Saving seeds from the garden is something that has been done since the very first farmers began cultivating their own food sources. Having a seed bank will ensure you have all the seeds you want in one spot! Whether you are preparing for the long-term future or want to store your favorite seed varieties for the next season, here are some storage tips to practice in order to keep your seeds as fresh as possible.
Seed banks are collections of seeds that are stored for long-term future use. You can use a seed bank for long-term preparedness, to store in your bug out bags, or just to store until the next growing season. There are many reasons why we should store seeds, but ultimately, it is a lifeline for when we need to count on having food the most – such as the current unsteady times we are all living through.
What types of seeds should you save?
Ideally, those who are looking for a long-term survival plan prefer to store open-pollinated seeds that will produce seeds you can use the next growing season. As well, it could also be good to store some seeds that are disease-resistant varieties as a back-up. Store seeds from your favorite vegetables, fruits, and grains. As well, it would be a good idea to store native perennial flowers to help attract beneficial pollinators. Siberian Wallflowers, poppies, lavender, lemon balm, and purple coneflower (echinacea) are all great options for this I personally have all of these planted around my greenhouse. Some of these can also be used in teas and as medicinal herbs or for rounding out your garden.
For a quick go-to guide on seed saving, click here.
How long do seeds last?
As far as how long seeds will last, that is entirely up to the storage method you use. Seeds will store for longer if it is in a climate-controlled environment. Temperature and humidity fluctuations can affect seed health.
If seeds are stored properly, some can last indefinitely. That said, with some seeds that are high in oil content, their germination rates can lower after a few years. Typically, larger seeds like beans, peas, and corn will last the longest. If you keep your seeds dry and cool, you can expect many of them to last longer than the time periods indicated here:
- Bush and pole beans – 2 years
- Beets – 2 years
- Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi – 3-5 years
- Carrots – 3 years
- Collard, Kale – 3-5 years
- Sweet Corn – 1 year
- Cucumbers – 3 years
- Leeks, onions – 2-3 years
- Lettuce – 3 years
- Melons – 3 years
- Oriental greens – 3 years
- Parsley – 2 years
- Parsnips – 1 year
- Peas – 2 years
- Peppers – 2 years
- Radishes – 4 years
- Rutabagas – 3 years
- Spinach – 1 season
- Squashes – 3-4 years
- Swiss Chard – 2 years
- Tomatoes – 3 years
We recommend you purchase non-GMO heirloom seeds. As stated above, heirloom seeds will be able to be planted and saved year after year dropping their initial cost to almost $0! Need a few more reasons to purchase heirloom seeds? Click here.
Check for germination rates of your seeds. Here’s a trick to check the germination rates for your seeds:
- Place 10 seeds on a damp (not soaking wet) paper towel
- Fold the damp paper towel over and place in a labeled plastic sandwich bag
- Mark date, variety, the normal time to germination, and age of seed on the baggie
- Place in a warm spot for a few days.
- Check for germination every few days and replenish moisture if needed
- If seeds do not sprout within their required germination time, give them a few more days
- Seeds that do not germinate are most likely not viable
- Check temperature, moisture, and other conditions for problems with germination
- If 10 out of 10 seeds germinate, you have a 100% germination rate
- Varieties that have less than a 50% germination rate should be replaced
How to make a seed bank
Store your seeds properly. Seeds store best in low oxygen, low humidity, and low-temperature environments. As well, use an airtight container. We like to use Mylar bags as these will keep out light, moisture, and insects. But, you can always use a kraft envelope or Mason jar with a lid if you are in a pinch.
- Mylar bag method – Label your bag along with the year it was sealed and any planting instructions. Add seeds and seal with a flattening iron or mylar bag sealer. Add sealed packets into a larger container (gallon-size plastic bag, an empty plastic container, etc.). Add a silica gel back or oxygen absorber to reduce the moisture inside the container. Store in a cool, dark area.
- Paper envelope method – This was a method that my grandfather used when he stored his seeds. This is a good storage method for short-term seed storage (1 year or less). Using a paper envelope, label the seed variety, year, and any additional growing instructions and store in a larger container or zip-lock bag. Freezing isn’t necessary for short-term storage, but you can refrigerate seeds, provided they are sufficiently dry.
- Mason jar – Storing dried seeds in a Mason jar is another way to store seeds. A benefit to this is you can periodically check the jarred seeds to ensure there is no moisture or condensation in the jar.
Using your seed bank
If you have frozen your seeds, it is important to protect the frozen seeds as much as possible. When you are ready to use your survival seed bank, follow these instructions:
- Remove survival seed bank from refrigerator or freezer
- Set the container on a counter out of direct sunlight and allow the seed packets to come to room temperature
- Open container and remove only the seeds that you will be using
- Place new oxygen absorbing packet and/or silica gel packet in the container if possible
- Close container tightly and return to cold storage
- If you remove the container from cold storage and open it right away, condensation may form on the seeds. The moisture can initiate germination, which is bad. So allow the entire container and contents to warm up to room temperature, then remove only the seeds you will be using.
Collecting and storing seeds from the garden is a low-cost way to ensure you have all of your favorite seeds ready for planting when you need it most. Whether you are concerned about economic instability or are an avid gardener looking for ways to have plenty of your favorite seed varieties creating a seed bank is the way to go.
What ways do you save your seeds?
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