Just about every gardener has a stash of seeds — a jar or a shoebox full of miscellaneous seed packages with a few beans, some lettuce seeds, cosmos or marigold seeds harvested from the garden, and maybe some tomato seeds. Saving seeds from year to year reflects a gardener’s very best intentions and a naturally thrifty nature. It’s practically instinctive, and it’s smart: when Robinson Crusoe found himself shipwrecked on a tropical island, he carefully reserved some seeds every year so he could replant in case of crop failure.
In modern society, it isn’t necessary to save seeds to survive, but most gardeners do not grow 30 tomato plants, either, and packages of seeds often contain dozens of seeds. Naturally, the extras are put away for another season. If they are stored properly, these extra flower and vegetable seeds have a pretty good shelf life, although the germination rate will naturally drop as time passes.
If you’re creating your own seed bank, store seeds in their original packages if possible, or in a labeled envelope (include the date) in a jar or a cookie tin with a tight-fitting lid, protected from light and moisture. Cool temperatures are recommended. Some experts advise placing rice or powdered milk in the container, to absorb moisture.
Even careful seed-saving techniques will not preserve seeds forever. Spinach, lettuce, parsnip, and corn seeds are generally only viable for about a year; bean seeds may germinate after two years. The seeds of many squash varieties are often good for three or four years.
Instead of saving seeds for another year, some gardeners intentionally over-plant, to account for thinning and the inevitable loss of a few seedlings. Even better, extra seeds allow you to stagger plantings of beans, lettuce, and other crops through the season, so you’ll always have a fresh harvest coming along. But perhaps the best thing to do with extra seeds is to share them with a friend. That way, you’ll have someone to compare notes with, and you’ll have a chance to try something new every season.