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How to Test Old Seeds

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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 last growing year, and you’re a rule follower.

How can you test your old seeds to see if they will still be viable in this year’s garden? Testing old seeds is easy, and a bit fun!

Why Test Old Garden Seeds

If stored properly, many seeds can last for years. Proper storing means they’ve been in a cool and dry environment. I know many people who store their extra seeds in the freezer, and it works quite well. But if you’re not sure about how well you kept your seeds stored, you may be hesitant to use them.

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Well, before you toss out that “old” package of seeds, here’s a simple way to test them to see if they’re still good! 

Testing your seeds is a great way to make the best use of what you have. If you use a raised bed garden for your growing area, then chances are you won’t use an entire package of seeds in one growing season.

So, performing this simple test will help you know how to plan for your upcoming spring garden! (Interested in raised bed gardening? Check out my full post on How to Start a Raised Bed Garden.) 

Testing Expired Garden Seeds

This quick garden seed test takes just a few minutes to set up and then a few days of wait time. It’s definitely worth the wait 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.

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:

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

Steps for seed testing

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 (oops!), so if they sprouted, you can feel good about testing whatever old seeds you have laying around.

sprouted beet seeds

Garden tips

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.

Even if you don’t use the square-foot gardening method, chances are you didn’t use that entire package of 25 tomato seeds, so testing what you have left over is a great way to save money. And when it comes time to get those seeds growing, try using Egg Carton Seed Starters instead of a kit from your hardware store. 

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. 

Do you want to start a garden, but aren’t sure where to begin? I’ve got you covered! From planning out your space, to choosing the best spot in your yard, to getting a list of all the supplies you need before you go to the store (so you don’t waste money), my Kitchen Garden Planner (fully printed and spiral bound!) helps you figure it all out.

Even if you’re a seasoned gardener, the planner allows you get thoughts down on paper and plan succession planting, companion plants, and more! Save yourself time and frustration this year and plan your best garden yet!

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