January is the quietest month in the gardening calendar – it is cold outside and it is too early to sow anything, whether outside or indoors. Starting plants too early when there’s not enough natural light only results in lanky plants. And so I resist the gardening “itch” and try to use this time-out to make plans, both for our allotment and for our community garden.
First I make a wish list of what I want to grow in the coming season and then go through my old vegetable seeds to see what I’ve already got that is still usable. Unless your garden is really huge, you almost never sow the whole seed package in one year. Most vegetable seeds will stay viable for at least a couple of years, but how long exactly, depends on the storage conditions and on the species. The umbellifers (carrots, parsnips and parsley) keep the shortest – in my experience very few seeds will germinate in a second year so it’s worth ordering them fresh for every season. But many seeds keep longer, cucumber and melon seeds for example are even said to improve with age!
Obviously, the seeds will keep longer the better they are stored: cool, dry and dark being the conditions to go for. I store mine in our unheated bedroom, which is cool and dry, and I keep the box out of direct sunlight and it seems to work reasonably well.
Here is a rough indication of how long seeds will keep if stored under reasonably good conditions:
Up to 3 years:
parsnips, carrots, parsley, beets, chard, onion, leeks, spinach, sweet corn
3 to 5 years:
beans, zucchini, winter squash, lettuce, peas, peppers, eggplant, kale, radish, broccoli
More than 5 years:
tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, cabbages
And since we’re talking plans: this year I will be participating in an exciting project called “Garden Connect” where gardeners from different countries will try to grow the same plants and then compare notes on their plots during the season. The theme for this year is “Seed to Table” which means it will be mainly edible plants. If you think this sounds interesting and have a little room to spare (the plot will be just 200 x 60 cm/ 6 x 2 feet) join us! The more people from different places on earth participate, the more we can learn from this experiment!
Also, if you’re planning your vegetable garden, this post from last year might be helpful, too: “Deciding what to grow“