I have a pound of whole, unhulled barley that I would like to grow this year....

Asked April 15, 2015, 6:17 PM EDT

I have a pound of whole, unhulled barley that I would like to grow this year. However, it has been sitting in a brown paper bag in the kitchen freezer for 4 and a half years. Will the seed still be viable? (The seed was originally viable; it was used for sprouting and malting.)

Wayne County Ohio

1 Response

It is possible that the seed is still viable, but it has two factors working against it, time and temperature. Typically seed that is stored with the intention of being used for planting purposes for the home grower is stored at temperatures above freezing, usually in the 40 degree range. Some seeds can be hurt by freezing and especially sub zero temperatures, while other seeds can maintain viability at freezing temperatures. Some of the state and federal labs that maintain seed banks to preserve seed germplasm and genetics do freeze seeds, but the key is that the seed should be packed in airtight containers and seed moisture should be below 10%.
The other factor working against seed viability is time. Seeds are a living organism and respire, which burns energy. The amount of respiration and energy burned will influence seed viability. Most seeds remain viable with good germination rates for at least a couple of years and beyond that germination rates can really drop off. However in your case, a freezing temperature will essentially cause the seed to go dormant and respiration rates will be very low.
To determine if your seed is still viable, do a germination test. Place 50 or 100 seeds on a moistened paper towel then place another moistened towel on top of the seeds. Place the towels and seeds inside a plastic bag and put it in a warm (75 degrees) place for 7 days. At the end of that time count how many seeds have germinated and figure out the germination percentage. It will tell you if the seed is viable and if so, how thickly you might have to plant to get a good stand.
Rory Lewandowski