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If you’re a gardener, you need a way to organize and store leftover garden seeds for the next season. Stored properly, most seeds will remain viable for at least a year, some up to four or five years. Here are some simple seed storage solutions and answers to the most common seed storage questions.

photo organizing boxes filled with seed packets for storage

My Favorite Seed Storage Solution

Over the years I’ve tried all kinds of ways to store garden seeds – ziplock bags, mason jars, cardboard boxes – and while they all work they didn’t work well for me. I ended up with overflowing cardboard boxes, broken mason jars, and a pile of ziplock bags.

Until I started using these photo storage boxes as seed storage.

These boxes are designed to store 4X6 photos and are perfect for most seed packets, although you might need to fold the top down on really long seed packets. There are 16 storage cases in each box and, of course, you can put multiple seed packets in each case.

Depending on how many seeds you have you can organize as general or specific as you need. For instance I only have one case for kale but I have two cases for peppers – one for hot peppers and one for spicy peppers.

You won’t be able to put very many seed packets that have large seeds, such as beans and corn, in each case like you will for seed packets with small seeds like lettuce. For those large seeds, I use two cases and number them, for example the pole bean labels read, “Pole Beans 1 of 2” and “Pole Beans 2 of 2”.

I used some old file labels to label them, you can use paper and packing tape, or even masking tape to label them. If you want labels that fit nicely on the cases, these are a good size.

You can organize your seeds by category, plant type, season, or just alphabetically. You can make a section with all the brassicas and another section with all the curbits. You can put all the vegetable seeds in alphabetical order and do the same for flowers, herbs, and fruit.

You could make a section for seeds for the fall garden and another section for summer seeds. The possibilities are endless.

I really like that I can take the whole box out to the garden or just a few cases without worrying they will get ruined. I can’t really do that with mason jars because I worry about them breaking or with the carboard box because it might get wet.

tomatoes seeds in a photo storage box

Ideal Seed Storing Conditions

Seeds need to be stored in a cool, dry place.

Many people store seeds in the refrigerator and freezer but this is not necessary. More important than storing seeds in a refrigerator is storing seeds in a cool place where the temperatures are consistent. I store our seeds in a backroom where I store our canned goods.

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If you choose to store seeds in the refrigerator or freezer, place them in the back where the temperature is more consistent. Also, they need to be removed and allowed to warm up overnight before planting for best results.

Oxygen can deteriorate seeds over time so using airtight containers is a good idea, which is why a lot of people use mason jars. Since the cases I use aren’t airtight, I use silica gel packs in the cases. I just re-use ones from shoes purchases or vitamin bottles but buy them inexpensively.

back of a seed packet

How long do seeds last?

When you buy seed packets they will usually have an expiration date or a “packed for” date. These dates are just a guide, seeds don’t go bad in the sense that they are unsafe to use, instead old seeds might just not germinate.

Some seeds will be good for a year or so and some for several years. Most seed packets have more seeds than you need in a year, especially those plants that have small seeds. There’s no need to buy fresh seeds each year, just know that the germination rate will be lower the older the seeds.

I will just sow more seeds when they are old seeds but you can also test the germination rate of your seeds. To test the germination rate, but 10 seeds in a damp paper towel that’s folded over to keep the seeds moist. Keep the paper towel moist but not soggy and in a few days the seeds will germinate. Count how many germinated and that’s your rate, for example if 7 seeds sprouted the germinated rate is 70%.

When you save seeds from your garden, it’s important to follow these seed saving tips to ensure the seeds are viable.

When the seeds have been stored properly you can expect corn, pepper, parsley, parsnips, and onion seeds to last a year or two. Seeds such as asparagus, beans, broccoli, carrots, leeks, peas, and spinach will last three or four years. And seeds such as beets, cabbage, chard, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, radish, and tomato can last more than four years.

girl carrying a photo organizing boxes filled with seed packets for storage
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