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Plant Old Seeds or Buy New Ones?

Germinating and planting old seeds can save you time and money.

Yeah… I know, the new Garden Seed catalogues have arrived and they are so darned alluring!  I had to restrain myself and take a step back to reflect.

We get it. It’s a lot more tempting to peruse glossy new seed catalogs with glamorous photos than to shuffle through old seed packets.

There’s always a roster of new and improved plants-to-be. The blurbs and illustrations invoke wondrous possibilities. Yet, what about those darlings from last year, or the year before? Don’t give up on or abandon planting your old seeds for the shiny new packets.

Just because they’re old doesn’t mean they’re not still good. Kind of like how I feel about aging. 👴🏼👨🏼‍🌾

Planting old seeds stored from successful garden plants can save you time, money and the grief of failed crops.

Advantages of Planting Old Seeds

There are many benefits to germinating and planting old seeds saved from previous growing seasons.

  • You’ll probably remember if they were a good crop in previous seasons
  • It saves a lot of time over hunting in catalogs
  • Saves money by not buying new seeds
  • Fewer seeds to store at season’s end that you end up not using again
  • Gives the old seeds a chance to fulfill their destiny
  • Conservation, preservation and frugality

How to Use Old Vegetable Seeds

You likely have seeds left over from last year, right? Now, if you thought to keep them stored in the dark in an airtight container placed in a cool location, that’s great! Those old seeds are waiting to fulfill their destiny and become next season’s groceries. 

Properly stored, many seeds remain viable for years.
Baby food jars, mason jars, baggies, all do fine as containers. 

Our preferred system for mass storage and organization is a military surplus ammo box. It’s airtight and definitely stays dark. Plus, it’s quite easy to file seed packets in an orderly manner from Arugula to Zucchini. 

Not sure if your leftover seeds will grow?

Seed Germination Test

How to determine the germination rate before planting old seeds?

Try sprouting ten or twenty seeds between moist paper towels and count the ones that germinate. Divide the count by the number of seeds you’re trying to sprout and . . .voila! You have the percentage odds of what will grow (or not). 

Here’s a handy chart from Virginia Tech Extension Service that lists the average viability for common vegetable seeds. Use this chart as a guide and then test the leftover seeds prior to planting time to ascertain their value. Then, plant more or less accordingly.

SOURCE: Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension Service1)

You’ll find more on seed gathering, storage and keeping here.

Also, one book we solidly recommend is the bible of seed saving: Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth.

Seed Swapping is Popular

To paraphrase a familiar adage, one gardener’s leftovers could be another gardener’s bounty. Check out local seed swapping events where you can share your surplus with others.

In North Carolina our local Agricultural Extension agencies will occasionally host such events. There are also other organizations and groups who promote seed swaps. 

If not in the original packaging, be sure to put seeds in a clearly labeled container with info on purchase date, name, and—if tested—the germination rate. We usually keep seeds in their original packets but also have blank seed packets as alternatives.  

Vegetable seeds don’t cost a whole lot, so it’s understandable why we gardeners buy fresher, perhaps more reliable, seeds for the current year. But we also like the idea of recycling, and appreciate having saved seeds for planting over several seasons. Our gardens are a blend of both new seed and more vintage seed plantings. 

We’re keen to know your take on planting older seeds. Please, post your comments and photos on the GardensAll Facebook page or you can send it to us.

Seeds Planted in December/January

Grow babies grow! Using our indoor greenhouse stand, nearly every little seed planted germinated! 

We start with a great growing medium (Black Gold Seedling Mix), flats on heating mats placed under lights in a small indoor greenhouse, which you can read more about here.

In the photos that follow, we’ve planted some new and some old seeds from last year’s seed supply and they’re all doing fine. While year old seeds aren’t really old seeds, you can do this with much older seeds as well. In fact, Michigan Gardener successfully germinated old seeds from 1930!!2)

  • Mizuna salad green (in foreground)
  • Cruciferous Kale – (back center)
  • Bok Choy – (far right, leftover seeds from previous year)

TIP: When you thin out your sprouts, eat them! Those sprouts are spicy, tasty, nutrient dense microgreens!

Plant those old seeds. They’re waiting to fulfill their destiny and become next season’s groceries. 

Wishing you great gardens and happy harvests!


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