Apr 172011
 
My Favorite Seed Sources - Plus Seed Storage and Germination Rates after Storage

 

In case you haven’t ordered all your garden seeds just yet, I thought I’d do a quick post about my favorite seed sources, seed storage and seed germination rates after storage.

Fedco Seeds – Fedco is where I buy the bulk of my seeds.  Their prices are very affordable, they carry a large number of varieties, and they source from ecologically sound growers – no GMOs here.  Their catalog is not flashy – it’s printed on plain newsprint, all black and white – but their variety descriptions are tops.  They point out which varieties store best, are best in certain recipes, and are resistant to various garden problems.  They also give troubleshooting tips.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds – I’m new to Baker Creek, but I’m a fan.  One of the best for unusual heirloom and open-pollinated varieties, plus reasonable prices.  Gorgeous photos in the print catalog and online. They’ve launched a customer review option online, but so far the feedback is minimal.  I expect it to grow over time.  Forward thinking company, also GMO-free and supporting local farmers, like Fedco.

Pinetree Garden Seeds
– Out of my top five, I’ve been ordering from Pinetree the longest.  Their prices are reasonable, and they give smaller quantities of seed in each packet so you don’t end up carrying over so much seed from one year to the next if you have a smaller garden.  I typically order from Pinetree for seeds that have a limited storage lifespan, like peppers and parsnips.  Again, another company that is GMO-free and supports healthy farms and farmers.

Seed Savers Exchange
– I love the idea of Seed Savers Exchange, and they have a beautiful and inspiring catalog – BUT – not all the seeds I’ve ordered from them have had the quality I expect from a seed company.  Germination rates have been poor, squash that were supposed to store well stored poorly (they were the first to rot in storage our of six varieties), plants have failed to thrive (right next to similar plants from other seeds sources), and tomatoes that were described as crack resistant cracked worse than any others in my garden (and I grow around 20 varieties).  When I emailed with my concerns, I received no response.  I am still a member of SSE, support their work and order from them occasionally, but don’t rely on them for the bulk of my seeds.

Seeds of Change – SOC has a beautiful catalog where they share wonderful stories about how their seeds are changing people’s lives.  Unfortunately, they were bought out several years ago by M&M/Mars company, and I have to say I miss the days of the old SOC.  They used to focus on heirlooms and unique open-pollinated vegetables developed by the likes of Alan Kepuler.  Now, I page through the catalog and see mostly hybrid varieties.  What can I say?  “Hybrid vigor” is great on occasion, but I prefer open pollinated and heirloom varieties for the most part. Update:  M&M/Mars is now introducing GMO cocoa.  Sorry, Seeds of Change, you’re now off my list for good.

How Long Can You Store Seeds?

So, once you’ve got your seeds, how long can you expect them to remain viable?  The following charts from Seedman.com lists storage and germination times for garden seeds.  My results have been somewhat different, generally with a longer shelf life than this list suggests.  I’ve started keeping records for the seedlings I start inside, listing planting date, variety, number of cells, number of seeds, year of seeds, seed company, date of first seedlings, number of seedlings, final number of seedlings and date of final count.  I pop these titles into Excel, make a grid and print it horizontally on a page.  This allows me to keep track of whether or not I need fresh seeds for a variety even if I have a lot of seeds left.  For instance, I’ve got some tomato seeds left from 2001 (ten years old) that came up great this year, and others that only sprouted one out of ten seeds.

What’s the Right Way to Store Seeds?

I keep my seeds in my cool, dry basement to help extend their lives, but they could be  a little cooler.  My friend keeps hers in their walk in cooler and has significantly better longevity.  I may have to bum some cooler space once most of planting is over.  Don’t leave your seeds sitting in a greenhouse or near a heat source, like near a furnace or in your kitchen! This will shorten their lives.  According to the article from Seedman.com “The dry seed should be placed in packages and stored in moisture-proof containers. Containers such as sealed cans or jars with air tight caps work satisfactorily. Storage temperatures between 35°F and 50°F are satisfactory when the moisture content of the seed is low.”

Table I. Seed weight and longevity for home garden vegetables.

