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Food Plots: How to Tell if Your Left Over Seed is Still Good

Its time for planting food plots and one of the most common questions I hear is: “Can I use my left over seed from last year?”

It seems like just about every foodplotter out there has a half bag or so of last year’s seed and is wondering if he can plant it. Nobody wants to plant “dead” seed; you waste hours of valuable time and can get a poor stand or no stand at all. On the other hand, just because it’s old doesn’t mean it won’t grow. Some seeds will germinate and grow for up to 5 years after the date they came from the field. And, at the price of quality food plot seed, it’s worth a second look.

It depends upon what kind of seed it is, how it was cared for, and how it was stored. Seed should be kept cool, dry, and clean and protected from pests and insects in some sort of protective container.

Food plot seeds can be broken into 2 categories: hard seeds like clover chicory and brassicas and “soft” seeds like oats, wheat, and other grass and grain species. Hard seeds are hard to the touch and generally store quite well. Soft seeds are softer to the touch and typically do not have a hard coating to protect them. They don’t store particularly well even under ideal conditions.

The best way to find out if the seed is still good is by testing germination. Testing seed is simple and you will know if you have good seed in a few days. Spread the seed in question on a moist paper towel, sponge or an inch of soil. Use about a half dozen seeds (depending on size) per square inch.

Moisten and cover the seeds with another paper towel or a little soil. Cover with a baggie or saran wrap to help keep the medium moist. Be sure to establish and maintain contact between the seed and the testing medium you have placed the seeds on. Keep the whole thing moist, warm to the touch, and provide plenty of light. Basically, you are trying to simulate growing conditions and most seeds won’t germinate in soils below 60 degrees.

In a day or two most of the viable seeds will swell, crack open and start sending out roots and shoots. That’s the germination you are looking for. If nothing happens for a week, the seed you are testing is probably dead (unless you have allowed the seeds to dry out, or drown, and die). Feed them to the birds or make jewelry out of them.

Most experts look for a germination test level of at least 80% before using seed in a stand. Less than that will generally result in a poor stand that invites weed competition or failure. You can double upon seeding rate but you are still gambling.

As this piece is being written a dozen or so plastic containers are sitting on the window sill to my right. I placed a few dozen seeds in each one and am happy to report everything (corn, clover, brassicas, etc.) is sprouting except the soybeans and oats. I’ll give these slow pokes a few days to come swell and grow but if nothing happened there will be a couple of hundred pounds of bird feed over in our seed locker.

For more information on planting food plots and seed visit