Browsing Tag

seed viability

Vegetable Garden

20 Tips to Help you in the Vegetable Garden

January 24, 2014
Grow Your Own Kale

Grow Your Own Kale

Very soon I’ll be returning to the community gardens projects I’m involved with and as the time gets closer, I’m feeling that familiar bubble of excitement.  The days are lengthening and the birds are beginning to chirp away in the hedgerows when the sun shines, reminding us that we will soon be enjoying another ‘grow your own’ year with friends and neighbours.

But wait. It’s still mid Winter. There’s not very much we can sow right now so what will we be doing? Over the coming weeks I’ll be guiding the groups through all the areas involved with growing vegetables. We’ll be looking at crop rotation, companion planting, moving compost heaps as well as washing down the polytunnels and cleaning the pots. We’ll be discussing what we would like to grow and eat, how we can continue to make the gardens more sustainable and how we can reach out to more people in the community and teach them the skills and many benefits of being involved with a community garden.

If your mind is beginning to wander to the growing year ahead, the following list may help you. I’ve collated some of the posts I’ve written over the past couple of years that might help you to practice patience, seed choice and care as well as tips on when and how to start sowing.

grow your own squash

grow your own squash

1. First things first, here’s a handy annual vegetable planner that will give you some idea of what needs to be sown when. Remember, if you live in a cool area, sow your seeds later than if you live in a warmer, sheltered one.

purple peas2. In the Monthly Jobs section there is a monthly guide on what you can be doing or planting now so take a look if you’re itching to get out on a sunny, warm day.

3. January/February are great months for sorting through your seed tins, checking what seeds you have and what to buy. Here’s a post that will help you figure out what seeds are viable – and how long you can expect them to last.

4. One of your goals this year might be to put up a greenhouse or polytunnel. This post will help you decide where to begin and this one asks the question about whether cheaper is better.

Runner Bean Seeds5. If you want to start sowing your seeds early and there are late frosts or snow forecast, this post describes planting under a cloche – it’s something we used to do a lot of before we put up the polytunnel in our own garden.

6. For the very impatient among us who are wondering exactly when it’s safe to sow our seeds for best results, you might find this post useful.

7. It’s vital that we look after our seeds to get the most from them. This post here will help you keep your seeds in tip-top condition.

8. When the sun comes out and the soil dries out a bit, I’ll be heading out to do some weeding. This article explains how to weed pernicious weeds without chemicals and this one gives 16 natural alternatives to weedkillers.

grow your own swiss chard

grow your own swiss chard

9. If this is the year you want to grow your own vegetables organically, here we look at exactly what it means to be organic.

10. When it comes to choosing the correct seeds for your plot, it helps to know what soil type you have. Here’s a fun experiment you can do at home.

11. Lots of seed packets will tell you it’s okay to sow parsnip seeds from February onwards. My experience was quite different.

12. Choosing what to grow and keeping tabs on it can be quite an art. I’ve found Pinterest to be very helpful.

grow your own potatoes13. If you like to grow potatoes, there’s a few posts to help you on the blog and in particular one written last year about choosing blight resistant potatoes and eradicating the need to spray against blight.

14. As the time comes, you may have a few questions on how to sow seeds. This post shares tips for sowing seeds in recycled containers as well as a YouTube clip with seed sowing instructions.

seedlings15. Once your seeds are sprouting, do you know how to identify them if your labels have fallen out of the tray? This post might help you.

16. If you’re new to growing vegetables you might find it quite expensive to begin with. Here’s ten steps to creating a budget garden.

17. Would you like more vegetables or herbs growing closer to your kitchen? Here’s some tips for container planting.

grow your own flowers and veg18. If you have a small space, there are certain considerations to get the best from your plot. This post helps you figure out what vegetables to grow in a small space.

19. If you don’t have a greenhouse or anywhere to start your seedlings off, a seed bed might be the answer for you.

20. Lastly and just for fun, here’s ten facts about our best friends – the earthworm.

There are many more posts on this blog to help you with your vegetable growing experience, as well as gardens to visit and our own growing experiences here in the Carlow hills. If you can’t find the answer to a vegetable growing question, leave a comment and perhaps I can address it in a post over the coming year.

