Gardeners usually have a few extra seeds or seed packages left over after planting their gardens, and a gardening expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences says leftover seeds can be stored to grow another day.
"Seeds are dormant living things that do not germinate to produce a new plant until warm temperatures and moisture break their dormancy," explains J. Robert Nuss, professor of ornamental horticulture. "To keep seeds dormant, you must keep them cool and dry."
Nuss says some garden seeds can be stored for long periods without much special treatment. He lists the relative shelf life of some popular plantings.
- Five Years: Cucumber, endive and muskmelon.
- Four Years: Cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, pumpkin, radish and squash.
- Three Years: Beans, celery, carrot, lettuce, pea, spinach and tomato.
- Two Years: Beets and peppers.
- One Year: Sweet corn, onion, parsley and parsnips.
Relative seed shelf lives can be greatly improved by using several storage methods available to almost any homeowner. The key to storage is maintaining a constant temperature -- preferably between 35 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit -- and eliminating excess moisture.
"Moisture is the enemy," warns Nuss. "Germination is hastened by high humidity and moisture, either in contact with the seed or in the storage container."
He recommends the following storage methods:
Closed containers. "Use cans or glass jars with screw-top lids," Nuss says. "Plastic 35 mm film containers are ideal for seed storage."
Drying Agents. Placing an absorbent material in the container extends the life of the seed. "Dry powdered milk works well," he says. "It attracts moisture from its surroundings, so don't open the storage container except to use the seeds or change the drying agent."
Nuss offers the following steps to create a powdered milk drying package.
- Unfold and stack four facial tissues.
- Put two heaping tablespoons of powdered milk on one corner.
- Fold or roll the tissue into a small packet, sealing the ends with tape or rubber bands.
- Place the packet in the larger container holding the seeds and seal the container. The drying agent should be changed every six months.
- Store in a refrigerator or a similar cool spot. "Do not put it in the freezer," Nuss says.
"This method is a great way to save commercial seeds or those you have collected from friends," Nuss adds.
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