Seed Storage Made Simple

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A well-organized seed storage box

Seeds purchased for the current gardening year usually yield top germination rates. But what about the leftovers from previous seasons? It doesn’t take but a year or two of gardening to accumulate a backlog of partially used packets of seeds. Depending on what those seeds are and how you store them, many may be good for several seasons to come.

My Seed Storage Box

Over the years I’ve tried many seed storage schemes, including the freezer, which can prolong seed viability in many species, but proved impractical in my busy kitchen. The seed storage set-up that works best for me consists of a plastic storage bin with a snap-top lid. Inside the bin, seeds are sorted by plant family or type, with each category tucked inside a plastic bag. For example, the cucumber family has its own bag, tomato family crops are kept together, root veggies are together, and flowers and herbs have their own bags, too. Some bulky beans and other large seeds are stored in small glass jars.

In addition to the seeds, my box includes various desiccant packets saved from shoes and other purchases (see more about keeping humidity low below). Finally, there is room in the box for my rudimentary sifters, made by stretching nylon netting over embroidery hoops (purchased for pocket change at the thrift store). These come in handy when I want to clean seeds I saved the previous season, which often go into the box as a mess of seeds and chaff stuffed into an envelope.

Chaos creeps into the box when the growing season gets busy. During my winter renovation, I might also find every packet I planted (and replanted) during the month of August held together with a rubber band. Until I learned to securely tape seed packets shut, I would also encounter a shifting sea of mixed seeds at the bottom of the box. These I fed to the birds.

Desiccants help preserve seeds
Desiccants can help to preserve seeds by reducing the humidity and absorbing any moisture

Low Humidity Seed Storage

But back to low humidity, which is my biggest seed storage challenge, especially in summer when I am constantly opening the box during humid weather. You really don’t want your seeds subjected to high humidity levels over and over again, particularly when temperatures are warm. Repurposed desiccant packets from shoes and electronics packaging contain silica gel, which absorbs moisture from the air. I’ve also made small rice packets to further keep humidity low inside my seed storage box.

Keep Up With Dates

In midwinter, I spend a couple of hours sorting through my collection to put seeds in their proper groups, and to cull out old seeds that may not germinate well. As shown in the chart below, vegetable seeds vary in how long they last, assuming they have been given storage conditions that are conducive to preserving seed viability.

Note that this data is not carved in stone. Some sources suggest that lettuce seeds last up to 6 years, but my experience has been that lettuce seeds more than one year old will either make a magnificent stand or be total duds. For this reason, I buy new packets of lettuce seed each spring, and try to use them up in the fall. Onion seeds don’t read germination charts, either, but I often see a steady decline in the germination rate of onion family seeds after the first year. If I buy a packet that has more onion seeds than I need, I pass them on to a gardening friend rather than letting them age beyond their prime.

When to Discard Commonly Grown Crops
After 5 years Cucumber, melon, radish, collards, annual flowers
After 4 years Eggplant, tomato, squash
After 3 years Beans, peas, cabbage family crops, carrot family crops
After 2 years Leek, mesclun, sweet corn
After 1 years Onion, lettuce

In order to keep up with the age of my seeds, I make sure their vintage years are written on each packet. Most seed packets already have this information on them, so I circle it so I’ll be careful not to tear it off and throw it away. I store most of my home-saved seeds in paper envelopes, which are easy to write on with a pencil or pen. This year, pretty much everything before 2007 will go if it’s not gone already.

I tend to have expensive taste in seeds, so I try not to waste them. It often takes me three seasons to use up a packet of broccoli or tomato seeds, so using good seed storage practices save me time and money. If you’ve found a different approach that works well for you, please share it below.

