Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Garden Journal 1/26/10: Organizing Seed Packets (but not yet starting any seeds)

Time for all those empty envelopes and really outdated seeds to go!

Realization of the Day:
Gosh that felt good.

I actually took this photo back in January of 2007, but looking at it three years later still evokes a warm and fuzzy feeling of accomplishment. What a mess my seeds were! I'd been hoarding dozens of empty paper packets with the misguided idea that somedoay I would reuse them.

I'd also been letting my stash of really outdated seeds just keep accumulating, telling myself each year that you never know, they might actually still be good—and what gardener can simply toss out good seeds? But did I ever bother to do some simple testing for germination? Of course not—all the fresh new seeds had always just arrived!

Anyway, in a rare fit of mid-winter organization and decluttering three years ago, I spent a couple of hours sorting through my entire garden seed collection—and got rid of nearly all of it, including everything you see in the photo above (except the cute little storage containers). It really did feel great.

Of course I still couldn't stand the thought of dozens of packets of seeds going to waste, so I stuffed them into a brown paper bag, wrote 'FREE GARDEN SEEDS' on the outside in big letters, and casually dropped it next to the magazine free pile in the entryway of the library the next time I stopped by to return some books. When I walked back through five minutes later, the bag was already gone. It was the highlight of my month.

According to Martha's Calendar in the front of the January issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine (which can sometimes be helpful but usually makes me feel like an underachieving slug), somebody in Marthaland will be sowing cool-season crops, 'such as cabbage and broccoli,' in the greenhouse today.

According to my handy dandy new Gardening by the Moon 2010 wall calendar (that I received as a review copy from the publisher, and which is already proving helpful—there's even a PDF downloadable version available), I have until tomorrow or Thursday, when the second quarter moon is in Cancer, before I need to be thinking about planting above ground annuals.

No matter what, I obviously need to get cracking, especially since I'm determined to successfully grow brussels sprouts from seed this year (to feed my Quick Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon and Parmesan addiction), and they take forever to mature. Did I mention I haven't ordered any seeds yet either? Though I do have at least one 2009 packet of brussels sprouts seeds (along with dozens of other varieties) kicking around here someplace. I also want to direct seed some arugula, mache (a cold loving little green also known as corn salad), and lettuce in the unheated greenhouse to see if they'll sprout this early.

My excuse for not yet ordering seeds is that I need to take stock of what I already have first, and my seed collection isn't quite as organized as it was after the above-mentioned 2007 purging. Time to hurry up and take on the task, though, since before I know it, it'll be time to start all the warm weather seeds—and I can tell you from personal 2009 experience that if you live in southern Missouri, putting your tomato plants in the ground in mid-July (or even in June) is really not a good idea.

As far as storing and organizing my seeds, I have yet to come up with a surefire system that works best for me. I used to put seeds I save myself in plastic vitamin containers (there are a few in the photo above) rather than paper envelopes since they're airtight, but they take up a lot of space and don't stack well, so now I use itty bitty zipper bags that I buy for a couple of dollars per hundred from a vendor at a nearby antique/junk mall.

I like the little purple snapping lid containers pictured above for separating seeds by type, but lately I've found myself just using quart and gallon zipper freezer bags instead. One of the best places to store garden seeds is actually in an airtight container in the refrigerator (the freezer is good, too), so these bags take up much less space than the boxes. Now all I have to do is actually put the bags of seeds in the fridge.

So how do you organize and store your garden seeds? I'm sure some of you have figured out much better ways than I have!

Related posts:
8/6/05: New Cat on the Potting Bench
2/7/06: My Seed Starting Headquarters (with seed starting tips in the comments)
3/18/06: J2 on the Potting Bench
7/24/09: How to Beat the Heat
8/17/09: A Peek Inside My Potting Cabinet
9/4/09: Sacked Out Sylvester

4/28/06: Sublime Direct Seeded Salads for Those Who Are Short (on Time, Space, & Sunlight)
7/1/07: How to Grow Your Own Gourmet Lettuce from Seed—It's Easier than You Think!
5/31/06: Book Review: Astrological Gardening by Louise Riotte
From my early farm stories: Midnight Mothers & Minding the Moonsigns—A Busy Spring at Windridge

© 2010 FarmgirlFare.com, the can't bloom until you're planted foodie farm blog where starting containers of seeds is one of my favorite parts of gardening, but putting together the related links above, it quickly became clear that the farm cats get a lot more use out of my potting bench than I do. And I haven't forgotten about posting my list of new year's garden resolutions, although there's no big rush since I can't yet check anything off it.


