Proper seed storage is important for the longevity and vitality of the seeds. Even though it may not seem like a very complex science, the way you store your seeds will affect the quality of the harvest you receive in the future. In fact, if you are not careful, it could cost you your entire harvest. On the other hand, if you do store your seeds accurately, they could last for decades.
So, what are the best seed storage solutions to ensure the longevity of your seeds?
The secret to maintaining the longevity and vitality of seeds lie in the temperature and humidity of your storage environment. Seeds need to be completely dried and stored in a dry environment under low and stable temperatures. The containers they are stored in should be insect and rodent proof. Low levels of moisture coupled with low temperatures will keep enzymes inactive thereby ensuring dormancy.
Storing seed from your own vegetable garden is definitely one of the best ways to become more self-reliant. There are two advantages to this – firstly, it is much cheaper to re-propagate your garden from seeds you harvested yourself.
Secondly, seeds sold in the store are often treated or from questionable stock, that may influence the quality of your harvest. The section below discusses some of the seeds you should consider storing yourself, and how best to do so.
A little bit about heirloom, open-pollinated and hybrid seeds
The fact is that if you are planning on setting up a self-reliant garden, starting with heirloom or open-pollinated seeds will make your journey a whole lot easier and tastier.
In short, heirloom seeds are “ancient seeds” not in a time sense but in a quality sense. These seeds are passed from generation to generation, without industrial influence. They are the descendants of the original, open-pollinated vegetable cultivars and are much higher in nutrients than modern varieties.
They also have much more flavor, thanks to their great genetics! Heirloom seed have to be open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated seeds qualify as heirloom.
Open pollination refers to the natural unrestricted forms of pollination by insects, wind, birds and humans. Open-pollination breeds genetically diverse crops that are more resilient and adapt to slow seasonal changes in their environment. The only condition is that there should be no cross-pollination between different varieties, in order for the seeds to remain true-to-type.
Hybrid seeds are the general store bought varieties that are easier to obtain, but generally yield a lower quality crop. Most of the store bought varieties also include GMO seeds, which comes with a whole list of disadvantages. More information on this can be found at the Seedsavers blog. Thanks to Seed Savers Exchange, heirloom seeds are now easily available online.
When and how to collect seeds
If you are new to harvesting seeds yourself, here are a few pointers that will help you get the best results from your seed harvest.
- Harvesting wet seeds. Seeds that are harvested from pulpy fruits are considered wet seeds. These include pumpkins, melons, eggplant, tomato and berries. These seeds should be harvested from mature fruit or the seeds will not be viable.
- Once the fruit is mature, you can squeeze the pulp from the fruit or vegetable into a sieve. Wash the seeds properly until all the pulp is removed and drop the clean seeds in a bowl of water. Live seeds will sink to the bottom while unviable seeds will float.
- Select the live seeds to dry and store.
- Harvesting dry seeds. Dry seeds can be harvested directly from the pods, fruits or flowers of peas, beans, peppers, chillies, carrots and many herbs. These can then be dried further before storage.
In general, some seeds are just viable for longer periods than other seeds, no matter what form of storage you use. For example, according to Real World Survivor, seeds from onions, parsley, parsnips and sweet corn store well for about 12 months, while the seeds from asparagus, peas, beans, carrots and peppers will germinate well after three to four years.
Beetroot, cabbage, cucumber, lettuce, pumpkin, spinach, tomato and watermelon seeds are more resilient and will still have a good germination rate after about six years.
Storing seeds: a step by step guide
This guide is an excerpt from the Preparedness Mama blog.
- Drying seeds. Before seeds can be packed away or frozen for extended periods, they need to be dried. Removing the moisture in the seeds launches it into true dormancy, which is what will keep the seeds viable for so long.
- The best drying results are obtained if the during process is done at a constant temperature. Although you can use a food dehydrator or an oven, accidental heating of the seed above 100°F, will sterilize the seed and prevent germination.
- A good way to dry seeds safely and completely is with super-dried rice.
- Drying with super-dried rice. First, you will have to super-dry your rice by baking the rice at 350°F for 45 minutes.
- When the rice is done baking, place the hot rice in a canning jar and close the lid tight to prevent moisture from entering.
- Now allow the rice to cool completely. Once cooled, you can place your seeds in an envelope or mesh bag and add to the jar of rice.
- Seal the lid properly and allow the seeds to dry for 2 weeks.
- You can now either store your seeds in a cool, dry, insulated place if you plan to save them for next season, or you can choose to freeze them.
- Freezing seeds. The seeds that you want to store for longer periods should be frozen for best results. Dried seeds can now be placed in properly labeled envelopes and bagged in Ziploc bags or sealed with a food saver if you prefer.
- Make sure most of the air is out of the bag before sealing it. You can now place the seeds in a quiet place in the freezer, where they won’t be disturbed.
Some additional tips for storing seeds
You can never have too many tricks up your sleeve, especially when it comes to insects and moisture that are destined to ruin your seed store, so here are a few additional tricks you can include in your seed vault protocol to make extra sure your seeds are safe.
- Use Diatomaceous Earth (DE) to protect your seeds from insects, even in the freezer. Even though insects may not get into your freezer, there is no guarantee that insects did not lay their eggs in your seeds before you harvested them, especially if you are an organic farmer.
DE serves as a natural and completely safe insecticide. Sprinkle it over your seeds before you pack them to render you seeds insect damage free.
- Include little sachets of silica in your storage to absorb any extra moisture from your freezer storage.
- Make sure to keep your freezer (and seeds) at a constant temperature. If your freezer heats up even a little bit, moisture can be released and can affect your harvest.
- Similarly, when defrosting the seeds to use, allow them to reach room temperature gradually before opening the Ziploc packet, to prevent condensation from forming on your seeds and ruining them.
Have you ever stored seeds for a long period? How did you choose to do it and what was the result? I would love to hear from you.