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How long do seeds last?

Creek-side
6 years ago

Looking for source for how long seeds should be good for. Thinking in particular about beans, because I think I heard I should toss them if I don't use them the first year.

Comments (29)

  • glib
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    in the freezer, forever. I plant ten years old beans every year.

  • thepodpiper
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    ditto what glib said

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  • zzackey
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    The bigger the seeds the longer they last. Seeds like parsley and tomatoes have a short shelf life. Keeping them in the fridge helps them last longer.

  • woohooman San Diego CA zone 10a
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    zackey: I disagree with that statement. There are too many exceptions.

    Like others have mentioned though, the cooler and darker, the better.

    Here's a decent guideline.

    Kevin

    Here is a link that might be useful: veggy seed viability

  • theforgottenone1013 (SE MI zone 5b/6a)
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Agree that the viability of seeds really depend on the type of seed as well as how they're stored. Beans should last several years even at room temperature.

    Zackey- I planted tomato seeds that were at least a decade old this year and they grew fine. No way of knowing how old they were before I got them and I've had them for 10 years. They were simply stored in a pill bottle at room temp.

    Rodney

  • glib
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    parsnip seeds in the freezer last at least 7 years. so do parsley.

  • davids10 z7a nv.
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    planted 20 yr old beet seeds this spring-germination very good. beans not so good, if i had soaked them might have been better. soaked corn good germination, sunflowers poor. all these seeds and more were just in a tin on a shelf.

  • digdirt2
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Ditto on the disagreement on tomato seeds - they last many years. I have often grown 8-10 year old seeds with no problems. I store in the fridge but even that isn't required. Just keep them dry and away from heat.

    Alliums are the only seeds I find with limited viability. Even the it is just a gradual decline in viability. Throwing seeds out every year is big waste of seeds. Check out all the tips on the Saving Seed forum here.

    Dave

  • zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    A lot of factors influence seed longevity, such as:
    -the plant species
    -the health of the parent plant
    -the ripeness of the seed at harvest
    -environmental conditions prior to harvest
    -seed processing (especially cleaning and drying methods)
    -storage conditions

    Good seed storage conditions are low temperature, low moisture, and low oxygen. (I also prefer to store seed in total darkness, although the benefits of that are not as well documented.) Most healthy seed, properly processed & stored under those conditions, will exceed the storage life posted in various garden references... even at room temperature. Most of my saved seed (stored in zip lock freezer bags, in the coolest room in the house) has close to 100% germination after 5 years, and at least fair germination for several more years after that.

    In my experience, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, melons, and some of the Vigna beans (such as yardlong beans) have the longest storage life, usually over 5 years. Most beans & peppers are good for around 5 years. Edamame soybeans, on the other hand, tend to deteriorate after only a few years, much faster than field soybeans.

    Frozen seed can remain viable far longer than the same seed kept at room temperature... up to decades. However, you need to follow proper warming techniques when removing frozen seed from storage. If condensation is allowed to form on the seed, it will significantly reduce seed life, sometimes to the point of total seed death.

    It is worth noting that seed sent by mail in freezing temperatures requires similar precautions.

  • zzackey
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    I either read about seed viability or had it taught to me in a gardening class. Storing it in the refrigerator was recommended in my Organic Gardening in Florida book. Thanks for the corrections. I will not post from now on unless I have the source of the information in my hands. Sorry about the misguidance to the poster.

  • Deeby
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    You should be applauded, Zackey. Not many people have the guts to admit when they're wrong and even apologize. Very cool !

  • grandad_2003
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Woohooman, great link. Thanks for providing it... I generally have better luck than the posted "years". So in that case, I treated the value for "years" as a relative group rank (i.e. seeds in group 6 lasts the longest, followed hy 5, etc.). Given this, I was surprised to see lettuce at the top of the longevity list; my guess would have been 1 or 2. I would also have guessed sweet corn and broccoli to be a bit higher than 3, carrots to be a bit lower than 4 and okra a bit higher than 2 ...Other than these, I pretty much follow the rest of the rankings.

    This post was edited by grandad on Sat, Dec 27, 14 at 15:37

  • daninthedirt (USDA 8b, HZ10, CentTX, Sunset z30, Cfa)
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Yes, NEVER throw out one year old seeds, unless they've been mistreated (heat, moisture). I store my seeds in the fridge rather than the freezer, and they're good for many years. I once thought I read that some seeds freeze well, but others don't. Any truth to that?

    One important thing about keeping seeds cool is to seal them in plastic (ideally with a packet of dessicant inside), and allow them to warm completely to room temp before opening the packet. You open a packet of cold seeds and water will condense on the seeds, which is very bad.

    Oh, I always date my seed packets. That way I can keep track of their viability.

  • woohooman San Diego CA zone 10a
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    zackey: Don't do that! You bring a lot to the party and I'd hate to see your posts go away simply because you were misinformed originally.

    grandad: no problem. I agree about those times on that site but I just did a quick search and though they're conservative numbers, one can get a decent idea. Kind of funny you mentioned the lettuce... I sowed some 1 year old seeds a couple months ago and not one seeds germinated, yet have sowed them 5 years old and no problems.

