Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Do you have too many seeds?

Are you one of those gardeners who keeps seeds FOR EVER, or do you buy new ones each year?

Seed-merchants want us to believe that seeds deteriorate very rapidly and won't germinate after their "Use By" dates. Many of us want to believe this too, because it gives us a justification for buying more seeds - especially the attractive new varieties that appear in the catalogues each year.

I have mixed feelings about this. I know from my own experience that many seeds will remain viable for years and years (there are a few obvious exceptions, such as Parsnips), and a thrifty gardener doesn't need to buy new seeds every year - as long as they want to grow the same crops again. But where's the joy in that, I ask? Even allowing for some dreams of self-sufficiency, most amateur (vegetable-)gardeners want to grow interesting stuff, not just to feed the family. Even if you grow carrots every year, isn't it nice to try some different varieties once in a while? I have quite a few favourites (not just carrots) that I come back to again and again, but I'm still tempted by the new ones, even if I just try them once and dismiss them. Sometimes a new variety looks nice in the catalogue (and they are always described as high-yielding, disease-free and easy to grow!), but turns out to be a disappointment. Maybe it just didn't like the soil conditions or the micro-climate in your garden, and you should try another different variety next year?

I like to think that I'm fairly disciplined when it comes to buying seeds. I don't generally do impulse buys. I have a good think about what I want, and buy that. I do a lot of comparisons though, even of the same varieties, because different seed-merchants offer the same varieties at different prices and in different quantities. The number of seeds in a packet varies a lot. For instance, when you buy a packet of Misticanza from Seeds of Italy you may get as many as 9600 seeds!

But who is really going to grow that many? It might be better to offer just 50 or 100 seeds. Actually I think the seeds themselves are often the least costly element in the product. The packaging, shipping, marketing and other overheads probably add up to a lot more, and those costs are basically the same whether you give your customer 10 seeds or 1000 seeds.

If I have packet with "too many" seeds in it, I may be tempted to make them last longer than is ideal, and not buy fresh ones, so it probably makes more sense for the seed-merchant to give the customer fewer seeds for their money. But there's a happy medium. Recently I have bought some seeds from the company called Moreveg, and many of their packets of seed are priced at 50p or 75p, as opposed to the £2.99 or £3.50 from the Big Name companies.

This is OK - in fact highly attractive - as long as you know what you are buying, because most of their packets contain 20 seeds or less, and some gardeners might want more than that. I bought one variety of squash (Uchiki Kuri) which only had 3 seeds in the pack. I'm happy with this though, since I'll probably only grow one plant of that particular variety. After all, I could always buy several packs if I want more - and still spend less than if I bought from someone like (for example) Marshalls, Dobies, Suttons or Mr.Fothergills. Don't lets forget, the supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl, and general stores like Wilkinson's also offer some very modestly-priced seeds. I've tried a few and they are fine.

What's your opinion of swapping seeds with other gardeners or sharing purchases? Sharing is certainly a way to save a bit of money, and makes a lot of sense if your vegetables are grown on an allotment site where it is relatively easy to share seeds around with other people. I quite often swap some seeds by mail with other gardeners I correspond with on the social media. Usually these swaps relate to something a bit unusual or hard to source, rather than "bog-standard" stuff. I have over the years swapped seeds with friends in several different countries, who often have access to different commercial suppliers and different varieties to those available in the UK. Actually the most attractive swaps concern home-saved seeds, particularly the genuine "heritage" varieties that have been grown by the same person or family for long periods of time. Once you start writing a blog you soon make connections which lead to this sort of thing!

Seeds from a friend in the Czech Republic

Anyway, returning to the original theme... Do you have too many seeds? This depends of course on how you define "too many". Is it too many for this year? Is it too many to grow in the space you have available, or what? This is how many seeds I have:

I think that if I didn't buy or trade any seeds at all for the next 3 years, I'd probably still have enough to put on a pretty good show. That'll do for me!


  1. I used to have a serious seed habit. Perhaps it's a newbie gardener thing we grow out of somewhat? These days I feel bad when seeds go past their use by date without being sown, and I try to be more measured in my purchases. But, as you say, where's the fun in that? Being seduced by a new packet of seeds is hardly the worst of sins, and there are always plenty of people to swap with :)

  2. Waaay too many seeds, but if tbey are in foil inner packets I tell myself they will still have a chance of germinating well past tbet'use by' date. Each year I devote on seed tray to a 'last chance' for the half 1 open packets from previous years but it usually comes to nothing

    1. I often use "past-it" veg seeds (especially lettuces) for micro-greens or baby-leaf salads.

  3. But where's the joy in that, you ask?

    Aha! Now you have given me an excuse to buy more seeds: there is joy, anticipation, tasting, etc. in trying/buying new seeds.

    Another factor I need to consider is how fast the seeds are sent out. Sometimes the catalogs come too late for me to grow things this season. Sometimes it takes a very long time for the seeds to come arriving way past the time they should be started.

    Glad that you are back to blogging.

    1. Hi Jane! Yes, home-growing of edible plants HAS to contain an element of pleasure doesn't it? It would be dull if it were simply a question of quantity. I'm surprised that some of the seed-merchants you have dealt with are slow to provide. These days we expect prompt delivery!

  4. Does. Not. Compute. Syntax error. System reboot required. Cannot process "too many seeds".

  5. Most of the time people around me are most happy to give the extra seeds ( whether flower or herb or fruit or vege seeds ) which they have got from their very own gardens. And for certain fruits and veges, I just have to buy them to eat in order to get their seeds which are more than I need for my small garden. I seldom buy any. In fact, I am most willing to give them out to just any keen gardeners around the world, who would love to try growing them F.O.C.

  6. I used to be a seed hoarder , but then some seeds can be viable for many years !.......but I had a big sort out and reorganisation for the nation . A nice new partitioned container and all is well again is SO much better !

  7. A group of us buy seeds from Kings as oar if their allotment scheme and eceive a large discount. Relating to the seeds in small plastic packages, I do wonder whether this is the best way to package seed. I thought the idea of the foil packaging was to keep the seeds dark and not in damp. We have shared seeds with a friend and bought special brown paper packets for this. I do agree tha many seeds come in too large quantities.

  8. I find I have increasingly poorer results each year with older seeds. Especially lettuces. They never keep for me. So I've mostly given up seed hoarding. Except for tomatoes and peppers


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