By Barbara Pleasant

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Comments

 
"Hi i have found that this year as a first time gardener, i have really found keeping seeds hard. All my wildflower seeda went mouldy, and i didnt know how to dry my sunflowers so i cut the heads of and dried them on the heater but they have gone funy . HELP X"
cherie on Friday 7 January 2011
"Barbara, many thanks for a Brilliant article.I am sure everyone who reads it will agree with me...LOTS of good ideas in there,will definitely put those to good use....silica gel,how many of those little packets have I thrown away over the years ??? cherie...when I dry seeds I always do it slowly..praps putting them on the heater cooked them instead of drying them? Anyway dont give up,you will succeed,we all do.Enjoy your veggies this year,you will only get better,Take advice from any "mature" gardener you can.We have a fella on our lottie site called Gordon,this man is a walking encyclopaedia on veg growing,everything he's told me has worked out,the do's and don't's,he's been gardening for ,I think someone told me about 50 odd years,so I think he might know a thing or two !!! GOOD LUCK AND ENJOY YOURSELF."
melboy on Friday 7 January 2011
"Silica gel bags. Brilliant! Shoe addict meets gardener :-) Good advice too, my seed drawer is, well, a mess! I also have a little new patch in my garden every year that I allow to run riot. I mix all my leftover annual flower seeds with the herbs and salads, basically everything that doesn't get too big (so no cabbages, pumpkins etc), mix it up and throw it on the soil, covering it slightly. The mice get some, the birds get some, and every year I have a lovely "wild" flowerpatch where lots of wildlife likes to congregate. "
Kim on Friday 7 January 2011
"Last year I read somewhere that putting them in a jar with those silica jar packets and put it in the back of the fridge helps keep seeds. My only issue is everytime I open the jar the inside gets fogged up and I'm very concerned about extra moisture. Definitely going to make my own rice packets (it works in the salt shaker!). "
Kimmy on Tuesday 11 January 2011
"Kimmy, one of the problems with fridge or freezer storage is that you're supposed to let the container come to room temp before you open it up. Who has time for that? "
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 11 January 2011
"Barbara, do you think it would be ok to just remove them from the fridge and start storing them in a plastic storage bin like you explain without causing any damage to the seeds? I certainly don't have the time to wait for anything to come to room temperature especially seeds since I like doing things on the spur of the moment."
Kimmy on Wednesday 12 January 2011
"Really helpful table - a tip I found out recently is to sprout your discarded seeds in a glass jar (like bean sprouts) and eat the sprouts in salad. Good seeds for this are brassicas, beans etc, although I try it with all of them."
Josephine on Thursday 20 January 2011
"A lot of things are indeed in your post, how to take care of seeds and what ideal storage to help you out. Also, the manner of being resourceful with which you make use of silica gel which are mainly disposed by people. Its a nice thing to read your blog."
Storage Melbourne on Sunday 6 November 2011
"Cool! I have never discovered before that silica gels are ideal material to store seeds which provide low humidity. Many thanks to this post."
Self Storage Sydney on Monday 21 November 2011
"Yes! realy I wondered to read your article. It may change the garden management in the world. However, I am a student in the seed world. I work with a Seed company. 'Ispahani Agro Limited' is one of the large seed company in Bangladesh."
Mc. Arunendu Sarkar on Sunday 1 January 2012
"So good to hear from you, Mr. Sarkar. We like to think of this blog as a lively international conversation on the best ways to grow vegetables."
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 3 January 2012
"I have approx. 200 different varieties of herb; vegetable; other seed. I have been very succussful getting the maximum storage time from them by using "craft bead containers" from the local 'big box store'. They are available #1, in multiple sizes - #2. have holding trays that the smaller containers go into for a 'double' humidity protection layer - #3. they are clear so you can see your inventory and #4. have room to write on each one: dates, names, etc."
Rick Gilmore on Friday 20 January 2012
"Thank you - I have a basic system, where seeds are stored in month order (and moved on or back every month) so I know when to sow them, This year I'm switching to a 5 year rotation as I now have a proper veg plot, rather than a random assortment of containers (yippee!)so I was looking to see how other people store their seeds and this is SO useful And I love your 'use by' guide - invaluable I shall still store by month under each group but I can be a bit more professional now Thank you :)"
Sharon Hayton on Wednesday 9 January 2013
"Thank you ao much for sharing how you store seeds, I'll try it! "
Bev. on Saturday 26 November 2016
"I find all your information to be excellent and so helpful - thank you! Do you just keep your seed storage bin in a cool part of your house . . . no refrigeration/freezer at all?"
Patti on Sunday 19 March 2017
"Patti, because I plan to grow seed within three years, keeping the seed bin in a cool, dark room is sufficient. It is important that the seeds not be exposed to high humidity, the biggest risk with room temperature storage. "
Barbara Pleasant on Sunday 19 March 2017

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