    Onions are about the only seeds I replenish yearly.

    Kevin

  • seysonn
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Also to my experience alliums seeds have the shortest viability life that I know of. As Zeedman pointed out there are many factors. I don't know about beans and legumes, But it is widely believed that tomato seeds stay viable well over a decade, i.e. if kept properly

    If You are not sure, do a test germination ahead of time, not to waste your time and efforts. I do that with store bough dried pepper pods all the time.

    Seysonn

  • daninthedirt (USDA 8b, HZ10, CentTX, Sunset z30, Cfa)
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Upon review, I see that seeds should only be frozen if they are dry. As in, There are kinds of seeds that are dessicant-intolerant. That is, they can't be dried and survive. I don't think any garden vegetables are such, but large seeds, as for some trees, are sometimes like this.

    I keep all my seeds in one plastic pouch, but that may not be the best idea. Seed viability decreases with temperature fluctuations, so if you need to bring all your seeds to room temp to get one kind of seed, all the other seed packets see an extra temperature cycle they don't need. So in retrospect, one should keep the seeds in individual humidity-sealed packets, and just take the packet that you need.

  • zzackey
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    woohooman, I appreciate your support. I'm tired of making a fool out of myself.

  • lilydude
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Here is the text of an article I wrote many years ago about seed storage. It applies to many kinds of seeds, not just lily seeds.

    The two key words in lily seed storage are COLD and DRY. Properly stored seed will retain its viability for over 10 years. In this article, we will concentrate on non-exotic methods that are workable and effective for the amateur grower.

    Why COLD? A lily seed is a living organism, completely dependent upon its stored food supply. A cold seed has a very low "burn rate". Lily seed stored in a hot, humid environment (like a potting shed in summer) may last a few months. Seed stored at room temperature may last 18 months. A refrigerator will extend storage life to several years. But for long-term storage, the freezer is the clear choice, with seed life stretching to 10 years and longer.

    Why DRY? A dry seed has a very low level of chemical activity. A dry seed is much less vulnerable to fungus attack, especially if the seed is to be stored in an airtight container. If the seed is to be frozen, it MUST be dry. If moist seed is frozen, the moisture in each cell expands as it freezes, rupturing the cell walls and killing the cell.

    Now let's translate our theoretical goals into a step-by-step procedure.
    1. Collect and clean ripe, brown seed.
    2. Dry the seeds: place seeds in uncovered containers in a safe, dry well-ventilated location out of direct sun for about 2 weeks, preferably at room temperature and with a relative humidity of less than 70%. Don't forget to label your containers. Stir occasionally.
    3. Package the seeds. Small lots can go into coin envelopes or the like. Label each envelope. Place all your small envelopes into an airtight container, such as a widemouth canning jar. Large lots can go directly into airtight containers. Place an identifying label INSIDE each airtight container, since labels on the outside can deteriorate or be damaged in handling.
    4. Place your airtight containers in a cool basement, refrigerator, or freezer. If you will be re-opening the container frequently, I do not recommend freezer storage. The freezer should be used only for undisturbed long-term (6 months or more) storage.

    5. Retrieving the stored seed: DO NOT OPEN THE AIRTIGHT CONTAINER UNTIL THE SEED IS AT ROOM TEMPERATURE. This may take 20 minutes to an hour. Cold seed will condense and absorb moisture out of warm room air. If the seed is then returned to an airtight container for storage, serious losses may result. If you accidentally let stored seed get damp, let it dry for 2 days before returning it to storage. When handled properly, seed may be frozen and defrosted many times without damage.

    Some growers use dessicants in their seed storage containers. Dessicants are chemicals like calcium chloride which absorb moisture out of the air. It is known that excessive drying of seeds will result in reduced viability. Therefore, I would recommend caution in the use of dessicants or any other extreme form of drying. Freezer storage gives excellent results without dessicants.

    The above procedure cannot be applied indiscriminately to other types of seed. For example, many large, fleshy tropical seeds will be killed if they are frozen. Many seeds, such as maple, oak, and chestnut, are killed if they are frozen or dried. Before storing seed of non-lily species, seek the advice of a horticultural authority.

  • daninthedirt (USDA 8b, HZ10, CentTX, Sunset z30, Cfa)
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    If storing the seeds in the fridge or small freezer, I think a canning jar might not be best. Those aren't very space efficient for seed envelopes that are flat. Ziplock bags are the best, I think. They make good seals and also allow everything to warm up fast. One small ziplock per seed packet is probably best, and it's easy to stick a label inside that is protected and visible from the outside.

    I think overdrying is mostly an issue of seed fragility, and less of killing the seed. That is, very dry seeds tend to crack. Interestingly, grain growers are cautioned against overdrying, because you end up with less to sell!

    I've seen it suggested that seeds be frozen, at least for a few days, to kill any insects that might be residing on them. Some say that some diseases are killed as well.

