Is Two Hundred and Ten seed packets too many?

With the new season rapidly approaching, and seed raising just a few weeks from commencing with the most sensitive peppers and chillies being the first seeds to be immersed in warm damp soil, I thought I’d better sort things out.  I started by browsing seed catalogues and online seed lists to see what was new and what I wanted to grow, but then realised as much fun as this was, it was the last thing I needed to do.

Two Hundred and Ten seeds don't seem that much!

Two Hundred and Ten seed packets don’t seem that much!

I needed to sort out my seeds first.  And I have to say they were a mess.  They were spread out over three boxes, a seed tin and a bucket rescued from the garden shed during The Great Mouse Attack.  There were flower seeds mixed in with the veggie seeds as my often misguided intentions to have a beautiful flower garden alongside my verdant vegetable patch never really gets off the ground – or more precisely into the ground.

It was a lot simpler as a newbie gardener; all I had to do was decide what I wanted and then go out and buy the seeds.  Easy.  These days I have loads of seeds and don’t actually need to buy many at all.  However the hoard I have amassed is fraught with problems.  Some seeds are old.  But how old is too old.  I have noticed that seed companies often change their packaging and this is a good indication that if you have two or more incarnations of packaging from one company then it is a safe bet that one of them is too old.

The pots are waiting patiently for seedlings - although they need to washed.  Another job I'm not so good at.

The pots are waiting patiently for seedlings – although they need to washed. Another job I’m not so good at.

Seeds all have different viability lifespans, and it also depends on how well they have been stored.  I know mine haven’t been stored properly as I investigated this the first time I discovered that my newbie purchased seeds don’t last forever – despite there being 1000 seeds in a lettuce packet.  I thought it was great value for money until I realised you never actually get to use all 1000 before they go ‘off’.  Armed with knowledge, I responded with inaction.  I was always so excited to get things growing that I always thought I’d pack them away properly later.  I never did.  I’m the same with the hose and ashamed to admit – with a lot of my tools.

So now I have to figure out how long each group is expected to last, possibly even to a germination viability test with tissue and sandwich bags.  At least it is some kind of growing for this spring ready gardener.  Well almost spring ready.  I’m not sure I have time for all of this, as I still have to do the strawberries and clear about 3 more beds and then there are the onions – if they ever grow big enough to go out.

The onion are now outside, hardening up!

The onion are now outside, hardening up!

Alongside the old and aging seeds is a collection of seeds with ambiguous labels like ‘grey pumpkin’ or ‘good little chilli’ with no hint or clue as to how old they are or where they came from.  I should know better.  I have a terrible memory – always have and always will.  I need to change my ways.

With 210 packets to sort through (not including the flowers – that have just been put aside for now) I wasn’t entirely sure where to start.  So I separated the seeds into the different bed groups that they will go into, which is also handily my crop rotation system – all beds move right at the end of each season.  And with the seeds all together, like with like, I can go through and keep only the freshest of each variety with more than one packet – including the dodgy hand written ones.  If I find time is against me I can do the groups in order of when I will need to sow them.  Starting with the peppers and chillies.

The problem is I hate waste.  I can almost reconcile myself to the fact the old ones are no good and not worth the space to keep them, but it is the ones that I grew for a season and didn’t really get on with them.  I can’t just chuck them out, knowing they are still good.  While worth a few cents each as a seed, the potential value as a harvestable crop causes me pain – even if we don’t like them.  Maybe I’ll give them away.

Even the flowers are getting ready for the spring.

Even the flowers are getting ready for the spring.

I have my work cut out for me, sorting and testing and organising.  Then and only then can I indulge in the luxury of buying new and exciting seeds.

Come again soon – I need to get a wiggle on as the growing season is nearly upon us.

Sarah the Gardener  : o )

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23 Comments on “Is Two Hundred and Ten seed packets too many?

  1. How is it that you make the crop rotation in beds seem so easy? My light bulb does not seem to have gone on! I followed Linda Woodrows mandala for years and am now in my second spring of raised beds as it suits roattion better, but can’t seem to pin down what should be an easy system. Please, where is the light switch?

