testing old seeds

So you’ve got that old seed pack from last year (partially used or maybe even unopened)… but you’re a little nervous about planting them. The package does say it was for the 2015 growing year, and you’re a rule follower. (Because if you were rebellious, you’d already have those seeds planted and wouldn’t need to read this.) Before you toss out that “old” package of seeds, here’s a simple way to test them to see if they’re still good!

I wish this test worked for other things like potato chips (because biting into a stale potato chip is kind of the worst) and eggs because NO ONE wants to find out the hard way that an egg is bad. NO ONE… except Templeton, and if you get that literary reference, two gold stars for you!

This quick test takes just a few minutes to set up and then a few days of wait time, but it’s definitely worth it if you can use what you have instead of going out to the store to buy another package of seeds that you may not really need. And if you have kids, they’ll love checking on the seeds each day to see if they’ve sprouted! Here’s what you’ll need to test your seeds:

Paper towels




Chances are, you have all of this stuff laying around your house, so let’s get started!

Step 1: Take one sheet of paper towel and dampen with water. Lay damp paper towel on table or counter and place 2 or 3 seeds on the towel. I would use one type of seed per paper towel, so you can remember what seed type you’re testing. Here are some of last year’s beet seeds:seeds on towel

Step 2: Roll seeds up in the damp paper towel. It will look like a paper towel cigar, but just don’t go lighting it up. Use your sharpie to write on the outside of the towel what type of seeds are in there. The writing will get a little “loose” as you keep the towel wet over the next few days, but you should still be able to tell what you’ve written.seeds in towel

Step 3: Place the rolled paper towels on a plate or low-sided dish and let marinate for a few days, keeping the towel damp. I do this by putting a little water in the bottom of the plate and letting the towel soak it up; you could also spray it with a water bottle.

Step 4: Open up the paper towels and see if the seeds have sprouted! If your seeds are still good, you will see shoots popping out of the seeds. Yay! If you’re not seeing sprouts, you could wait another day or so (this may be necessary for seeds with a longer germination period, and you can find this info on the seed pack itself). You can see most of our beet seeds sprouted, as well as the garden peas I tested. And that poor pack of garden peas was in rough shape from being left out in the rain (my bad), so if they sprouted, you can feel good about testing whatever old seeds you have laying around.sprouted beet seeds

And that’s all there is to it! Simply taking a few seeds and testing them can save you having to buy all new seeds this year, especially if you square-foot garden. Since you only use a certain number of seeds with SFG, I find that I’m able to use one package of seeds for two years.

This is also an excellent activity to do with kids to show them how plants grow, even if you have absolutely no intention of growing a garden. So dust off those seeds packets from the depths of your garage and test a few out. Your pocketbook will thank you! Happy Gardening!

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