Last year's onion seeds

g1powermacFebruary 1, 2013

Hi All,

I had purchased a batch of onion seeds somewhat late last year (around September) so I had some handy when I decided to plant them this year. However, I didn't realize onion seeds had such a short life span till now, after I planted 500+ seeds. I looked at one pack which covered half of my plantings and it was tested for germination and packed up just two months before I purchased them, so I figure they should be fine. However, the other packs don't have a date of when they were packed, just a sell by 12/31/12. What do you all think? Should I repurchase some more seeds or wait and see on how the germination goes?

J Silverman

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Unfortunately, I have not experienced "poor germination" of onion seeds. I keep my left over onion seeds in a refrigerator and they have a good germination rate the following year. I am trying an experiment to freeze some seeds for use after 2 years. Let you know in 2015 how it went.

I believe that "sell by 12/31/12" means the seeds were harvested in summer 2011 typically for spring 2012 sales and planting. I would wait 1 week. If you don't see life, run to the store. You may get 50%-80% germination and just want to start a few more.

I'm not sure what zone you are in (I'm in zone 5). I believe there is still time (z5) for a 1 week wait and see. This is my opinion.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2013 at 7:53AM
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If you put onion seeds in lightly dampened paper towels, you will know in three days if they are good enough to plant. Primed onion seeds that are just showing their white radicle will be up in a few days when planted a half inch deep. With careful storage, I get two years from most onion seeds, sometimes three.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2013 at 9:47AM
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FYI... I had 75 or 76 Ailsa Craig seeds in the fridge for a year. I believe I have about 72 healthy plants started from them. That's about a 95% germination rate on 1 year old seeds. (I believe I had similar results with Walla Walla.)

I am thinking that seeds you buy fresh may only be rated at 95% germination. I purchased some seeds from Harris this year and they were marked with germination rates in the range just below 95%.

Let us know how thing go for you! It helps us all learn.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2013 at 10:00AM
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Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

If your seeds are only a year old, don't worry, most will sprout just fine. Unless you stored the seeds in a warm, moist place, in which case the germ could be much lower. As far as the advice to wait a week to see, or 3 days in paper towel, I would give it longer. I've never known onion to germinate that quickly.

My advice when starting most seeds is to overcompensate. The germination rates given on the seed pack are based on optimum conditions which are usually not what we all experience. Just yesterday I started 4 flats of onions totaling about 3500 seeds. I only need about 2700 plants but I think it better to have extra, than not enough. Even though the germ rate on the packs said 90%, I compensated for 80% just in case.

I have planted 10 year old, pelleted onion seed that was stored in the refrigerator and had good germination. Yes, 10 years old. Maybe the vigor was a bit reduced but it wasn't a problem. Very short lived seeds like parsnip can drop very quickly, but onion seeds decline gradually. I doubt the OP will have a problem.

As far as speculating about 'sell by' dates and when the seed was harvested, good luck. I've worked for 2 different seed farms that grow for a large organic distributer. Nothing on the seed pack indicated when the seed was harvested. The sell by date seemed to be based on average seed life in the type of storage facility they used. To sell seeds, a company only needs to meet minimum seed germ requirements, which are set in the U.S. by the Federal Seed Act. Onion rates are 70%.

Sorry for the long post, it's been quiet here on the Allium forum. :)


This post was edited by madroneb on Sat, Feb 2, 13 at 14:47

    Bookmark   February 2, 2013 at 2:44PM
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Hi All,

Thank you everyone for the informative posts! I do live in zone 6b, not sure how that affects the optimal planting time.

My seeds have been sitting in my basement at roughly 60F with 40% humidity. The only light they may have been exposed to is a bit from a light bulb. I've read varying information on optimal storage levels for both temp and humidity, but I think that's a pretty decent level.

Now, if only I had left over seeds to do a germ test! I only got a few left from a variety that I probably only planted about 75 seeds. However, I did find a seed that for some reason was just sitting on top of the soil in my flat and it was sprouting! So, that's some good news at least :-) I should start seeing some more sprouting in a few more days.

Thanks again,
J Silverman

This post was edited by g1powermac on Sat, Feb 2, 13 at 18:06

    Bookmark   February 2, 2013 at 6:04PM
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Hi All,

Well, it's been a week since I put the seeds in the flats. So far, one group is at about 65% germinated with more popping up ever hour it seems. The other group is much lower, maybe 40% at the most. They seem to be a few days behind, maybe because they are different varieties. Will post again in a week with final totals.

J Silverman

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 12:00PM
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Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

Good news!

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 1:29PM
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