Leftover seeds: Should they be saved or thrown away?

The prices of most garden seeds have gone up considerably in the last year or two and there may be an even greater increase next year. Most garden seeds are produced in the West, and adverse weather conditions could result in a shortage. Another factor is increasing competition from other crops which might be grown more profitably on the same land.

Although most garden seeds have a life span of less than three years, and in all probability the leftover seeds are still sitting in a box in the garage or basement where storage conditions are not ideal, they should still be worth saving.

The two most important factors shortening seed life are high seed moisture and high temperature. The National Garden Bureau has a suggestion for keeping the seeds dry while keeping them cool.

Take a paper towel, roll up a couple tablespoons of powdered dried milk from a freshly opened package and put a rubber bankd around it.

Place the roll of dried milk in the bottom of a widemouth jar and immediately drop in packets of leftover seeds. Seal the jar tightly using a rubberring to exclude moist air. Store the jar in the refrigerator, not the freezer.

Dried milk is hygroscopic and will soon soak up moisture from the air when you open the bottle. So be quick when you open the jar to put in or remove seed packets. Get the lid back on the jar without delay.

For each 1 per cent decrease in seed moisture, the life of the seed is doubled, says Dr. J.F. Harrington, seed physiologist, Department of Vegetable Crops, University of California, and for each 10 per cent drop in storage temperature the life of the seed is doubled.

A true example is onion seed, a notoriously shortlived seed, he says. With a 14 per cent moisture content stored at 90 degrees F. they were all dead in one week. Some of the same kind, dried to 6 per cent moisture and stored in a sealed container so they could not regain moisture, germinated fine after 20 years.