Being able to provide food for yourself is a good idea for a variety of reasons.
In case of disaster, shortage, or something less catastrophic like job loss, planning out how you’d feed your family long term is a smart plan.
In my opinion, knowing how to grow food for just one season just doesn’t cut it.
Planning on beyond the current season is what we all should be doing.
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To do this, consider what seeds you plan on storing and know that only a small amount of seeds are actually considered to be drying-tolerant seeds (meaning that they can bear the process of drying out). Virtually all common herbs, vegetables, and a many trees fall into this category.
You can usually tell if a plant is drying-intolerant simply by viewing how they react under normal circumstances. In their natural setting, drying-intolerant seeds typically fall to the ground and immediately germinate.
A broad range of seed types can be stored for years and some even have an indefinite lifetime, which is of course, assuming optimum storage conditions are maintained.
So just what are those ideal conditions?
As a rule of thumb, humidity levels within the storage environment should be maintained somewhere in the range of 25-35%. The average home during winter is exceptionally dry, often dipping well below 20%. Low humidity draws moisture from delicate seed structures and negatively impacts seeds vitality and germination rate. If your seeds are mistakenly dried to below the recommended moisture level, this has the potential to seriously reduce the amount of viable seeds, if not destroy them completely.
Controlling Humidity: Once seeds have cured to the correct moisture level, they need to be properly stored. You will most likely not have a precisely-controlled “clean room” like the ones utilized in professional seed companies.
This doesn’t mean that storing your personal seed collection for years to come is an impossible feat.
Simply store your seeds in sealed, air-tight containers like glass jars or doubled Ziploc bags. In the highly variable and less than ideal environment of a home or small farm, paper envelopes, cloth bags, cardboard boxes, etc. will allow for exchange of far too much of a flux in moisture control for any long-term storage.
To further help in moisture control, consider adding silica packets or another desiccant to soak up additional water. If you have access to a hygrometer this will help you to maintain a constant control over the moisture level in your storage containers.
Controlling Temperature: Temperature must be maintained within a relatively narrow range. I’ve heard it said that the home freezer is the best place. Personally, I question the advisability of freezing temperatures in one- to two-season storage.
While it is true that many seeds will store almost indefinitely if deep-frozen, The information that I have found typically recommends short-term home storage of seeds from just above freezing to about 40 or 45 degrees.
Controlling Light Exposure or lack thereof: is the last, but still equally important condition that needs to be controlled.
Be sure to keep in mind that it is a combination of certain conditions (namely moisture, temperature and light) that stimulate and support the entire germination process. Much like any number of chemicals and foods exposed to light, seeds rapidly deteriorate and lose viability when exposed to light. They need to be kept in a cool dark place.
You need to make sure that wherever you store the seeds, you maintain constant conditions that do not vary widely. The worst possible scenario in your seed storage is a sudden change to warmth, elevated humidity, and light during mid-winter storage immediately followed by chilling, drying, and return to darkness. If this happens you can kiss your harvest good bye.
So just how long can your seeds be stored?
Below is a short list of vegetable seeds and how long they can be stored for.
Please note that these storage lengths are under the most optimal conditions and your conditions will most likely not be optimal.
|Seed Type||Years||Seed Type||Years|
|Carrots||3-5||Potatoes (real seed)||5-7|
Common Storage Problems
-Mold and Mildew: Seeds that are not dried to the proper moisture levels before being sealed in glass or plastic will more than likely rot.
There is a simple test that will help you to determine whether or not your seeds have been dried correctly: After your initial drying cycle has been finished, place the questionable seeds in closed glass jars or plastic bags and wait.
The appearance of condensation on the inside of those containers within a few hours is a big red flag and indicates that the seeds are not fully dried. You need to be very sure that your seeds are dried properly or they will rot very quickly.
-Insects: Weevils, borers, and small beetles are common pests and may go unnoticed until after they seeds are stored.
These little devils will wreak havoc on stored seeds. Adding a bit of food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) is a safe, nontoxic, and inexpensive insurance policy against insect damage.
DE is available at most garden centers and small amounts are available online at retailers such as amazon.com. It doesn’t take much; just be sure to lightly coat all seeds before they are sealed for storage. Avoid the use of powerful commercial insecticides as you will be directly ingesting them later.
-Rodents: Seeds in storage, unless precautions are taken, can provide a veritable buffet for mice and other vermin. Prevent damage by placing labeled seed containers in either metal or plastic storage containers, or enclose them in an unused picnic or camp cooler.
Following the above easy guidelines will ensure longevity and viability of the seeds and minimize the amount of seeds that are lost each season.
Take advantage of the autumn weather and get your survival seeds ready for next spring!
And remember that practice makes perfect. You have everything you need now to make seeds survive in stasis.