If you’re planning on starting your garden from seeds this season, now is the time to organize your seed collection. Check the packages of the seeds you have stored. Did anything get wet over the winter? A good way to check the viability of a packet of seeds is to soak 10 seeds overnight, then fold them into a damp (not dripping) paper towel and slide the packet into a ziplock bag. Check how long the germination period is on the seed pack. After the germination period is over, open the package and count how many seeds have sprouted. This will give you a rough estimate of the percentage of seeds in the packet that will sprout in your garden. Discard packages that have poor germination rates.
For your packs that have good germination rates, consider—do you want to grow that plant again? If you do, great! Read about seed starting below and get busy. If you want to make a change, you can bring your healthy seeds in well-marked packaging to a seed swap and exchange them for something new. Edible Evanston will be holding a seed swap on two Saturdays in February so you can come, check out the selection, and get something completely new!
If you know you want to grow something specific like Cherokee Purple Tomatoes or Lemon Cucumbers, there is a list of trusted seed suppliers on the Edible Evanston website at http://www.edibleevanston.org/EdibleEvanston/dr/content/seed-suppliers. Remember to order soon so you can start your long season plants on time in late January or early February.
Store your seeds in a cool dark place to increase long-term viability. Keep them dry and free of soil when you work with the packets. For seed packets you get without a year printed on them, be sure to note the year you obtained them on the packet. You may wish to add notes on the packet to indicate what date you sowed them each year so you have an easy reference for what did or did not work in the past. Organize your seeds logically—the logic is what works for you: botanical families, alphabetical, flowers, herbs, vegetables, seeds you start indoors and those you direct sow in the garden. Those you plan to plant this year, and others you may wish to plant again in future years. Small shoe boxes or plastic storage boxes with snap lids work well for storage.