  1. I suspect that my way of storing seeds is way less organized than yours. The only thing that saves me is that I've only been gardening for 9 months.

    I got a cardboard photo box at a garage sale for 10 cents. It's got a veggie gardening motif (i.e., drawings of vegetables). I put each seed pack in a sandwich size baggie and toss in the photo box.

  2. I just read your post and loved it! Just found you, not sure how!

    I do have a question...you mentioned seeds in the freezer. I have some seed packets in the freezer. How long do they last in the freezer, as in years? I could always do the germination test but I thought if you knew the answer, that would be the easy way out!


  3. Susan,
    I'm not a horticulturalist by any means, but my theory is that seeds were frozen outdoors for thousands of years, and they should be able to handle my freezer!

    To answer the earlier question, I double-bag them (in case of condensation when I take them out of the freezer).

  4. Lovely post, I especially like the part where you have left all your seeds for others to take - and they took them. Usually I have lots of seeds that I can’t just throw away, but I’m not sure to whom I can give them...
    I dot have any organization strategy for my seeds. Everything that is left from last year, stays in my garden shed, I do save some seeds every year (tomatoes and peppers) and most of it I just buy every year.

  5. Great post. You give me hope for my crazy mess of seeds. They definitely need to be organized. A wonderful project for the weekend and I love your idea of using baggies.

  6. Your pile looks like my dining room table right now... I'm trying to sort through all my seeds to get organized for spring sowing!
    Re freezing seeds: They'll last a long time (though how long varies wildly by species), provided they are kept perfectly dry. A packet of that water absorbing silica jell stuff that comes in some packaging will help absorb any moisture and extend their life. Refrigerated seeds will last a long time too.

  7. Oh, dear, mine are in a wicker basket in a not-at-all climate controlled place. If I had time to do germination tests I would be a much better organized person than I am.

    Regarding silica packets... I wonder how dry rice (maybe in a muslin bag, or loose) would do to accomplish the same thing? Just thinking...

  8. I think the rice would work well. It's used in salt shakers in really humid areas like down here in south Florida.

  9. My method is pretty much like yours. I buy those long tupperware boxes at garage sales and store my seeds in there along with those little things they put in shoe boxes and such to keep moisture away. Then I store the boxes (yes, boxes) in the garage fridge. I rubber band together like kinds of seeds....tomatoes, peppers,lettuce, etc. My seeds last for years. Every once in awhile I make myself throw the really old ones. Once I tossed a bunch of pea seeds in the compost bin. They sprouted like crazy and I was shocked. I turned them and they made great new compost.
    Just remember the three worst things for seeds are--heat,light,and moisture.
    Hope everyone has a great 2010 gardening year!

  10. Mine are sitting in a drawer in the dining room, next to the Sukkah decorations and some other random odds and ends. it makes me smile every time I open that drawer and see the beautiful pictures on the outsides of the packets, even though I have no greenhouse and can't sow anything for another couple of months.

  11. Since this will only be my second year having a garden I don't have any "leftovers". Last year I planted everything I bought as I wasn't sure how well they would do. I'm happy to hear that I can freeze the extras.

  12. I did not store my seeds in the freezer--do you think they are toast?
    Guess I'll be doing some germination tests, because I like to direct seed in the garden only.

  13. Hi Everybody,
    Thanks for all the great feedback. Hearing about your gardens and gardening ways is one of the best parts about keeping this blog. It's always so fun to 'talk gardening' - especially since I really don't have any friends around here who are into veggie growing like I am. : )

    Mary W,
    Your box sounds cute - and you're on the right track keeping the seed packs in plastic bags to keep out the moisture.

    I've only kept a few types of seeds in the freezer, and I'm sure the lifespan varies by type, but theoretically frozen seeds should last for years.

    Anybody else have a more specific answer?

    Double bagging sounds like a great idea. It's so humid here in spring and summer (and most of fall!), that everything sweats like crazy when you take it out of the freezer or fridge.

    As far as I know, freezing doesn't harm any type of seeds - and in fact, some seeds won't germinate (or germinate very poorly) unless they've been 'cold treated' in the freezer - usually for 6 or 8 weeks - to simulate the natural overwintering cycle. Usually the seed packets will explain what you need to do.

    I'm blanking out which types of seeds I've bought in the past that need to be cold treated - but I do clearly remember that I almost always forget about the seeds once I've put them in the freezer - so I tend to shy away from ordering them!

