JayPoc
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realistic viable seed life?

So I'm wondering...realistically, how long will tomato seeds last before any significant drop off in viability when stored in my typical fashion (that is, in plastic poly bags or paper seed packs in a desk drawer...lol.)? I don't want to get rid of stuff that is still good, but I don't want to hang on to stuff that will be useless soon. I've used seed packed for two years earlier with no problems. So how far back have you gone? When do you see germination rates fall off the table? Thanks!

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grrlgeek
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Re: realistic viable seed life?

JayPoc wrote: how long will tomato seeds last
how far back have you gone?
This year, we filled a bunch of peat pods with tomato seeds that were packed for Y2K. Source was an online seller/seed saver/something like that. Not a commercial retail seed pack. Stored under the most non-recommended conditions - some in ziplock, some in paper envelope. Bounced around in drawers for years, boxed up and stuck in the garage for a few more years in a place with snow in winter and humid summers. Survived a flood in the garage. Moved to another garage in the desert for a few years that reaches temps easily over 100 in the summer. Result? Close to 100% germination, and the little buggers are still coming up. Varieties: Spoon Tomato and Gold Nugget Cherry.

However, twice as many seeds planted for Matt's Wild Cherry (also Y2K seeds), and germination rate was zero. I tossed the pods after 4 weeks. Somewhere in a landfill, they're probably sprouting as I type. :>

This is of course, anecdotal, and only one experience. But I've read "on the internet," for what that's worth, that tomato seeds can last a long time. Peppers, not so much.

Given that the Spoons have a tendency to self-seed, I told hubby that his Millenium Garden has to grow on the strip next to the garage. We're gonna let 'em run wild, then save some seeds for the zombie apocalypse.

You can always do periodic germination tests to see if they're still viable. If the rate is slumping off, grow a few out to replenish your supply.
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valley
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Re: realistic viable seed life?

Greetings, I read that: Found in the tower of London was items taken from a Dutch ship the British had taken, among these were seeds gathered by a Dutch Botanist. These seed were over 600 years old, they planted the seed and were pleased to find many had sprouted.

Richard


They never thought to give any of this back to the Dutch.
Last edited by valley on Wed Apr 02, 2014 2:58 am, edited 1 time in total.

imafan26
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Re: realistic viable seed life?

Typically most people do keep their seed in a drawer. But for seeds to keep longer, they should be kept dry and at an even temperature. So, if you want seeds to last longer they should be kept in the refrigerator.

I have tomato seeds that I have kept in the refrigerator for three years and are still good. Germination does drop and I have to use more seed. I still have some 5 year old seed that germinated. I haven't tried older seed.

Every once in a while, especially when I have a hard time stuffing my seeds back into the refrigerator, I go through my seeds and cull the ones usually that I will realistically never plant, the ones I planted and did not like, and then I do germination tests to see if the seed is worth keeping. Take about 10 seeds an soak them in warm water over night, and germinate them in a paper towel or in a 4 inch pot. Start checking them in about a week, if they haven't sprouted by 21 days they are probably a goner. Count the ones that do sprout that will give you your germination percentage.

I was given bags of bean seeds years ago from someone who was cleaning out their seed collection. He bought bulk bags of seeds so there were a lot of them left. I kept them a few years because I only grow a few beans and I am not particularly fond of them. I did a germination test on 9 year old seeds and they were still good. Dill seed was still good after 13 years, lettuce actually were still good at three years, corn a couple of years. Zucchini (I don't bother to save them they never germinate even in the second year). Other vining squashes have a better shelf life.

Most of my seeds were still good although I may have to increase the number of seeds planted. but it was rare to find too many seeds that germinated at 10 years. I have been collecting my own seed as well as people either have given me seed or I have traded seeds. I have a couple of pounds of cowpeas in saved seeds. I should probably just cook some with some kale and smoked ham hocks.
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hendi_alex
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Re: realistic viable seed life?

I never toss tomato seeds. New seeds are just added to the old seed packs. My oldest seeds are at least 6 years old but maybe as old as 10 years. I generally plant 5 seeds in a community cup and usually 4-5 germinate and thrive. During gardening season the seeds mostly stay at room temperature in zipped plastic bags. After gardening season the seeds are stored in the freezer.
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applestar
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Re: realistic viable seed life?

