Answer: The general recommendation for vegetable seeds is that you use them within two years. Seeds can be saved for longer periods of time, but their viablility declines with age. To keep seeds as fresh as possible, place them in an airtight container and store them in a cool, dark location, such as the back of a seldom-used closet or cupboard. (Light, heat and air are enemies of seed.) A package dated 1997 will probably yield a reasonable number of plants. To check the germination rate of seeds, put 10 seeds between the folds of a moistened papertowel and seal in a plastic bag. Check the seeds in 7-10 days to see how many have sprouted. The number of sprouted seeds will give you the germination rate (or percent of germination) for that lot of seeds. You can carefully plant the sprouted seeds after the test, as long as you get them into moistened seed starting mix before they dry out. Be sure to plant them at the right depth, as listed on the package label.
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