Published: 01 June 2014
Whether or not you currently have a food garden, practical wisdom says you should stash away some heirloom seeds for the long term. If the time ever came when food was in short supply or overly expensive, your stored seeds could become a lifeline. Stored seeds could be used in your own garden, in a community garden or even as tender in a barter situation.
This raises the question: what is the best way to store seeds for the long term? This question is especially timely for me since I have a number of new, unused seed packets that need to be packed away somewhere besides my desk drawer. So today I have gathered a few options for you.
During my own research, I learned that storing seeds is not unlike storing food. The enemies of seeds are similar: heat, light and humidity. Some sources also indicate that oxygen is a problem with seed storage.
Here are some tips for storing your seeds:
1. Keep seeds at a cool to cold temperature of 40 degrees fahrenheit or less.
2. Avoid fluctuations in temperature such as a garage or storeroom that is cold in winter but blazing hot in summer.
3. Avoid light and never store seeds in direct sunlight or a well lit room.
4. Keep your seeds in a moisture proof containers. A Mylar bag or mason jar is perfect as is a food saver bag. Even a standard ziploc bag will work if you take care to squeeze out all of the air first.
5. Storing your seeds with a desiccant (silica gel) or oxygen absorber may prolong their life.
6. As with your food stores, rotate seeds every few years. This is not 100% necessary but if you are gardening anyway, why not rotate?
7. When you are ready to use your seeds, keep them in their closed storage container until the seeds come to room temperature. This will prevent unwanted condensation from settling on the seed packets.
8. To store your own saved seeds, spread them out and allow them to air dry. Once dry, put them in envelopes or even repurposed medicine bottles and label them. You can then store them in your refrigerator or freezer just like store-bought seeds.
The Germination Test
Something that you may want to do before planting saved seeds is perform a germination test. This will help you determine how viable they are. So, for example, if you determine that they are 60% viable, you can start 40% more than you would normally start to come up with the requisite number of plants.
A common method to test the germination rate is to take a paper towel and dampen it nearly to soaking. Count out 10 seeds, place them on the paper towel, then carefully fold it to fit into a plastic bag. Place your bundle in a warm spot on your kitchen counter, making sure that the bag remains open slightly to allow a little air to enter it.
Check frequently and when the seeds have sprouted, determine the germination rate. Hint: 8 seeds out of 10 is 80%
A Word About Seeds
For years, seeds have been scientifically manipulated in such a way that they could not be successfully saved and remain true to form. This was good for the seed companies but bad for people.
Thankfully, there are a number of sources where you can obtain non-GMO seeds (not genetically modified) and non-hybrid seeds. These non-GMO, non-hybrid seeds are the ones you are going to want to save for your DIY seed bank. One of the best ways to accumulate seeds for the long term is to purchase a few packets of seeds monthly over time.
You know how I like to do things one month at a time, right?
The Final Word
Gardening is a valuable skill that every prepper worth his or her salt should learn. I know that I have had my own challenges in this area but I still try, even though I only do so on a modest basis.
Still, I make it a point to collect seed packets and store them for the long term, properly sealed in my freezer. You never know when they may become handy for food-growing or barter purposes.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye Levy-contributing editor