Drying and Saving Seeds for Long Term Storage
It is the end of the seed growing season and the local hardware store will soon have their seeds on sale – dirt cheap. Just because seed packets are given an expiration date, it doesn’t mean that the seeds actually EXPIRE after the current year. I’m going to save seeds in my own seed vault. They will be viable for 10 years.
Why 10 years? I can start now to build a supply of family favorites, which we can use to be more self-reliant. Once my plan is implemented, I won’t have to be dependent on those big seed companies in the future.
First a Little Seed Primer, What Kinds of Seed Should You Be Storing?
Heirloom Seeds have been around for a long time, some are even from the early 1800’s. So far, experts in the field agree that heirloom vegetables are old, open-pollinated cultivars. To be an heirloom, the plant must have a reputation for being high quality, have good taste and be easy to grow.
Once hard to get, heirloom seeds are now easier to purchase, thanks to businesses like Seed Savers Exchange. Hundreds of thousands of people, worldwide are interested in saving these old time seeds for future generations. Some local nurseries are also carrying them as part of their yearly stock.
If you are growing a garden with the intent of being self-reliant and saving your own seeds for the next year harvest, then heirloom and open pollinated seeds are what you want to grow. They will produce a reliable and consistent crop, year after year.
Hybrid Seeds (F-1, F-2) are relatively new in the gardener’s world, only being available since 1951. This seed will produce true to form only once. So, if you grow your favorite F-1 hybrid broccoli – that one that puts out great side-shoots – you cannot save the seed and expect to get the same plant next year. Hybrid seeds are only good for one year.
That doesn’t mean that you should not put hybrid seeds in your seed vault, it just means that they cannot be the ONLY kind of seed you are saving.
I have not yet perfected the art of seed saving from my yard. Each year I try to learn how to save a different seed. I only pick the ones that have produced especially well. It seems that every kind of vegetable and flower has its own unique process to be followed and I have much to learn about when to harvest seeds and how to store them.
“Seed saving is a skill largely lost these days. With seed packages widely available, who needs to save seeds anymore? You can simply buy more in the spring, right? The problem with many common garden seeds is their origin as a hybrid. And many of these hybrid varieties have been bred for size, or resistance to a particular disease, and not for that old-time flavor.” (source)
Genetically Modified Crops (GMO) are becoming more ingrained in the seed industry every year. They are defined as plants used in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering techniques. In most cases, the aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species. Examples in food crops include resistance to certain pests, diseases, or environmental conditions, reduction of spoilage, or resistance to chemical treatments. (source Wikipedia) I’m going to let you make your own decision about whether you want to introduce this type of seed into your seed vault. Do the research!
DIY Seed Vault – Seed Saving Techniques for up to 10 Years
Drying your seed is the best way to bring them into true dormancy. The oldest known seeds were found in the ruins of the Masada Fortress in Israel. “The seeds probably survived for so long because of the extremely arid conditions of the Masada mesa”, said Cary Fowler, seed preservation expert and executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which maintains the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway.
The trick to drying seeds is controlling the temperature while you are doing the drying. That means that using a food dehydrator, oven, or microwave will not give you enough control over the temperature. Exposing the seed to temperatures over 100 degrees decreases your chance of germination. Getting seeds too hot can make them sterile. The best way to get the most moisture out is to use super-dried rice, which will suck the moisture out of your seeds without a temperature fluctuation.
Seeds have the ability to last a tremendous amount of time given certain factors. The most successful of these techniques are drying and freezing, which is easy to learn.
You Will Need:
- Enough rice to fill a quart canning jar 2/3 full (too little rice will not pull out enough moisture)
- A quart canning jar with lid
- Seed packets, mesh or muslin bags or an old pair of stockings
- A baking tray and oven
1. Spread enough rice to fill a canning jar 2/3rd’s full onto a baking tray. Do not grease your pan.
2. Bake the rice at 350 degrees, for 45 minutes, or until it is bone dry.
3. Place the still warm rice into your canning jar and tighten the lid. This prevents moisture from the air re-hydrating the rice.
4. WAIT patiently for it to cool
5. Once the rice is completely cool, place your seeds in a paper seed packet, muslin or mesh bag, and place it in the jar with the rice. Be sure and tighten the lid so moisture stays out.
6. After 2 weeks in the rice jar, your seeds will have been thoroughly dried and are now dormant and ready to store.
If you didn’t do it before, transfer your seeds to a packet with the name of the seed and the date clearly marked on the outside. Place the envelope in a plastic zip bag and zip the bag shut, squeezing out as much air as possible. You can also use a Food-saver and vacuum seal them.
Place the bag with the seeds into the back of the freezer where it won’t be disturbed. If you keep your seed in a cool place they will last up to 10 years. For convenience and to reduce introducing moisture to the other seed, split the seeds into yearly planting groups so you only need to pull out the ones you want to use each year. Use this method and you could have a continual 10-year rotation of seed to use.
Make your own seed packets from this template. Be sure you write down the type of seed – heirloom or hybrid – because that will determine whether you can store seeds from the plant again next year.
You can save seed from your yard, purchase it from your local nursery or from these trusted companies online. I have been pleased with my past purchases from Botanical Interests. They have an extensive heirloom seed selection and customer service is top notch. Seeds for Generations is another company that I like to support. This is a wonderful family business selling only heirloom seeds and getting their kids involved in the process. I also use this reliable source, Mary’s Heirloom Seeds.
The process of drying seeds, whether from your garden or the local nursery, is a simple step to take toward self-reliance. Create your own seed vault that will last for at least 10 years.