.

Humidity and heat are the enemies of your saved seed. It is unwise to leave left over seed outside or in the humid tool shed. A sealed mason jar or freezer-weight ziplock bag is an ideal storage container. Keep seeds dry and in your coolest room or in a refrigerator. Plan to use them the next season.

Repurposed File Box

Recycle an old file box, lunch box, whatever you have. Be creative.
Recycle an old file box, lunch box, whatever you have. Be creative. | Source

File Box

Seed File

Keeping and organizing vegetable seed will make planting and scheduling succession planting easier. Using a file box or recipe card box works for me. This box was a greeting card file box that I recycled.

Make lables for each file card. Adapt your seed file box lables to how you use seed. For example, if tomato is the earliest seed you plant, start your lables "8 weeks before last frost date." I keep a roll of scotch tape in my file box and tape seed packets closed to keep them from spilling.

I started my seed file with "12 week before last frost date." This is where I "filed" seed packets for onion, chives and leeks.

At 6 weeks before the last frost, there are two file dividers.

1. One file box divider is for the seed I will sow indoors. ( Broccoli; Cabbage; Cauliflower)

2. The other file box divider is labeled "direct sow." (Onion Sets; Seed Potatoes)

Check for viability

check seed viability by planting a few seed as a trial.
check seed viability by planting a few seed as a trial. | Source

What to plant when

After the freeze date, flip the cards and label them with seed names. For example, "Beans," "Lettuce," or "Corn." File seed packets that will be planted in succession. Keep file box handy for replanting seed through out the summer.

To start small seedlings: I scatter seed on top of a container of seed-starting mix. Here I use a styrafoam produce container. It's easy to cover with plastic wrap, creating a warm, humid environment - like a mni greenhouse. After seeds germinate, transfer them to individual plant cells or seperate containers.


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