  • theforgottenone1013 (SE MI zone 5b/6a)
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    zackey- It would be a loss to the forum is you stopped posting. Everyone's here to discuss and offer advice and rebuttals are part of the process. I've said plenty of things that has been rebutted by others.

    Rodney

  • zzackey
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Thank you Deeby and the forgottenone. I just hate tasting my toes so often. If I'm sure of myself I will post. Otherwise I'll just be a lurker.

  • lilydude
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    To give you an idea how long you can store seeds in the freezer, I just finished these up three years ago:

    {{gwi:34402}}

    Germination wasn't great, but it was OK. But when seeds get this old, I think the seedlings lose some vigor.

    About small seeds: I have some rare plant seeds that are nearly microscopic. They are still germinating well after 21 years. Just about every kind of seed keeps well in the freezer for me. There might be exceptions, but I don't think there are very many. But you've got to be careful not to freeze seeds that have high moisture content, and be very careful with seeds of tropicals.

    For storing individual types of seed, I use coin envelopes of various sizes. Then they go into airtight containers. I use canning jars, peanut butter jars, etc. I like the big peanut butter jars because they have a large diameter lid. That makes it easy to put big seed packets in. You can fit 30 or 40 big seed packets in one peanut butter jar.

    The number 28 on the seed packet shown above is my collection number. I keep track of all my seeds in a simple table in Microsoft Word. Collection number, variety name, date purchased or collected. If your table gets real long, you can use the "Find" feature in Word to search for a particular entry.

    The best freezer to use for seed storage is manual defrost. Self-defrost is OK, but it isn't going to give you as good storage life, because the temperature inside the freezer keeps going up and down. It's still a lot better than room temperature though.

    Germination will never be better than when they are fresh. If they were germinating 0% when you bought them, don't expect miracles when you take them out of the freezer.

    This post was edited by lilydude on Sun, Dec 28, 14 at 23:29

  • daninthedirt (USDA 8b, HZ10, CentTX, Sunset z30, Cfa)
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    That's awesome, lilydude. What was the germination rate of your 1977 Swiss Chard? Was it even 50%? It would be interesting to see some plots of germination rate as a function of age for different storage temps. The closest I was able to get to that was amateur studies of cannabis, which has been carried out quite fervently.

  • lilydude
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Germination was around 20-25%. But that packet never gave me better than about 60%, even when new.

    I don't have data on rate vs age. But I have a theory: germination rate is going to stay fairly high until such time as most of the seeds have burnt up their stored food. Then the germination rate is going to crash. So rate is not a linear function of time. If my theory is correct, then for a given variety, smaller seeds with less stored food will conk out first, and big seeds will last the longest. Also, what does this mean for seedling vigor? If the seed has burnt most of its food to stay alive during storage, it doesn't have much left to feed the young seedling. So seedling vigor is going to suffer. Remember, it's just a theory. But it sounds like it makes sense, at least to me.

  • glib
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    red ribbed chard has always had lower germination. keep in mind that in the Svalbard islands there is a seed bank in permafrost, with surely 0% humidity. seeds are stored with hundreds of years lifetime expectation.

  • daninthedirt (USDA 8b, HZ10, CentTX, Sunset z30, Cfa)
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    I think the long-term conservation seed banks save a lot of seeds very carefully, and the idea is that at least *some* of the many seeds that are saved will be viable years later. There is certainly no assurance that even very many of them will be viable many years later. I'm not sure how they do it at Svalbard, but at the Kew seed bank, they test the sample every decade or so, and if the viability of the sample is getting low, they restock. So you conserve for hundreds of years in that way, by replacing the sample regularly. I don't think they count on any individual seed to last that long.

    So these seed banks work differently than our own seed banks. When we bank our seeds, we want most of them to stay viable. We consider it successful if that happens. They consider it successful if even just a few remain viable. We sure wouldn't.

  • elisa_z5
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    love the 39 cent 1977 seed packet!

    Zackey -- please realize that the impression that you've been "tasting your toes" is only your own impression. Certainly you seem very knowledgeable and helpful and I, and I'm sure others, would appreciate it if you would remain your chatty self and not give in to lurking!

    My lazy-person's method of seed storage/use: the older it is, the thicker I sow the seeds.

  • zzackey
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Thanks elisa. I'll be back on when I feel comfortable.

  • ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5
    6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    i did NOT read all the posts.. but i wont let that stop me.. lol ...

    i would NEVER... throw away one year old seed ...

    not to mention.. they germinate very fast ... so plant them in spring ... and if in 2 weeks ... they dont pop ... go buy another pack ...

    or better yet ... come late in winter.. germinate one or two.. and FIND out ...

    the only caveat.. is if you mail order seed .. rather than purchase locally ... then i suppose you need to plan ahead... but you could still germ one or two right now ... just for fun.. to see if right now.. they are still good ... then eat the sprout ... what the heck .. knowledge is power... we are all guessing right now ....

    if anyone else said such.. along the sames lines.. they are genius.. lol ... great minds think alike ...

    ken

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