The seeds of an idea; stocktake,test and buy new

January is a grey month this year and its hard to think about summer, but now is the time to have a look through your seeds and browse those web sites or seed catalogues,which will be appearing on your doormat. You might think you have lots of seeds from last year, or maybe it was the year before, but are they any good?

[Top tip; when you buy new seeds write the sow by date on the packet or if there isn’t one, the date when you bought them. Don’t rely on the date on the end of the envelope, you can guarantee you’ll either accidentally rip it off or it will become illegible.]

So, the question is, should you sow your old seed? Well, that all depends on what they are and how you’ve kept your seed. The key to keeping seed is to store it somewhere cool and dry and protected from mice and insects, so ideally in a tin or closed plastic box. Moisture is a disaster and seeds will soon go mouldy if they get damp. Some seeds can remain viable for years and you can happily carry on using them, while others will have diminishing rates of germination, wasting your time, effort and compost. On the whole it isn’t worth sowing leeks, parsley,onion seeds or parsnips that are more than a year old, while sweet corn and peppers are fine for a couple of years. Brassica seeds like chard or cabbage will last for 3 – 4 years, while beans, peas and tomatoes are happy up to 4 years and maybe beyond. Celery, artichokes and lettuce can last up to 6 years. One thing you can do if you have plenty of seed, is to test viability before you decide whether to sow or throw. It’s easy to do, wet some kitchen towel put it on an old plate or saucer loosely cover with a plastic bag (don’t make it air tight) and put it somewhere warm like an airing cupboard or warm window sill and give then 7 – 14 days and see what sort of germination rate you get. Flower seed viability is very variable so testing before sowing is a good idea.

If you’re fancying growing something different this year the big seed companies such as Thompson and Morgan, Dobies of Devon, Mr Fothergills and Marshalls all have new introductions, or for a different range try one of the smaller companies such as Real seeds ( ) or Chiltern Seeds (

Once you’ve sorted out those seeds and ordered new ones, the only other thing you need to do now, besides dreaming of the summer, is to get your seed potatoes and start first and second earlies chitting.