Seeds from last year should definitely still be viable. I regularly use seeds that are at least 2 to 3 years old. But what if you have seeds that are 4 or 5 years old or even older?
There is no reason to waste time planting them in the garden only to realize a couple weeks later that they are not going to germinate. You can check out their viability now by doing a germination test.
Germination test using a jar
When I first wrote this post in 2013, I happened to have a very large bag of pea seeds that I’d had for a few years. They didn’t have a date on them, and I didn’t remember exactly when I bought them.
I poured a handful into a canning jar and soaked them for a few hours, then drained off the water. I rinsed them several times a day to keep them moist, and within two or three days, I started to see sprouts!
After about five days, I poured the peas out onto a plate and started sorting through the ones that had sprouted and the ones that hadn’t. Since the germination rate looked like it was still very close to 100%, I planted the seeds in my garden.
What did I do with the seeds that I sprouted? I continued rinsing them for a few more days and then fed the pea sprouts to my pigs as a treat!
This test is definitely easier if you are already a seasoned seed sprouter. In other words, if you have a set of sprouting lids for your jar, you can test any size seeds.
If you don’t have sprouting lids, you will most likely only want to do larger seeds, such as beans and peas. You can simply cover the top of the jar with your hand while you pour out the water. Smaller seeds would wash right past your fingers and wind up in the sink.
Germination test using paper towels
If you don’t have sprouting lids, and you want to do germination testing on smaller seeds, you can do the paper towel test. Wet one paper towel and place it on a plate. Scatter at least 10 seeds on the paper towel, and cover them with another wet paper towel.
You should lightly cover the paper towel with a plastic wrap. Covering it lightly is very important because the seeds need air flow. If you seal up the plate like you do when storing food, you’ll wind up mold growing on the seeds and paper towels.
You can delete the plastic cover if you remember to mist the paper towels several times a day to keep them moist.
How long does it take for seeds to germinate?
This varies from one seed to another, so check the seed packet for the length of time expected for seeds to germinate. Remember that time is an estimate of how long it takes for the seeds to peek up through the soil, so you can subtract a couple days when germinating in a jar or paper towel.
To learn more about gardening, check out >> A Beginner’s Guide to Gardening