From GENE LOGSDON
Most farmers and gardeners stand by the rule that new seed should be purchased every year. They believe that all the work and cost of preparing the soil and planting means that what little money one saves using old seed that might not germinate is not worth the risk involved. Since I am the champion tightwad of the ages, I have often used old seed and rarely lived to regret it. But this year I thought I had run out of luck. There is more than one moral to this story.
Spring was late in coming and therefore corn planting was late too. Actually the notion anymore that corn planted in May is late is baloney in my opinion. Here in northern Ohio, corn planted in the first two weeks of May often does better than earlier planted corn. The seed corn salespeople like for us to plant in April because then we might have to plant over.
So it was April 23 and I was staring at last year’s potato ground, still humped up in haphazardly hilled rows. If I didn’t go more than three inches deep, I could level off the humps with a rake and have a fairly nice seed bed for corn. Which I did, ignoring all the experience I had gained over the years that said it was too early to plant corn. You know how the gardener’s mind works— if I planted just two short rows and it didn’t come up, I could easily replant. Since the seed I was using was three or four years old, I wouldn’t lose much if it didn’t germinate, so I was really tempting fate. Three nights of near freezing temperature followed.
Nine days later, with the tractors now thundering away planting corn on the neighboring farms, two frail blades of corn came up in my planting. I waited two more days, dug down and found nothing but rotting kernels. By now the ground was warm and dry so I put out another planting of my old seed, too muleheaded to buy new. One of my sisters (whose sweet corn was already up btw) hinted strongly that I was an idiot for not buying new seed. So I renounced old tightwadeness for the moment, bought some new seed and made yet another planting. Yes, that is exactly what happened. Both the previous May planting and the new one a day later came up just fine.
At least I now had evidence that old seed corn remains viable for at least several years, so there, sister know-it-all. Makes me wonder how much money is lost in old seed that is just thrown away. Since much of mine has an anti-fungal red coating on it, it is not supposed to be fed to chickens either, although I notice that the moles and voles have no trouble at all eating it. And of course I have to wonder why two kernels of that April planting did come up.
I asked the guy I buy from how long sweet corn seed will remain viable. He said that if kept in a cool, dry storage place, where the temperature did not vary (he emphasized that detail), “for at least a few years.” Since it is a known fact that some seeds will lie in the ground even for centuries and germinate when conditions are right, I don’t see why garden seeds won’t last at least a decade anyway.
But I don’t expect commercial corn growers to use old seed, even when the new costs over five hundred dollars a bushel. In that situation, you make sure you don’t buy more than you need in any given year. And of course being the champion doubter as well as tightwad, and with seed prices going up all the time, I wonder if seed companies ever mix last year’s seed into this year’s, and no one is worse off for not knowing.