By Mary Lowther
When I discovered that mice had been dining on the loose seed packets in my pantry I sprang into action! Deferring the scheduled preparation of seasonal cards, I set out three traps baited with the traditional cheese. I suspect we may be genetically selecting mice with lactose intolerance because it took a few days for one to fall for one of the traps and I know there are more mice.
I’ve also sorted out my seeds and put the viable ones into containers that only the most determined mice could gnaw through, and labeled them with planting dates. In his book Growing and Saving Vegetable Seeds, Marc Rogers has a great section that I refer to for every packet of seeds: the length of time each type of seed will typically grow into a plant when sown.
When I buy a packet of seeds I check the date it was packed and, after referring to Rogers’s viability table, write on the packet the last year the seed should be good to. I also write sowing dates on the packet, following West Coast Seeds’ excellent method for writing down how they’re sown: for sowing in flats, for sowing directly outside and for sowing outside under cover. I haven’t been happy with West Coast Seeds for the past three years because their seeds have not been as robust as before and prefer buying from the more dependable Salt Spring Seeds.
While in a ruthless mood, I also threw out all my stale-dated seeds, tossing them together in a bucket and the ripped packets into another. I’ll use these seeds as a cover crop next year and see if any of them come up.
Seeds use stored food while they’re dormant and have typical lengths of time in which most of them will grow into plants when sown. For example, tomato seeds typically last for four years when kept in cool, dry conditions. Heat and humidity shorten their lifespan and that’s why I keep my dried seed packets in sealed plastic tubs along with a desiccant, in a cold room, and why I order most of my seeds directly from the supplier who will have stored them in ideal conditions.
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