Long Term Seed Storage

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Long Term Seed Storage

When I was at the Mother Earth News Fair a couple of weeks ago, the most commonly asked question my online boyfriend, Ryan, got was how to store seeds long-term.  I don’t know if it was just the Mother Earth News crowd, or if that is a question on a lot of people’s minds, but in case you were wondering, here’s the 411 on long term seed storage:

First, you need to keep seeds cool and dry.  Put them in a plastic ziplock bag, or even better and canister/jar of some sort with a tight fitting lid.  Next, decide how long you want to store seeds.  If the answer is for a couple of years, the refrigerator is your best bet.  It’s best to throw a packet of silica gel in the container to help keep the seeds dry.  If you don’t have one, you can use 2 scoops of powdered milk with similar results.  Put the canister in the back of your fridge, and forget about them until you need them.  This method is a pretty safe bet for up to 3 years.  When you are ready to use them, take the canister out and KEEP IT CLOSED until the seeds come to room temperature.

silica-gel-packets

If you are wanting a more indefinite seed storage, put your seeds in the canister with the silica gel and/or powdered milk {make sure your container has a tight seal} and put them in the freezer.  I know, I know, you’ve heard you shouldn’t put them in the freezer, but it is not the cold that is the enemy here, it’s the moisture, so as long as you allow the seeds to come to room temperature BEFORE you open the canister/container again, your seeds will be good to go.  If you open the canister straight out of the freezer, moisture will be pulled into the seed packets, making them no longer fit for storage.  {I imagined it like double acting baking powder—the first step for any seed is moisture, so once you’ve introduced the moisture, you can’t go back, the seed is on its way to developing, if it is given the right environment.}  But, according to Ryan, without the moisture, you can store them 10 plus years in the freezer.

seed storage envelopes

To store your own saved seeds, spread them out and allow them to air dry.  Then put them into envelopes and label them.  You can then put them in the fridge or freezer as you would a regular store bought seed packet.

The one thing to keep in mind is that no matter how diligent you are, your seed germination rates may go down slightly with long-term storage.  Also, some seeds, like sweet corn and parsnips, simply do not store very well.  But, still, saving your seeds long-term is a great way to keep seeds that are well-adapted your area AND provides a lot of peace of mind.

Do YOU save seeds for more than a year?  How do you do it?

~Mavis

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Comments

  1. Great topic. This year I started a lot of my garden from seed and found it very gratifying. Looking forward to planting a fall crop this way as well. I enjoyed it so much that I joined a “seed of the month club ” and have been questioning storage methods. Now the only thing I need to work out for myself is “Is it morally wrong to take silica gel packets out of shoe boxes in the stores? ” lol …looking forward to hearing what works for people! Thanks Mavis!

  2. Mavis, the only seeds I have ever saved and then actually planted the next year were cherry tomato seeds from my son’s house. He had several cherry tomato plants growing crazy over his front porch railing. The tomatoes were the best tasting ones I had ever tasted, so I saved some seeds to try this year. Not knowing what I was doing, I opened about four of the little ‘maters and pushed the seeds onto cut pieces of Handi Wipes. I figured the Handi Wipes are a paper product, so they would help keep the seeds dry. I dried them slightly in the sun on my picnic table and then folded the HW’s into “envelopes” and stuck them in an open pint jar. The jar stayed underneath my kitchen sink for the winter. I saved a few cardboard egg cartons over the winter, then filled the spaces up with potting soil this spring. I tried to divvy up the dried seeds, but they stuck together! So, one little space got a few seeds and other ones got a bunch. They spouted!!! The cardboard cartons began to mold before I thought they should be planted, but I did because I knew the mold would get them and I wanted to give them a chance. Well, I think I have had 100% sprouting success so I have tons of small plants, some of them are individual and some are bunched together…..I’ll let you know if I get any cherry tomatoes. I do have several plants that I am proud of….they look good! Thanks for giving me the courage to even try this experiment, Mavis! Who knows what I’ll do next year if I get a few tomatoes under my belt!

  3. learning the hard way…my corn seed, which is about 3 years old, is not doing very well. need to replant with fresh seed. thank you for the good tips!

  4. My Mom used to dry seed from her garden and put them into old medicine bottles and keep them in the freezer…
    actually, I think there are still some in there from long years ago! Maybe I should plant some of them and see what grows!

  5. Saving seed? Absolutely!!!

    Not only do I save unused purchased seed year to year, but also my own home collected seed…from purple marbled skin heirloom potatoes given to me over 10 years ago, heirloom black seeded Blue Lake pole beans, seeds from an awesome pumpkin I purchased in the early 1990′s, plus seed gathered from herbs and flowers growing in my gardens.

    My method of storing seeds is pretty simple. Keep the seeds dry at all times (I keep them in a ziplock plastic bag when I bring them out to the garden for planting, and be sure to keep them out of the sun. That way any unused seed is still good to store for the next year.), store them in a heavy freezer ziplock bag, squeezing out excess air before sealing, and keep them in a dry, cool, dark place in the house (for me this is the pantry).

    Before planting saved seed that is 3 years or older I do a germination test to find out how viable they are. I take a paper towel and dampen it nearly to soaking, count out my seed in tens and place them on the paper towel, carefully fold to fit into a plastic bag, then place in a warm (not hot) spot on a counter in view, making sure that the bag remains open slightly to allow a little air to enter it. When seeds have sprouted I check it’s germination rate.

    This year among all of the seed I planted I put out peas from seed I purchased in 2008 that were still 90% germination, pumpkins with a 100% germination from 2004, and carrot seed purchased nearly 10 years ago that still show a germination rate of over 85%.

    Saving seed is not only simple and easy, but also very money saving.

  6. After reading my above post I need to add…potatoes for seed are not stored the same as dry seed. :0)

    I store my seed potatoes in either a double paper bag or gunny sack (potatoes must be allowed to breath somewhat or they will rot) in a very cool, very dark area. Temps I found best for storage are in the mid to low 40′s, and definitely above freezing.

    Saved seed potatoes must be planted every year. Potatoes for planting the next year are chosen from this year’s crop and need to be free of cuts, scrapes, grub or insect holes, and rotten areas. Before storing gently remove most excess garden soil being careful not to scrape skins, then lay out in a dry area away from sun that is not freezing or hot. Flip potatoes over once to dry under side. Potatoes are ready for storage when their skins show no moisture or damp soil on the surface.

  7. You were at Mother Eath News Fair too? I LOVE going to that fair and look forward to it all year. The drive from Montana is so worth it!

  8. Glenn Fryer says:

    Saving seeds has been a hobby of mine for 20 years. Started out w/ the old shoebox method, then plastic bags. I had some thirteen year old heirloom tomatoe seeds in paper envelopes sealed with a seal-a meal machine. All of these seeds came up!.
    One day I washed a prescription bottle left in a pants pocket. The pills came out dry! Now I was on to something. So most of my seed collection is in prescription bottles with a little silica gel added. Stored in five gallon buckets with lids under the house.
    Always great fun pullin those buckets out and getting started with oldest seeds first. I save mostly flower and vegetable seeds and have amassed and planted these over many years. I have a variegated sunflower recieved from a lady in the midwest years ago and have consistenly grown these every year . A real beauty. Thanks for all the good ingo and questions here. really enjoyed the read. Best, glennfryer@att.net

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