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How long do seeds last?

Jim Myers of Oregon State University explaining how to cross bean varieties.

We’re at the Organic Seed Growers Conference in Oregon this weekend and feeling seedier than ever! One of the seedy questions we get asked all the time is how long seeds last. The Organic Seed Alliance has a fantastically comprehensive Seed Saving Guide which covers this question and many more. However, if your interest doesn't quite stretch to 30 pages, read on for highlights and a seed saving story that's particularly close to our hearts.

Firstly, remember that only some seeds are worth saving:

  • Open-pollinated/heirloom seeds are the best seeds to save. All of our seeds are open-pollinated and many of them are heirloom varieties.
  • Most people don't save hybrid seeds since the offspring does not grow true-to-type and tends to produce lower yields.

Ok, so now to get the question - how long do seeds last? As a general rule of thumb, most major vegetable crop seeds will remain viable for 3-5 years, and in some cases, they can last as long as 10 years!

There are some exceptions. Alliums, parnsips, and spinach have a shorter lifespan and may only last 1 or 2 years. Others like amaranth are said to last up to 40 years!

Garlic Chives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What about flowers? Most annuals typically last 1-3 years. Perennials tend to last 2-4 years.

Sunflower seeds
Balloon Vine Seeds
Lacy Phacelia seeds

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drying Swiss Giant Snow Pea seed

Storage Conditions are really important for helping your seeds to stay viable for as long as possible. It's important to keep them in a cool (but not freezing), dry, dark place, protected from insects and rodents. Ideally, you should allow the seeds to dry after harvesting and then put them in a sealed container (we recommend glass jars).

Germination testing is still a good idea to test the quality of your old seeds before you plant them next season. Our Seed-Trade Secrets blog tells you how to test your seeds at home.

 

Interested to learn more?

Don't miss the Organic Seed Alliance's Seed Saving Guide

Get inspired by one of our favorite seed saving stories from the Roughwood Seed Collection. This is the story of how William Woys Weaver discovered his grandfather's seed collection, now comprising around 4,000 varieties of heirloom food plants. We have several of Roughwood's seeds available in our 2018 catalog - click here to learn which varieties they are!

2 thoughts on “How long do seeds last?”

  • Jonathan Blumberg
    Jonathan Blumberg 02/16/2018 at 3:32 pm

    I was meaning to write. I generally keep my seeds for a long time and do some germination tests before planting. Last spring I noticed that I had a pack of your Cosmonaut Volkov tomato seeds, from 2011. I put all in a paper towel to pre-germinate, expecting a smallish germination rate, and I got nearly 100%!.... Most were wasted because I only had room for a few plants, so next time I'll be more conservative. I also have tomatoes from other well-regarded seed companies and the germination rates do tend to slip a lot quicker, but it's hit or miss by variety (even amongst the same species).

    Reply
    • Isabel Vinton
      Isabel Vinton 02/22/2018 at 11:57 am

      Hi Jonathan, thanks so much for sharing this story! It's great to hear that these lasted so well and all the best for the upcoming growing season!

      Reply

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