Crop Seeds per Ouncea Relative Longevity under Cool, Dry Condition (Years)bc
Asparagus 700 3
Bean, Lima 25 – 75 3
Bean, Snap 110 3
Beets 1,600 4
Broccoli 9,000 5
Brussels Sprouts 8,500 5
Cabbage 8,500 5
Carrot 23,000 3
Cauliflower 9,000 5
Celeriac 70,000 5
Celery 70,000 5
Chicory 26,000 5
Chinese Cabbage 18,000 5
Cucumber 1,100 5
Eggplant 6,000 5
Endive 26,000 5
Kale 9,500 5
Kohlrabi 9,000 5
Leek 11,000 3
Lettuce 25,000 5
Muskmelon 1,200 5
New Zealand Spinach 350 5
Okra 500 2
Onion 9,000 1 – 2
Parsley 18,000 2
Parsnip 12,000 1 – 2
Pea 75 – 90 3
Pepper 4,500 4
Pumpkin 200 4
Radish 3,000 5
Rutabaga 12,000 5
Salsify 1,900 2
Spinach 2,800 5
Squash 100-300 5
Sweetcorn 120 – 180 1 – 2
Swiss Chard 1,500 1 – 2
Tomato 11,000 4
Turnip 14,000 5
Watermelon 200 – 300 5

aSeeds, The Yearbook of Agriculture. 1961. Stefferud, A., Editor. The United States Government Printing Office.
bHandbook for Vegetable Growers. 1960. Knott, Joe. John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
cVegetable Growing Handbook. 1979. Splittstoesser, W.E. AVI Publishing, Inc.

Table II. Germination data for home garden vegetable seed.

Crop Minimum Percent Germinationab Germination Temperatureb Days to Germinate Under Optimum Temperature and Moisture Conditionsc
Min °F Opt. °F Max. °F
Asparagus 60 50 75 95 10
Bean, Lima 70 60 85 85 6
Bean, Snap 75 60 80 95 7
Beets 65 40 85 95 4
Broccoli 75 85 4
Brussels Sprouts 70 80 4
Cabbage 75 40 80 100 4
Carrot 55 40 80 95 6
Cauliflower 75 40 80 100 5
Celeriac 55 70 11
Celery 55 40 70 85 7
Chicory 65 80 6
Chinese Cabbage 75 80 4
Cucumber 80 60 95 105 3
Eggplant 60 60 85 95 6
Endive 70 80 6
Kale 75 80 4
Kohlrabi 75 80 4
Leek 60 70 7
Lettuce 80 35 75 85 3
Muskmelon 75 60 90 100 4
New Zealand Spinach 40 70 6
Okra 50 60 95 105 6
Onion 70 35 75 95 6
Parsley 60 40 75 90 13
Parsnip 60 35 65 85 14
Pea 80 40 75 85 6
Pepper 55 60 85 95 8
Pumpkin 75 60 95 100 4
Radish 75 40 85 95 4
Rutabaga 75 80 4
Salsify 75 70 6
Spinach 60 35 70 85 5
Squash 75 60 95 100 4
Sweetcorn 75 50 95 105 3
Swiss Chard 65 40 85 95 4
Tomato 75 50 85 95 6
Turnip 80 40 85 105 3
Watermelon 80 60 95 105 4

aMinimum percent germination to federal standards.
bHandbook for Vegetable Growers. 1960. Knott, J.E. John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
cSeeds, The Yearbook of Agriculture. 1961. Stefferud, A., Editor. The United States Government Printing Office.


Click Here for a Printable PDF of the Seed Storage and Germination Charts

Simple Germination Test

If you want to check if your seeds are likely to grow, try this simple germination test.

  1. Wet down a paper towel.
  2. Place ten seeds on the towel, fold to cover the seeds (so they are in contact with the damp towel on both sides and not too close to the edge of the towel).
  3. Place towel in a plastic bag with the top open, or in a mason jar.  You want some air flow, but you don’t want the towel to dry out near the seeds.
  4. Put in a warm area.  Check seeds daily.  Most seeds should sprout in 3-10 days.  (Varieties that take longer to sprout may be noted on the seed package.)
  5. If they all sprout or most of them sprout, you’re good to go.  If half or less sprout, you’ll need to “Plant them thicker than hair on a dog’s back” (as my mom would have said) or buy new seeds.

You can also use your setup for sprouts to check germination rates or presprout a bunch of seeds before planting.  This works well for me for early spring peas, which sometimes have trouble getting started in the cool ground but do well once growing.

What are your favorite seed sources and how do you store your seeds?  I’m always open to trying something new.

You may also enjoy:

Simple Record Keeping Tips for the Garden with Printable Seed Starting Chart

Seed starting for Biodiversity, Seed Starting Setup

When Should I Start My Seeds?  Printable seed starting calendar

Tomato Mania – Seed Starting, Transplanting and Troubleshooting

 

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  19 Responses to “My Favorite Seed Sources, Seed Storage and Germination”

  1. Thanks for sharing Laurie – I always swoon when i see your planting list. Someday I might have more space to garden…but I love vicariously gardening through your blog and facebook posts!
    xo!

  2. lol – sometimes I swoon when I see my planting list, too, but I don't think it's for the same reason. :-) My mache and spinach survived the winter, so hopefully if it ever warms up a bit I'll have more fresh greens kicking in soon.

