Most vegetable seeds remain viable for years if they are held in cool, dry conditions. If you have seeds leftover from a previous year, it's easy to test their viability right in your kitchen. You can easily discover whether your seeds will germinate — or help you figure out whether the seeds are to blame when things don’t come up in the garden.
Moisten a coffee filter and sprinkle some of the seeds in question on it. If you are a methodical person, you can actually count out a specific number of seeds - say 25 or 50 — so you can calculate germination percentage. Fold the coffee filter in half and put it in a zip-lock plastic bag. Label it or staple the seed pack to the outside. Put it aside in a warm but not hot place. After a week, you can start to check for germination. Hold the package up to a light to see if any of the seeds have a tiny white root emerging. Once you see a number of roots, you can open the filter and see how many have germinated.
The photo at right shows our own test of Valeriana (Mache) seed. Although the seeds are tiny and may get washed away in the garden, we know that the problem is not seed viability.
At Seeds from Italy, we will always replace or refund any seeds that fail to germinate in the year they are purchased. We may ask for the lot number on the back of the package so we can identify any seeds that are not viable.