If they are OP or heirloom seeds, I would grow one or two plants every so often and revitalize the seed stock. Currently, my oldest tomato seeds are probably about 5-6 yrs old -- all I need is for one or two to germinate when I'm ready to grow them to maturity.
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ion
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Re: realistic viable seed life?

About 2yr old is when I begin to see the germ rate drop a bit, but I've still got "acceptable" germ rate with 5yo tomato seed.
I would consider 1-10% germ rate as still usable. As applestar said, all that's really need is one plant from a bag of seeds to make more seeds, except if the plant is self-incompatible.

Juliuskitty
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Re: realistic viable seed life?

Dr. Carolyn Male is a premiere tomato expert, Author of 100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden. She has stated that the record age for a revived tomato seed was over 50 years( I can't remember exactly). In her seed offers if a variety is 3 or more years old, she tells people to double sow the amount.
Tomato seeds should have a fair germination rate at even up to ten years if they have been kept fairly cool and dry.
My definition of insanity; trying to grow heirloom tomatoes in South Florida!

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rainbowgardener
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Re: realistic viable seed life?

Agree with all of the above. Imafan recently posted a link to a chart showing shelf life of different kinds of seeds, which I searched for and could not find.

I have grown out tomato seeds after five years, though I do think that for me the germination rate was somewhat reduced at that point.

This year a friend gave me a whole bunch of seeds she had sitting around, which did not include tomatoes, lots of different flowers. They were from 1996 through 1998. I carefully planted them all (not all at once) and NOTHING sprouted. They had not been refrigerated. So apparently 15 years is too long for flower seeds to last without refrigeration.
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hendi_alex
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Re: realistic viable seed life?

Just to clarify. The above is how I handle all of our seeds, even corn. But for most seeds, very few older seeds will remain after 2-3 years. Even if germination is reduced, that probably is helpful because like most gardeners, I tend to plant seeds a little too heavily. That said, I think that germination rates for all except seeds of a few veggies tend to stay well above 50%-75% for many years, especially when stored well. My older seeds were kept separate for decades, and the reason that I moved to combining the old and the new is because no real difference in germination rates was noticed.

For me it is just easier to dump them together and have a single pack to store. As posted earlier, for most things all similar varieties are combined as well. Where tomatoes and cucumbers would probably represent storing 50 packs of seeds, we have about 12 packs.

Tomatoes: large hybrid, medium salad, cherry/plum, black, determinate, Italian types, yellow, green, super disease resistant

Cucumbers: Asian, pickling, sweet slice
Eclectic gardening style, drawing from 45 years of interest and experience. Mostly plant in raised beds and containers primarily using intensive gardening techniques.
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JayPoc
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Re: realistic viable seed life?

Great info one and all. thanks again...

MB3
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Re: realistic viable seed life?

many seeds of mine from 2007 sprouted this year and last, and were kept in a wildly fluctuating environment: up in my parent's uninsulated garage till last year.
had they been stored better, i have no doubt germination would have been better, but all things said, I had no real issues with most things, especially tomatoes fared great. peppers & eggplant were less robust, as were cucurbits and especially some herbs. A few types of things have had no success, but all things considered the results are good.

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feldon30
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Re: realistic viable seed life?

Tomato seeds easily go 5-7 years, with reduced germination as you approach 10 years. If you are absolutely sure your seeds are dry, you can freeze them for decades.

There are also tricks you can do to wake up old seed like soaking them in a weak tea solution or even gibberellic acid.
The Unconventional Tomato -- Comprehensive Seed Starting Guide, Garden Photos, and more!

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rainbowgardener
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Re: realistic viable seed life?

I will say that a friend gave me a whole bunch of seeds she had saved (not tomatoes, mostly flower varieties). They were all dated between 1995 and 1999. I conscientiously planted them all and got not one single plant for my trouble. They had been stored in plastic on a shelf, not refrigerated.
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imafan26
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Re: realistic viable seed life?

I just went to a seed saving session and I learned that seeds can be kept in the freezer for long term storage and the germination rates will be better than those stored in the refrigerator.

The speaker also said not to take all the seeds you have in and out of the cold to room temperature. Take only as much as you can use and keep the rest in the cold. He said every time the seeds go through a significant temperature change, that is went moisture condenses around the seeds and that will cause mold and ultimately shorten the life of the seeds. He said vacuum packing seeds are probably the best way to store seeds rather than paper. Zip locs are probably second best. Foil is good and some companies like Park ship their seeds in foil pouches, but for home saved seeds, it might be hard to do.
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