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Read the full disclosure By Mavis Butterfield on June 25, 2013 · 19 Comments. 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. 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.
If you are wanting a more indefinite seed storage, put your seeds in the canister with the silica gel and/or powdered milk 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. But, according to Ryan, without the moisture, you can store them 10 plus years in the freezer. To store your own saved seeds, spread them out and allow them to air dry. 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. 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 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. 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. 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. With seed packages widely available, who needs to save seeds anymore? The problem with many common garden seeds is their origin as a hybrid.