Like most gardeners (I imagine) I have a large box of seeds, the result of too many impulse buys online and in the garden centre. A magazine article or book has only to mention that this or that plant is edible and I'm straight off to find out more and, in all likelihood, add the seeds to my growing collection. I've tried to curb my curiosity but it seems to get the better of me fairly regularly so, with many tastes to try and with minimal space available, only a few seeds from each packet get sown*, the packet gets stored and, inevitably, there are still loads left for next year. So is it a good idea to keep them?
This year when planning what to grow, I ruthlessly chucked out the seeds that should have been sown by 2012, if not before. It was a lot. (The photo above is the 'after' shot!) The packet of Canadian Wonder red kidney beans, exp date 2012, was kept. I loved this plant - a bush bean, growing to about 2 ft tall with prolific fruiting.
|Canadian Wonder bush beans in early August 2012|
|Wonder beans in early September 2012.|
|This year's bean: After a 30 day germination, thought I may as well plant it out.|
Convinced the cause was the viability of the seeds, I decided to put it to the test. Seeds need warmth and enough wetness to swell and break the seed coat to germinate, so I put 40 beans on soaked kitchen paper in a plastic tray, covered with another sheet of damp kitchen paper, sealed with cling film and left on a warmish windowsill. After a six days of checking, 24 of the beans had produced a radicle (the root tip) while 16 had not. The beans were in varying stages of germination, some with a long root and others just starting to sprout - again, a sign of the poor quality of the beans. Testing this way is a good way of removing the uncertainty over seed germination. I tried the same method with some lettuce seeds and they didn't germinate at all - so in the bin they went!
The good news is that I now have bean seeds that I'll pot up and know will grow. I also know to let the last pods dry on the plant so that I can save seed for next year. (And, just in case any of the outside sown beans are simply lurking and not deceased, I'll cover the bed with fleece for a week or so and see what happens. It will be their Last Chance; you can't say I'm not being fair.)
* For varieties where only a few seeds are needed, More Veg in Devon sell smaller quantities at a lower price and have a wide range of seeds.
** As a member of Which? Gardening, I always use their recommended Best Buy because compost compositions change from year to year. Over the past couple of years, the best buy has been J. Arthur Bower's Seed and Cutting compost, a nice, fine, free draining mix.