So best of luck and here’s to a successful vegetable gardening year ahead!

Vegetable Garden

How long will seeds last?

January 21, 2013

“Can I use last year’s seeds this year?”


“how long will my seeds last?”

Both frequently asked questions in almost all workshops but as with many areas of gardening, they’re queries that can’t be replied to with straightforward answers. Moisture content and storage conditions are the two main factors that govern seed viability and as everybody keeps their seeds in different containers and conditions, this will differ from house to shed.

Seed Storage

Radish SeedsSeed experts recommend that seeds are stored in sealed containers in cool but not frozen environments (so not in a freezer). My wholesale seed suppliers have advised me that the best storage conditions are in a fridge (I have a shelf totally devoted to the Greenside Up seed collections). It’s also recommended that they’re stored in their original sealed packets (they can be folded once opened) or if not available, seeds should be stored in brown envelopes (which draws moisture away from them).

Advice also given is that seeds generally remain viable for two years from packing, apart from parsnips which should be used within one year. However, it is possible your seeds will last longer (and from my own experience I know most do).

The following is a list that was published in Amateur Gardening that offered for popular vegetable and flower seeds:

Veg and flower seeds and how long they are at their best:

Veg seed No of years Flower seed No of years
Asparagus 3 Ageratum 4
Aubergine 5 Amaranthus 4-5
Beans 3 Anthemis 2
Beetroot 4 Anthirrhium 3-4
Broccoli 5 Calendula 5-6
Brussels sprouts 5 Celosia 4
Cabbage 4-5 Cineraria 3-4
Carrot 3-4 Clarkia 2-3
Cauliflower 4-5 Cosmos 3-4
Celeriac 5 Digitalis 2
Celery 5-6 Eschscholzia 3
Chicory 5 Gaillardia 2-3
Chinese cabbage 5 Godetia 3
Cucumber 5-6 Helianthus 2-3
Endive 3-4 Heliotrope 1-2
Fennel 4 Hollyhock 2-3
Kale 5 Impatiens 2
Kohl rabi 5 Larkspur 1-2
Leek 3 Linaria 3
Lettuce 4-5 Linum 1-2
Marrow 5-6 Lobelia 4
Melon 5 Marigold 2-3
Onion 1-2 Mesembryanthemum 3-4
Parsley 2-3 Myosotis 2
Parsnip 1-2 Nasturtium 5-7
Pea 3 Nicotiana 4-5
Pepper 4 Nigella 2
Pumpkin 4 Pansy 2
Radish 5 Petunia 2-3
Salsify 2 Phlox 2
Scorzonera 2 Salvia 1
Seakale 1-2 Schizanthus 4-5
Spinach 5 Sweet peas 2-3
Sweetcorn 1-2 Sweet William 2
Tomato 4 Viola 1
Turnip 5 Wallflower 4-5
Watercress 5 Zinnia 5-6

Germination Test

If you’re unsure whether your seeds are viable it’s quite easy to check by doing a germination test (and now would be a great time to do it before you go ahead and order more seeds).

Just place ten seeds in a row onto a sheet of damp kitchen paper. Carefully roll up and place them inside a clear plastic bag. Label and keep in a warm place. Check after a few days, then after a week to see if any of the seeds have germinated, ensuring the kitchen paper remains moist. Keep checking. If 8 out of 10 seeds have germinated then you’ll know you have an 80% chance of a decent packet of seeds. If only three germinate, order some new ones.

If you have the space, and aren’t overly worried about what will grow, just empty what you have into the soil and see what happens, you never know you could be in with a few surprises!

Equation for Working out Seed Viability

Ellis & Roberts 1980 via Kew Gardens

If you’re mathematically minded, it might surprise you (as it did me) that there’s an equation for predicting seed viability. This equation is from the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens website which explains in detail how to use it and others, and how they were configured.

Lastly if you’re looking for advice on how to choose vegetable seeds, here’s a blog post I wrote in 2010 giving some tips and advice.