Having your own storage of seeds could prove to be a lifeline if you were ever faced with limited supply or access to food, allowing you to grow your own produce at home or even offer it to others who might be in a similar situation.
Storing Seeds at home for the Long Term is a very easy way to prepare for the next summer season. Keep the seeds from Vegetables that you enjoy, or you know give a great yield and grow well in your garden. The key steps mentioned in this article.
If there’s anything you need to remember when it comes to successful seed storage it's that Heat and Moisture are the enemy. But don’t panic, this article will further explain why and all the necessary steps and contingency measures you should take to best avoid any of the common seed storage pitfalls.
Careful consideration, understanding the following of the steps below will help guide you on your way to being a seed storage pro:
- Harvesting & Drying - Using dry seeds is absolutely imperative to their successful storage and future potential. You must make sure your seeds are completely dry before you store them, if not, any remaining moisture will either cause them to rot or sprout during their storage ‘hibernation’. You can leave them out in the open air to dry out for a month before packing them up and putting them into storage.
- Packing - Whether it’s a glass jar or plastic food bag, the most important thing is that they are airtight. You can also add silica gel packets (like the ones you find in new shoe boxes) to further safeguard your seeds against moisture.
- Storing - Label and date your containers so they are easy to locate. Store them together by year so you can be sure to use in date order, with the most recently stored ones at the back. Keep them stored in a dark, dry place that is consistently cool. The fridge or even better (to avoid relying on a power supply) a cold cellar would be a perfect environment. If using opaque containers, you can add extra protection with old socks or stockings to help keep them in full darkness.
- Monitoring - Check your seeds regularly, making sure they’ve not been attacked by any pests.
- Preparing - When you’re ready to plant your seeds, take the containers out of their storage location and allow them to get to room temperature before removing the lids remembering to keep them away from direct sunlight. If you expose them to the air too soon, the moisture in the air will condense on the seeds and cause them to clump together. Leave them exposed to the air for a few days before planting.
Take solace in remembering that some seeds simply won’t germinate the following season so even if you diligently follow all the steps, sometimes mother nature has other ideas which are completely out of our control. But don’t give up and feel despondent, as with anything we lay our hand to, practice and dedication is the key to success.
On average, if stored correctly, seeds will last 5 years or more. Like any living thing, their ability or in the case of seeds, their viability declines with age. This is why it’s important to label your seed packs before they go into storage to ensure you’re using them in date order and not leaving them past their so-called ‘best before’ date.
Here’s a rough guide to the average seed validity. Please note this is just a ‘guide’ but it will hopefully help to give you some ideas and give you a starting point if you are considering a your own seed storage:
Short-Term Storage Seeds (lasting 1-3 years in storage)
Medium-Term Storage Seeds (lasting 3-4 years in storage)
- Brussel sprouts
- Squash and Pumpkin
Long-Term Storage Seeds (lasting 5-6 years in storage)
Personally I would avoid freezing seeds. For the best chances of retaining their validity, seeds need to be kept at a constant temperature (around -20 degrees F). This is often hard to maintain with your average home freezer given how frequently we might be opening and closing the door. Of course freezing is still an option you worth considering and this is not to say you absolutely cannot freeze your seeds, but it can be a risky route. Think about what would happen if there was a power cut? That will see the end to your seeds, a ruined supply and a complete waste of your time and their potential.
A few ideas to consider for storing your seeds in:
- Paper envelopes - Inexpensive, easy to store as they take up little room and for instance can be slotted like files in a box so they’re easy to locate.
- Glass Jars - Mason jars or even old shop-bought herb pots or jam jars. Just make sure the lids and seals are in good condition with no gaps and there is no damage or sign of possible breakage in the glass.
- Tupperware or Plastic Containers - Often a reliable airtight solution. As with glass jars, just check the seals and the plastic for any signs of damage. See if you can find ones with multiple compartments which would allow you to store a bunch of different herbs together in one go.
If you are going to use clear containers of any kind, be it glass or plastic, you can add extra protection from the light with the use of old socks or stockings. Just slip the container inside and hey presto.
Here’s a summary of the key areas to focus on when storing seeds:
Temperature - Seed germination usually occurs in temperatures above 60 degrees F. You want your seeds to remain dormant during their storing so it’s vital you store them in a location that is below that 60 degrees F to avoid running the risk of them sprouting.
Moisture - Together with light, moisture is one of the main things you need to avoid. Just as when you’re watering your plants to make them grow, any contact that a seed will have during its storage will run the risk of spurring germination. The other hazard with moisture is its ability to soften the outside of the seed, causing it to open up and possibly rot.
Light - As we’ve learnt, sunlight is another enemy where seeds are concerned. Light will stimulate the growth of the plant inside the seed, which if it’s in storage, is something you clearly want to avoid. This is why it’s vitally important that your seeds are kept in a dark location. Remember, if you’re using opaque containers, you can cover them with old socks or stockings to help keep them hidden from the sunlight.
Pests - Another good reason why storing your seeds in solid, airtight containers. Paper envelopes are of course a viable container option but they will be more susceptible to being nibbled at by anything from a small insect to a mouse...or any other much larger animal for that matter.
A final word on seeds and in particular on their manufacture and your purchasing of them. If you’re starting out with your own seed store, you will no doubt be looking for somewhere to buy them. It’s a topic that is widely discussed where manufacturers historically modified seeds in a way that would benefit them but not the purchaser or gardener in the sense that they did not survive well in storage and thus lead to constant repurchasing. So, try to check and make sure you're buying Organic, Non-GMO seeds. Although most seed companies will only sell seeds that are certified as organic and non-hybrid, it’s worth being wary.
Ian Hunter - Father of three, based in Southern Sweden. Author and Co owner of Grow Zone and growing Food all winter. See my full About Page here.
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Co written with Hannah Bramley, a Private & Virtual PA and Lifestyle Management Consultant based in the UK. With a background in managing and ensuring the organisation and preparedness of others, Hannah is now a freelance Personal Lifestyle & Business Consultant, with the ability to turn her hand to any task. Self Sufficiency being just one of her new found interests since the events of early 2020. She is a fitness guru, an ardent foodie, a social media wizard and entrepreneur, with a passion and natural flare for organising, bringing people together and making things happen.