Do you, like many small-space gardeners, discard unplanted seeds every year based on the sell-by date the manufacturer has stamped on the seed packet? If so, you’re wasting money.
While it is true that seed germination rates generally decline from year-to-year after harvesting, that is no reason to waste perfectly good seeds just because the sell-by date has passed. Older seeds that do germinate will produce plants that are just as vigorous as they would have been in year one.
The key is to test whether seeds will germinate before, not after, you commit precious garden or greenhouse space to them. This is a luxury not available to large-scale producers.
The technique is simple. On a damp paper towel, arrange seeds representing about two or three times the number of plants that you would like to produce. Cover the seeds with another damp paper towel, then fold the towels and seal them in a plastic zipper bag. In order to accelerate the germination process, first nick larger seeds with a sharp knife so moisture will penetrate and soften the outer-shell more quickly.
Store the bag at room temperature and carefully unwrap its contents to look for signs of germination every few days.
Plant germinated seeds in starter pods or directly into the garden depending on the season. Continue this process over a period of days until your space if full or you have planted all germinated seeds.
In addition to making the most of your gardening dollars, this process eliminates the need to thin seedlings once they emerge from the soil.
No need to give up after season two. Instead, carefully re-seal opened seed packets and store them in plastic in order to maximize germination rates for next year or for a second planting in the current year.
Home gardening is pleasurable for so many reasons including the pleasure that comes from trimming the family food budget. That can only increase as the annual seed budget shrinks.