    I've found that pepper and tomato seeds are the easiest to save - and usually last for years even when mistreated and left in not-so-perfect conditions. As for everything else, sometimes it can definitely be a whole lot simpler to just buy what you think you'll use and start fresh each year! : )

    My Edible Yard,
    There's always hope! (This coming from a girl who is perpetually disorganized - but always hopeful! ; )

    Yes - moisture is the enemy when it comes to seeds. We save those little silica packets (some are like little paper pillows, some are hard plastic little cylinders) that come in vitamin and supplement containers (and some other things), and I toss a lot of them in with my seeds.

    To be continued - my comments are always too long for blogger!

  14. MAC and ValHalla,
    Not to worry - just because I know my seeds should be stored in the fridge or freezer, doesn't mean they actually are. ; )

    My seeds are usually abused and subjected to heat and cold - and most of the time they still germinate pretty well. If nothing else, at least stick them in some sort of airtight containers.

    As I mentioned above, pepper and tomato seeds seem to stand up to lots of abuse - and I've had great germination rates from seeds that were 6 or 7 years old. For me, some seeds last better than others - lettuce seeds seem to be the worst. Most of the time they barely germinate if not used the year I buy them.

    MAC, rice should work to absorb moisture - and little muslin or cotton drawstring bags would be perfect.

    I've used pieces of bread to absorb moisture before (though not with seeds) - but sometimes this can backfire and you go back to find a scary blue-green piece of bread. I recently read that kitty litter (the old-fashioned clay type, not the new sandy clumping stuff) can be used to absorb moisture in the same way, and I've been meaning to try it.

    Sounds like you have it down! Yes - heat, light, and moisture are definitely what you want to avoid when storing seeds.

    And thanks for the reminder - I forgot to mention in my post how handy rubber bands can be! : )

    Some of those seed packets really are beautiful, aren't they? I got some packets of organic seeds from Botanical Interests last year, and they were decorated with lovely watercolor illustrations.

    Years ago I came across some neat old vintage seed packets suitable for framing. Hmmm, I wonder where they went. . .

    Hi Jean,
    No leftovers can be good! Now all we have to do is get you saving some of your own seeds this year. : )

  15. I'm amazed at all those seeds! But I suppose that I don't send away for any,I just buy them from the local shop in the belief that locally sold seeds will be those that will survive the conditions here. If our growing conditions were more ideal.... well that would be a different story!

  16. I've bookmarked this post to give me organizing inspiration!

    I've read that seeds should be kept in airtight containers with desiccant packets - but so far mine are just tucked in a cupboard.

    I just came across a bunch of seeds from 2003, and before tossing them did a quick germination test - with surprising results! I documented the process here; http://willitgrowpdx.blogspot.com/2010/01/seed-germination-test.html

    I'm looking forward to using some of the ideas above for a better system!

  17. I need to organize my seeds! I was hoping to see a cunning method by someone on line. Mine are in a haphazard collection of biscuit tins!

  18. I write the year on the top right corner of each packet when I buy it.

    Then for storage, I use quart and gallon Ziploc bags -- one quart bag per "crop" -- so I have one for corn, one for greenbeans, etc. Those those quart bags go into a gallon bag marked by growing time (cool weather spring, summer, cool weather fall).

    For flowers, the quart bags are marked by color (red, pink, etc), and then the quart bags go into gallon bags marked for shade or sun.

    I have seen more elaborate systems, but prefer this simple one.

    Hope this helps.

  19. I'm curious about saving garlic. I did get some heirloom garlic at the winter market and am not sure the best way to store that until fall planting. They will sprout if they sit along long enough, and they really shouldn't be frozen. For some reason, I'm struggling to find info on that.

  20. My seeds live in a snap-top plastic box in the fridge in the garage (why we have a fridge in the garage is a long story) in complete and utter disorder. I should really follow your example and give away a whole lot of them.

  21. I use the little metal canisters from Lee Valley. There are 40 tiny canisters with clear plastic lids in a metal case. They call them watchmaker's cases:


    I write the name, year, source and maybe days to harvest on the lid with a super-fine Sharpie. I keep the cases in a small fridge downstairs that I guess is supposed to be filled with "bar" items.

  22. I recognize the Pinetree Seed packets! I love that company, I've been ordering from them for over a decade! I keep my seeds in a one gallon jar with one of those packets to keep them dry, in the fridge. I also have a terrible time getting rid of the packets of old seeds, I like your idea to give them away free. I love your blog, just found today - clicked through on a BlogHer ad link.

  23. I have just organized my seeds using an old zippered CD binder. You can see it here.

    Hope it helps someone! I love mine.


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