Why did I just plant 5 year old pea seeds?
I just planted 5 year old pea seeds and I think there is a pretty good chance they will sprout. Aside from the fact that I have heard of seeds that are hundreds of years old sprouting, there are some specific things I evaluated before I went to the effort of planting them.
There are not generally expiration dates on seed packages. Part of the reason for this is that the conditions of storage make a huge difference in seed longevity. However, the year for sale on the package can be a good reminder to think about how old seeds are and what you might need to look for before planting older seed.
The visual check
My pea seeds looked the same as seeds on sale this year. They were dry, but not shriveled. They were firm, but not petrified. They had the same color and shape as fresh pea seeds. If I had seen an unlabeled pile of newer peas seeds right next to these, I do not think I could have told the difference.
A visual check is going to be easier on larger seeds. A magnifying glass might help some with small seeds, but it is hard to focus through the magnifier on very many at once. Plus, there are usually some distortions from the glass.
The state of the package
The pea seed package was also dry. There was no sign of any mold. There was also no sign of anything eating it. There were not any insects in or around the package.
This was actually the first year I had a mouse eat some of my seeds, but it apparently preferred the beets and corn. If I had not seen the beet seed package chewed open, it might not have occurred to me to look carefully at those seeds. The beet seeds are so small, I might not have noticed that they had all been split in half!
Recalling how I stored the seeds
Here in SW Idaho, I have the advantage of a low-humidity climate. However, even with that I need to be careful where I store my seeds. There are places in the house that have higher humidity due to the acitivity of the room. Therefore, I do NOT store my seeds in the greenhouse (where there is a pond and waterfall), in the kitchen, in the laundry room, or in a bathroom.
I store my seeds in my basement to take advantage of it’s coolness and to keep the seeds out of light. I never store my seeds outside. While seeds may self-sow fine when over-wintered on the ground, it is obviously not a good option for long term storage or more controlled planting.
I happen to know from experience that pea seeds are not difficult to sprout. As long as they are stored in ways that don’t injure them, they are quite cooperative. Plus, I know that if they are still viable, I should find out pretty soon. This makes experimenting with them easy and very low risk.
Experience helps you know how to experiment better next time. You won’t know what is easy for you in your environment unless you try. You also can’t just go by what happens in one year. Every years I have seeds that sprout well and some that don’t and it is not always easy to tell why.
They still need to be planted in the correct conditions
All the proper seed storage in the world won’t help if you don’t plant your seeds in the right conditions. This is not rocket science, but it is always smart to check the temperature range and soil moisture that seeds like to sprout in. If I had waited until summer to plant my pea seeds, they may not have sprouted, since they much prefer the cool, spring weather. If you need to review what can be planted in March in SW Idaho or similar climates, click here!
What other old seeds will I plant?
I am actually not buying any new vegetable seed this year. I may check germination of some seeds, like I have done in plastic bags in the past. I may also plant seeds more densely than is suggested, especially if the germination rate given on the package is already on the low side. There is a lot of useful information on most seed packages.
It is really fun to buy new seeds and new varieties, but it can also be very rewarding to use up the seed stock pile and be cut down on what I need to keep track of over the next winter! Which old seeds will you try to plant this year?