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Seed Inventory

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Taking seed inventory is one of my useful garden planning tools. I never really found the need to take inventory when I had my small backyard garden because my seeds always fit in an envelope or a small plastic shoebox.  It wasn’t too hard to see what I had on hand.  Now that we have a larger garden, planning is a lot more important.

I typically start recording my seed inventory after I am done with my fall planting. That is when I am done with my seeds and can safely begin to keep track of them without planting a pack and forgetting to record it.

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Keeping seed inventory allows me to see, at a glance:

  • How much seed I have on hand. Once I map my garden, I can refer to the list to see how much more I may need to buy, or what I have on hand that I can sell, trade, or gift.
    • I use this chart to help me estimate how many seeds I have: http://www.harvesttotable.com/2011/05/vegetable_seeds_per_ounce_per/
  • How many varieties I have. I like food, and I love to grow new varieties of vegetables for us to try.  Different varieties may taste, look or grow different in our soil so I would love to try them all!
  • What varieties are heirloom or open pollinated, which is important if I want to save seed. I will need to consider how to prevent cross-pollination when planting.
  • What year my seeds are from, and decide if I want to buy new seed this year to prevent possible failure from older seeds.
  • Approximate expense. I want to know how much my garden is costing me. It’s fun to look back at the end of the year and see that a few packs of $2 seeds yielded bushels and bushels of produce.  I like it even better when I have it noted that those bushels and bushels of produce were grown from clearance seeds at $.02/pack.
  • Approximate yield. I try to keep up with the approximate yield I may grow from each variety so I can plan to plant enough to feed my family, animals, preserve food for the winter, and also sell to our community.
  • Track the age of seeds, so seeds never get “too old” to be of any use. Sometimes I buy new seed even though I have a pack or two of older seed around in case I need it.  Tracking the year the seed was purchased helps me keep track of older seeds so they can be planted before it gets too old.

I printed a chart above that tells me approximately how many seeds are in each pack based on weight, which helps me figure out how many packs I need to purchase.  I weigh my saved seed and use the chart to help me figure out how many seeds I have without having to count them.

To start, I gather all of my seed packs into a large pile.  They are rarely organized at this point, so that is the first step.  I put all vegetable varieties next to each other, with seed packs of the same weight in the same spot.  Different weighted packs are in their own pile for inventory purposes, but afterwards they all go in a bag.

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Psst:  This is a great activity for the kids to help you with – let the younger kiddo’s play a matching game and challenge the older kids to match varieties according to same weights!  Actually, come to think of it there are a lot of fun math activities you could use while sorting seeds.  Graphs of all sorts, line plots, averages, frequency, tally marks….  Whoops, my homeschool mom side came out.

I use a chart to fill in everything I have. Varieties are grouped by vegetable, or herb, or whatever it is I am taking inventory on.  If I have receipts, I write down how much each seed pack cost, and my total cost for each variety.  Once I am done with inventory (not until I start planting but I will happily purchase seeds all year…) I figure total expense to date.

I look at previous years records to see what I grew, how much I planted, and how much it yielded at the end of the season.  Then, I decide if I should plant more, less, or about the same (considering how the season went – one year my chickens destroyed my entire tomato crop – so I really didn’t have much data to go by for the next year).

I try to jot down the approximate number of seeds I have using the chart I linked to above.  It helps to have a hard figure that says I have “x many tomato seeds” verses “one pack.”  Then I write down the estimated yield, assuming we have a good year.  This doesn’t mean I will actually see that amount, but it gives me a number to figure.

Here is the chart I use (pdf): seed-inventory-chart

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Seed inventory isn’t done yet – now I need to make a list of what I still need to buy and how many packs.  I like to keep this list on my phone so when I’m in a store and just happen to notice they have seeds I can make a thoughtful purchase.   My husband tries to keep me out of any store that might have seeds during spring because he knows I have a seed buying problem.  How can you resist?!

Anyway, after I make these very thoughtful, totally non-impulse seed purchases (insert throat clearing and wandering eyes here)  I come home and update my inventory records.  I always leave a few lines empty after listing inventory I have for each vegetable.  Doing this allows me to keep my list organized without having to list a new tomato variety or a differently weighted package under another vegetable because I didn’t leave space under the tomato category.

Putting the Seeds Away

Once all packs and containers are accounted for, it’s time to nicely organize them in time for spring planting.  Every gardener has their own way – I’ve used a binder with those plastic sheets with pockets for pictures when I had a very small garden.  Then I used one of my husbands ammo boxes and organized everything according to when I would plant the seed.  I then moved to one of those plastic storage bins with three drawers.  Now I use a Rubbermaid tote and organize seeds in grocery bags….  Silly, but for now it works.  Ideally I’ll have a nice potting station in my basement greenhouse one of these years so I can build some permanent and roomy storage solutions.

When I organize my seeds, I organize them according to spring planting, early indoor starters, direct summer sow, and fall garden.  This way, seeds that are planted at similar times are grouped together and I don’t have to sort through seed packs to find a vegetable that is mixed in with many other vegetables that aren’t due to be planted at the same time.

So once the inventory is updated and seeds are put away, the next step is to map the garden to figure out where I am going to plant all of those seeds…

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