Saving Seeds: A Seed Management System

Gardeners face decisions every year about what to do with the seeds they don't use. These seeds fall into two categories... seeds leftover because we didn't need all the seeds in the packet, and seeds that are still in unopened packets.

In the past I tossed my leftover seeds and seed packets into a drawer, and then when that drawer got too full to close all the way, I put them in a nice big plastic storage bin.

When I look at this full bin, which holds the equivalent of 18 quarts, I think "how did it get so full?"

I think I need a bigger bin.

No, actually, I need a better "seed managament system". I'm good about limiting the number of seed catalogs I order from, and interpreting what is in the catalogs. I'm apparently not so good at seed management once I have the seeds.

If these seeds were anything else, something inert like maybe some scrapbooking paper, I would vow to not buy any more until I had used up all that I had.

But seeds are not inert matter like paper. Seeds are tiny embryonic plants with a bit of food stored with them to get them off to a good start, covered over by some kind of coat to protect them. They don't remain viable forever and some of the seeds in this bin are ten years old.

I suppose I could test some of them to determine the germination percentages, but to do that, I'd need about ten seeds of a given variety, and most of these packets have been opened and may contain fewer than ten seeds.

Now don't make me prove that most of the packets have been opened and a lot of them are actually empty. Just take my word for it. Would I buy a packet of seed and then never use it? Well, there might be one or two or so that haven't been opened, but not many, no more than ten or twenty packets. But keep in mind there are hundreds of seed packets in that bin, so the percentage that were never opened is very, very small.

I really have no idea why I started saving all these seed packets. But now that I have them, they are kind of fun to look through occasionally, so I don't plan to throw them out.

I do plan to do a better job of managing any new seeds I get from this year forward.

Here's my new seed management system.

- When I have leftover seeds that I am sure I won't use, I will give them to other gardeners who might like to try some seed sowing or would just like to try a variety that I have. (But I'll keep the packets.)

- When I have enough leftover seeds of a particular variety that I think I will plant again next year, I will store them properly in a dark, cool place to maintain some level of viability and then test the germination percentage the following year before I order more seed.

- I will carefully scrutinize my seed order to make sure I really am going to sow all the seeds I buy.

By the way, I don't save ALL the seed packets I get. I actually use some of them as markers in the garden and after a summer in the heat and rain, there's not much left of them to save. But clearly I save quite a few.


Christine said…
I actually do save all my seed packets, I cut them apart and glue them into my gardening notebook (see my blog). Any packets with seeds in them go into a plastic container with attached flip-up lid, and I seperate them into vegetable, perennial, annual, and herbs. But I have an almost two year old child, and I have to be a little more protective than some others.
Frances said…
Keep up the good 'seed' postings. They are so appropriate now whether one is snowed under or basking in warm sunshine. When the shed was cleaned out last summer the build up of empty seed packets and plant tags were tossed. It was hard to get rid of all that valuable information, but we know you can find anything online, right?
Muum said…
gosh, I thought I was the only one! We (DH and I) have quite a collection , some more than 10 years old, and the reason to keep empty packets is....... so you can remember what variety you planted! Yeah, I know, another rationalization. ah well.
Sherry said…
All you seed packet collectors need to get one of the those old library card filing drawers. Remember those? They would be perfect for your seeds.
I guess I need a better storage system too. Thanks to this post, I now know that the top of the refrigerator in a pretty basket is not the best place for my unused seeds.
janie said…
You might want to consider this seed company.

They offer 'sample' packets of seeds for 35 cents each, that are just perfect for people like me, who don't need a whole packet of eggplant or squash!

I have ordered lots of seeds from them, and have always been very happy with the service and the seeds.
Carol said…
Christine, that is very organized of you. I should at least sort these seed packets by years and throw out the old seeds.

Frances, you can find pretty much anything online. I also keep plant labels. Most of them are pinned up to a bulletin board in the garage, but that's full, too, and needs to be cleaned off.

