Notes from the Kitchen Garden: how to sort out your seeds for planting

Joyce Wilkie 29 July 2020 1
Checking seeds

Check whether your old seed is viable before ordering new seed. Photo: File.

Do you have a box in your cupboard overflowing with packets of seed?

Most packets are half full, a few even unopened. Are you, like me, spending chilly winter afternoons browsing through at least six online seed catalogues at once with mail-order catalogues strewn either side of the computer?

Oh, how easy it is to be seduced by the glory and hope of a newly discovered variety. That zinnia in a shade that will fire up your flower vases, the pumpkin that will taste so sweet and never rot despite being in storage for months.

It’s time to put your credit card firmly back in your wallet and do a little bit of planning before venturing into the magical world of seed buying.

Many years ago I visited a dear friend and she showed me her treasured and extensive collection of seeds. I was a bit overwhelmed by it all but also realised most of these seeds were probably dead.

What I did, to soften the blow, was engage her in a seed germination test. How do you make sure that old seeds are viable before committing to planting them in your garden?

Silverbeet seeds

Testing seed for viability is straightforward. Photo: Joyce Wilkie.

What you need is a some paper towel and some freezer bags. You start by getting two pieces of paper towel and using a biro pen or pencil (will not run when wet), write on the paper towel the date, seed variety and seed company.

Then you lay out about 20 or 30 seeds on the paper, cover them with another piece of paper towel, wet them down and put into a plastic bag. You put the whole thing in a warm and dark place and give them two weeks to germinate.

If nothing happens then the seeds are probably not viable.

Yes, there are a few seed varieties that need some special treatment – hot then cold or just cold (stratification), so do your homework before you toss out old seed if it is particularly precious or desirable. But don’t waste time on old, non-viable seeds.

Before you decide to start ordering seed again, please do a bit of planning. What do you actually want to grow?

Start by making a list of all the things you love to eat. Then get out the calculator to work out how many onions, pumpkins, lettuces, beans, tomatoes etc you actually need to grow. You will be surprised.

Figure in about 500 onions for a family of four and two zucchini plants. Maybe five well-tended tomato plants will provide an excess for your table but if, like me, you want to make a year’s supply of passata you need at least 10 Roma tomato plants.

When you buy seed you will almost certainly be buying more than you need – share it with a friend, do the planning together, don’t hoard some dream that is never going to happen.

What I’m Eating:

  • Apples
  • Beetroot
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbages
  • Carrots
  • Chinese greens
  • Coriander
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Parsnips
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkins
  • Radishes
  • Rhubarb
  • Salad greens
  • Silverbeet
  • Spring onions

What Seeds I’m Planting:

  • Broccoli–Winter Varieties
  • Chinese Leafy Greens–Mizuna, Pak Choi, Senposai
  • Onions (early varieties Hunter River Gold, Early Flat White, Violetta Lunga)
  • Salad Mix (undercover from frosts)

Joyce Wilkie has farmed vegetables and free-range poultry at Allsun Farm, Gundaroo for decades. Educating people about where their food comes from and teaching them how to grow it is her abiding passion.

What's Your Opinion?

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One Response to Notes from the Kitchen Garden: how to sort out your seeds for planting
Rob Lewis Rob Lewis 4:41 pm 01 Aug 20

Always a highlight of my day, when I find one of your articles. Thanks, always leaves me with a smile. Regards Robert Lewis

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