Seed Packet Expiration Date

Yesterday, while at Wilsey Nursery (located near Weeks Bay Estuary Center, Alabama), I picked up some seed packets.  They had a clearance table; 10 packs for $1.  The friend I was shopping with bought some, too, and commented on the way home they were old seeds, packed for 2010.  I don’t mind.  I’ve had old seeds that germinated just fine.

So what does the “Packed for” date and the “Sell by” date really mean?

The “Packed for” date is the date that the seeds were packed in their packages.  They may have been harvested a few years prior or just one year past.  We’ll never know.

The “Sell by” date is the end of the year in which the seeds were packed.  I discovered is by looking at my extensive collection of seed packets, ranging from the new ones I just got to ones I’ve had since 2009.  The date is usually November or December.

Seeds can grow at any time.  I read where some old seeds found in an archeological dig germinated.  But over time the seeds can get “old” from heat and humidity and may not produce a fine plant.  My carrots, cowpeas and onions that I planted this year were from 2010.  The all did well; I’m still waiting to harvest the carrots and I’ve been eating off of the onions. 

If you want to be sure that the seeds you didn’t use this year will last to the next year, here are two ways to store them:

  • keep them in a cool, dry place. I keep mine packed together in a ziplock bag in a kitchen drawer, or
  • place them in a lidded glass jar in the refrigerator or cellar.   However, be sure to let them set to room temperature before opening the jar or there may be damaging condensation.

Still not convinced you can use those old seeds?  Here’s how to test if their still good before running out for new packets.  This idea is from Western Washington University’s Extension office.  Take 10 seeds from your packet.  Place them on on a wet, folded paper towel and put the paper towel into a ziplock bag.  Be sure to label it.  Leave the bag for at least a week at room temperature.  Check the seeds and count how many sprouted.  If more than half sprouted, you’ve got a good packet of seeds.

With this knowledge, it might be a good idea to check the garden stores when they put their seeds on clearance, if you don’t mind “last year’s” seeds.

So what did I purchase?  I bought Early Wonder Beets, Mammoth Long Island Dill, Broadleaf Sage, Oregano (which is a perennial), Arugula, Giant Sunflower (I’ll plant that now), Garden Cress Peppergrass, Broccoli, Lettuce Dark Green Cos, and Cowpeas.  Most of these seed packets were $1.59 each. S ince we have a growing season on the Gulf Coast during the fall and winter, I’ll plant some then.  These include Dill, the lettuces and Broccoli.

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