Muum, why is it we feel we have to have a reason to keep old seed packets? I think knowing that other gardeners do it, too, helps me feel less... odd.

Sherry, that's a good idea.

Robin's Nesting Place, Indeed the top of the refrigerator is a terrible place to store seeds. In fact, anyplace that a cat would like to be, warm and cozy, is not a good place for seeds!

Carol, May Dreams Gardens
Carol said…
Janie, thanks for the tip, I will have to check them out!

Carol, May Dreams Gardens
Carol - I'm like Robin, only worse. My nearly empty seed packets end up on a shelf in the garage, then get pushed to the back of the shelf unintentionally, then end up with things getting placed on top of them. It's a good thing I don't order much seed. In fact, I didn't order any seed last year because I am playing around with my own seed strains of variegated Columbines. The seed packets lost somewhere in the garage? You guessed it, Columbine seeds.
I LOVE to organize things. But I have to admit that I have a habit of saving my seed packets and not in a very organized fashion either. Good ideas here! Must improve...

--Robin (Bumblebee)
WiseAcre said…
I can finally admit to having seed packs over 15 years old. That bin full of seed packets isn't a filing system, it's a treasure chest.
Kathy said…
I make my own "wildflower" mixes from leftover flower seeds. I mix them all together with some sand and sprinkle them wherever there's an unplanted patch of dirt, or waste places like the outside of the compost bin, etc. Not many plants come up, but it at least gives me the illusion that I'm not wasting the seed.
chuck b. said…
Really? You're going to run germination trials? Really?
Carol said…
Mr. McGregor's Daughter, so you are into columbines. They are such pretty flowers!

Robin(Bumblebee), Organizing is fun, to a point. Post some on your blog about how you organize for gardening, please...

Wiseacre, Then I can admit that I have some twenty year old seeds out in the garage.

Kathy, that's a great idea. I might just try that, as every garden should have a place to 'mix it up a bit' and see what comes up.

Chuck B., I said I possibly could, might, but I doubt that I do. Instead I'll be new seed, again.

Thanks all for joining in on "seed obsession week".

Carol, May Dreams Gardens
vonlafin said…
I keep the empty packets for reference, but any seed packets older than about 3 years, I put into large zip lock bags, and put them in my garage sale. People love them, and I don't have to feel guilty about all the money that I have spent on seeds that I didn't use.
Curtis said…
Now I don't feel too bad about my seed collection. Though I I don't have as many as you because I only started sowing seed again, a couple of years ago.
Your seed addiction is as bad as my glass bead addiction. I purchase glass beads and rarely use them. Seeds do eventually get put into the ground here. However I don't purchase all that many.
Carol said…
Vonlafin, Really? People buy old seeds at your garage sale. Do any of the seeds germinate?

Curtis, Most gardeners have a little stash of seeds after awhile. Can't be helped!

Lisa at Greenbow, Seed addiction? Do you think I have an addition to seeds?

Thanks all for the comments,
Carol, May Dreams Gardens
I'm impressed with all of you seed savers. I figure I'm doing real good if I can find last year's seeds. A whole year is a long time for me to keep track of something.
lisa said…
Heh...I can relate to this! I have kept several empty packets to remind myself what "may" come up in a miscellaneous wildflower area that I just tossed stuff into. (Good thing too, the valerian came up and I was stumped until I found the packets.)
Anonymous said…
I've decided to start organizing my seeds as I'm reasonably new to gardening and I want to get my timing right. I've decided to put the seeds in date planting order in an accordion file by month. then the seed will get put ahead if its not planted right away. ALSO, I was thinking about using the same monthly accordion system in another one to put the packets or pictures of plants but for when they are to bloom or be picked. I thought then I can look at a month and see what could go together. Also I would move them according to when they really bloomed and remove them if I remove the plant. Any ideas on this - is this dumb?