    Thanks for stopping by. :-)

  3. Those are some of my favorites too, except Seeds of Change. I don't have a problem with their seeds, but the company is owned by Mars, who I am not comfortable supporting.

  4. Shannon – I hear you. The last seeds I bought from them were Swan Lake melons, which are a lovely marbled orange and green inside and very tasty, but I don't order from them regularly anymore.

  5. [...] I don’t order from any of those companies any more.  My favorite seed sources can be found here.  Dave’s Garden Watch Dog is a great place to check out a company before you order from [...]

  6. I appreciate your attention to detail. This particular post is extremely useful. I just came back from the store with at least a thousand seeds. I feel so overwhelmed about organization. Where in the world do I start? I want to be able to keep up with the maintenance and also the effectiveness of my heirloom seeds versus these “organic” seeds I have purchased. I’m a new gardener and I don’t wish to waste inexperience on my precious heirloom seeds. Then, of course, I’ll need to keep track of my seeds from harvesting. What a chore!

    • Hi Bonnie! Take a deep breath. :-) The seeds don’t care how meticulous your records are – they just want to grow. There are lots of different ways to track things, so you need to find what works best for you. Confession – I am not a great record keeper. I’d rather be knee deep in the project instead of tracking the project. I largely garden intuitively, simply remembering from year to year what worked and what didn’t. That said, there are a couple of things I do track.

      Germination rates on seedlings started inside – I make up a simple spreadsheet showing date planted, variety, seed source, number of seeds, number of cells, date of first seedlings, date of later seedlings, # of seedlings, date of transplant. Because I keep seeds from year to year and buy from different sources, this helps me track bad seed and lets me know when to plant a little thicker to make up for lower germination.

      Simple Garden Chart – I have a hand drawn diagram of my garden, and I label what was planted in each area from year to year. This allows me to rotate crop families and plant heavy feeders in areas that have been more recently manured. (My neighbor brings over several loads of rotted manure each year, and that rotates through the garden along with the crops.)

      I keep my seeds in plastic shoe boxes, and bundle “like” seeds together. I grow over 100 different varieties of this and that, so I’ll just start working my way through a type of something, say carrots, for instance, in a block planting. I make a block 3 feet wide, and mark rows in it about one foot across (so I end up with a series of three foot long rows). I’ll plant two rows of Atomic Red carrots, a row of radishes, two rows of White Satin carrots, a row of kohlrabi, two rows of Scarlet Keeper carrots, a row of turnips, and so on, until I end up with a large bed of root veggies. I may put some annual flowers or herbs along an edge or mixed in. That way, I can compare the growth habits almost side by side, but not mix the different varieties up. The more you work in your garden, the more you’ll get a feel for how much space you need and how much of a fruit or veggies you use.

      If strict record keeping is your thing, put together a loose leaf binder and make some pre-printed forms in a spreadsheet format. Anything you can do to make record keeping easier will make it more likely to happen. Don’t stress over the details so much that you forget to enjoy your garden. That’s one of the best parts. :-)

  7. [...] online or at almost any place they sell garden seeds.  My favorite seeds sources can be found in this post.  All of my favorites sell some herbs for culinary and medicinal use.  Pinetree Garden seeds also [...]

  8. [...] get you started.  If you’re looking for ideas about where to buy seeds, you can check out my favorite seed sources.  If  you have specific questions about starting seeds, feel free to drop me a note and [...]

  9. Hi there! Just ran into your site and I’m really enjoying perusing it. Some other seed sites I recommended are, Territorial Seed Co. (carries some good OP varieties, even some from our good Dr. Kepuler) and a little seed-saver, Annapolis Seeds. I love Baker Creek too, and thanks for the Fedco tip!

  10. [...] rates after storage, as well as better germination rates right from the start.  (Check out my favorite seeds sources and seed storage recommendations.)  As germination rates decreases, I use proportionately more seed per [...]

  11. I bought seeds from Seed Savers Exchange last year and had a poor germination rate as well….Live and Learn.

    Thank you for all of the tips!

  12. Another seed site that I order from and really admire the work they do is Bountiful Gardens.

  13. SO happy to see Fedco at the top of your list! We have been extremely satisfied with this company and have gotten to the point where we buy almost 90% of our seeds from them…tho we always have to give a few of the Baker Creek beauties a spot in the garden and a local company supplies us with heat-tolerant tomato seeds.

    Also, a big ‘ditto’ on your issues with Seed Savers Exchange….love the idea and their commitment to heirloom vegetables, but have had disappointing results as far as germination rates.

  14. I *LOVE* Pinetree! I’ve been ordering from them for almost 20 years. I love getting the catalog and reading the descriptions, and I agree their prices are very economical!

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