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How Long Can You Store Seeds?

As our thrifty thoughts are turning to our veg plots and just how much we can produce to supplement our food bills, a word to those who have just found a stash of seed packets from last year or have seen seeds on sale at a knockdown price at the garden center and want to know whether they're likely to grow.

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The list below gives a very rough indication for the most common vegetables of potential seed life. Do be aware that the way in which seeds are stored will affect their life.

The following times assume that the seeds have been stored somewhere cool, dry and dark. You can only rely on the top end of the seed life shown below if the seeds are really dry and kept somewhere in an airtight sealed packet (not paper) that stays at a steady cool temperature. So if the packets have been opened the seeds are less likely to germinate.

Also, germination is not an on/off state, what will generally happen is that as seeds get older the percentage that germinate will start to drop off, and then at some point will fall to zero.

Vegetable: Rough Estimate Of Seed Life:

  • Beans: 3 to 5 years +

  • Beetroot, Chard and Leaf Beet: 2 to 3 years

  • Brassicas (Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale, Brussels, Turnips, etc.): 3 to 7 years
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  • Carrots: up to 3 years

  • Courgettes (Zucchini) and Squashes: 2 to 4 years

  • Cucumbers and melons: up to 10 years

  • Lettuces: 2 to 5 years

  • Onions/Leeks/Spring onions: up to 3 years max

  • Parsley: up to 3 years

  • Parsnips: 2 years max

  • Peas: 3 to 5 years +

  • Peppers and Aubergines (Eggplant): up to 5 years

  • Tomatoes: up to 8 years

One final thought, if do you find an old packet of seeds, and wonder whether they are worth sowing, you can always test their germination yourself. Put a couple of layers of damp kitchen towel on a saucer, sprinkle a few seeds on it, and wrap it loosely in a plastic bag (so that it stays damp but is not airtight). Put the saucer somewhere warm and check after a few days. If your test seeds have germinated, then you are fine to go ahead and sow the rest, sowing more thickly if only a proportion of them grew. If nothing is happening, then you need new seeds .

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Source: my own photo and text adapted from the real seed company newsletter.

By Ayesha from Slovenia, EU

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April 8, 20100 found this helpful

What is the time frame for spinach seeds?

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April 9, 20100 found this helpful

I've never really known how to properly store seeds, but I have noticed that tomato seeds will last about 3 years. Also, I've become aware of what is called "heirloom seeds."

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These are not hybrid seeds, and will continue to germinate year after year.

If you save tomato seeds from the store, they may or may not come up. If the tomatoes you buy are non-hybrid seed, then they might come up. If your tomatoes that you buy from the store are hybrid, the seed probably won't come up.

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April 23, 20100 found this helpful

Thanks, I didn't even know where to begin to find this out. I use my pea seeds from one year to the next, but didn't know how long they would last. Also thanks for the "paper" tip, great.

Liz, California

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