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    • HI Alison. To be honest, when I first started gardening I didn’t even know about labels like permiculture and thing like that, I just knew I wanted to feed my family so I kind of just started. I grew raised beds, because I discovered we lived in what was once a swamp and the carrots in my garden in the ground floated away in the first winter!
      I did a little bit of research into crop rotation and it was really confusing, so I took a mish mash of all the things I’d read and kinda made it work. Luckily I like to grow things in monocultures in each of my beds so I can create the right conditions for each plant, so I just made sure that each bed adds benefits to the one before it or after it and then rotate the lot.
      I’m going to do a more in depth explanation of this in a blog soon when do my rotation in readiness for the spring garden. It’s really easy – I just move all my signs clockwise! So keep your eye out for more info. I hope this kind of helps.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

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  2. I have heaps of seeds too – and every year I swear I’m going to make do with what I have. It never happens. My collection is a bit like yours but rubber-banded together, it makes it look as if I have a whole lot less than I actually have! Good luck with your chillis and peppers. I love your blog and have your book – I asked for it as a birthday present in autumn. 🙂

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    • Hi Taryn. Seeds seem so cheap to buy that you don’t really think twice about adding them to your collection, but it’s the old ones that never seem to get chucked out that cause the problems, they kind of sneak up on you.
      Thanks for your kind words.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

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  3. ‘Armed with knowledge, I responded with inaction.’ I *love* that. You made me smile.

    I don’t have quite as many seeds as you do, but what helped me get mine in order was a seed keeper, designed by two women here in the States. I love it! Let me go find the link.

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    • Hi Alys. I’d love to find an easy fool proof solution to storing my seeds as I’m terrible at putting things away in the excitement of the moment. If I had a nice system then hopefully it will become part of the excitement, not the boring bit at the end!
      Cheers Sarah : o )

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    • Hi Alys. Thanks for the link. It is definitely something I will look into. Hopefully our exchange rate doesn’t make it cost prohibitive.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

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      • I thought of that. I wonder if you could fashion your own. A couple of clear bins from an office supply store, and a set of tabs would do for starters. You could simply create an A – Z set of cards using recycled file folders. You could sort flowers in one box, vegetables in another. Or if that is too complex, perhaps some color coded dividers from laminated construction paper: green for herbs, red for flowers, yellow for veg and so on.

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  4. Phew! I’m pleased I’m not the only one with a seed packet collection-itis. Over here we have around Oct time every yr places selling packets for half price so I buy them just because they are such good value! Crazy but there we go. I tried an experiment on my blog to give the seeds away and have managed to get rid of a few but I still have a lot left! Good luck with the new growing season 🙂

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    • Hi Sophie. I seriously don’t know how I ended up with so many packets. I never intentionally went shopping for extras, although there were a few unopened packets….
      I thought I might try and give some of the ones I don’t want away, but not wanting to discourage anyone from gardening, I thought I’d do a germination test first to make sure their not duds.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

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    • Hi Arthur. I honestly believe gardening is a compulsive, addictive, obsession that has the ability to take over your life. Gardening isn’t something you do – it’s a lifestyle! Well for me anyway.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

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    • Hi There. That is such an awesome idea. I found a chart on the internet with the rough viability of each veggie – if stored properly. I think I’m going to print it off and laminate it and keep it in my shed. Then, if I use your idea and the chart, at the end of each season I can go through my seeds and easily chuck out old ones. Thanks for the great tip.

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  5. Lol, probably not TOO many…you never know there could be a holocaust and yours is the only surviving family and you need to feed yourselves totally for 10 years!!

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    • Hi Wendy. Maybe I need to look at how all those seed banks keep their seeds. I hope it’s not by growing everything every year to keep them fresh, while avoiding cross contamination at the same time – because I don’t think I have the space, time and energy on top of everything else I need to do in the garden.
      Your interesting earthquake observation about relying on the freezing to store the harvest being no good in a crisis has really got me thinking as we are freezer central here. We either need an alternative electricity source or an alternative harvest storage system. But lobbing stuff in the freezer is so easy…
      Cheers Sarah : o )

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      • Ah, I know it is. Freezing seems to be the most quickest way a the time when all sorts coming out of the garden. We’ll probably still do it again next year however will do alot more bottling and drying as well. You can go for years and years with no worries really, it’s like those insurance policies – the “just in case” needing to do. Sure felt regret though when possibility of worse happening.
        No, I don’t think seed banks grow every year, your seeds will be safe a while yet I’m sure 🙂

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  6. Me too! I run into the same problem, but on a smaller scale. I hate waste, so have pledged that I can’t buy anymore carrot seeds (among others) until I use the ones I already have. I do allow myself a small purchase of seeds twice a year to buy things I really need or to try a new variety. Happy sorting (purging)!

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    • Hi there. According to my chart carrot seed last three years. Maybe the key is to sow more seeds, so they get used up quicker and then we can go seed shopping without any guilt at all!
      Cheers Sarah : o )

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