Home Gardening techniques How to organise your seeds

How to organise your seeds

George 'helps' to sort out the seeds
George 'helps' to sort out the seeds

Gardening beginners: it’s the most useful job of the year

You’ve got your first garden or allotment and you can’t stop buying seeds (this won’t go away, so live with it).

However, you get to the inevitable spell of bad weather in January when you can’t do any outside gardening and turn your attention to those seed packets.

With some horror, you’ll realise you have vastly overbought, don’t have a clue where they will go, let alone when you will sow them.

The starting point (not including kiddie seeds) - old, new and free seeds
The starting point (not including kiddie seeds) – old, new and free seeds

Overbuying seeds is an occupational hazard

Panic not – this happens to us all. I buy seeds wherever I go, at any time of year, and am often sent packets to trial.

If you’re doing this, make sure they end up in one place that’s clean, dark, dry and away from temperature extremes.

It’s when I empty them out onto the table that I become overwhelmed. Seed packets are crammed with information and it can become too much. You need a plan…

1. Check use-by dates

Although some seeds will happily germinate after their dates, some like parsnips are only good for a year. I rarely use full packets, so be ruthless if you’re hanging onto old stock that will be erratic.

Seeds kindly donated by Johnsons which are going to my local school
Seeds kindly donated by Johnsons which are going to my local school

2. Any doubling up?

I always buy too many of one thing – this year, peppers, sunflowers and courgettes. Check the use-by dates and keep the seeds with the longest dates for next year.

3. Sort into categories

Next, I put mine into four categories – under glass, outdoor vegetables, herbs and outdoor ornamentals. This is based solely on areas where they’ll be growing, so I get an immediate idea of whether I’ve bought too much.

If you have an allotment, do the same thing with your beds. I’ve drawn rough plans in the past to make it easier to remember and visualise.

If you’re not going to have room, save seeds for next year or give them to a seed bank, friends or your allotment society. I give mine to a local school where my friend is a teacher and she kills them in front of the children.

The finished article - seeds sorted by sowing order plus a windowsill kit
The finished article – seeds sorted by sowing order plus a windowsill kit

4. Sort into sowing order

Now you’re down to a manageable amount of packets, resort them into sowing order.

I use an old Ikea wooden box with six drawers, for February, early March, late March, early April, late April and May/resowings.

By this time, you’ll be well organised for the busy sowing months ahead and you won’t miss any packets. You’ll probably also vow never to overbuy again but that’s never going to happen!

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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