Testing the viability of bean seeds.| Photo by Kate Garland
With spring just around the corner, you might be browsing the seed catalogs to order your favorite fruit and vegetable strains. But don’t be so quick to buy new packages—those leftover seeds from past seasons may still be viable for planting. You can test old seeds to find out.
To further ensure the best chance of germination, we can attempt to replenish some of the energy and hormones that have been lost over time. Soaking the seeds in a dilute solution of black treacle or even sugar water will boost your carbohydrate levels. When added to the mix, seaweed, fulvic acid, B vitamins, alfalfa flour, coconut water, and malted grain (especially barley) provide a remarkable array of biocatalysts, including natural enzymes to wake tired embryos and get them moving. Coconut water is especially used in plant tissue culture as a food reserve, which proves to be very useful for these purposes. Sprouting is an enzyme-driven process, which can be supplemented naturally by the above ingredients.
Once the seeds are ready, place them directly in quality organic soil for germination, rather than on a paper towel. The latter makes the seeds more prone to pathogens. Good soil should be filled with healthy microbes. Direct seeding also avoids injury to the very fine initial taproot hairs during transplantation, further improving survival rates.
And the grass seeds?
As with other seeds, how long grass seeds remain viable depends on the seed variety and how well they are stored, says Kauth. It can remain viable for three to five years if kept cool, dry and away from rodents or insects that spoil it. Try a sturdy, tightly sealed container or basket.
Humidity and temperature are critical factors in why seeds go bad.
Seeds have one thing in common: they all deteriorate over time, but some do it faster than others. Seeds stored in a warm, humid environment will decline faster than those stored in the dark where the humidity is low, about 10 percent, and the air temperature is between 32 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
A lot depends on the condition of the seeds when you put them in storage, and the last kiss of death is humidity. A wet seed when stored will inevitably develop mold and die. A common rule of thumb for an optimal seed storage environment takes the sum of the air temperature in degrees Fahrenheit and the relative humidity percentage. The total should be less than 100. For most, the refrigerator is the best option. It’s dark, cold, and if stored in an airtight container like a mason jar, the seeds can survive to see another season.