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Survival Seed Bank: How to Store Vegetable Seeds Long-Term
Storing vegetable seeds for your garden is a great way to ensure your supply of favorite vegetables for up to 10 years. The trick to storing vegetable seeds long-term is to know the different storage methods available and the average shelf life of the seeds. This way, you will learn how to store vegetable seeds long-term as well as build your survival seed bank over time.
In this article, we will cover steps to maintain vegetable seeds’ freshness, the appropriate storage conditions, and why seeds lose their viability. But first, let’s discuss why you should store seeds long-term.
Why Store Vegetable Seeds for Survival?
By relying on supermarkets for basic vegetables, most people have become dependent on other people and companies for their food. This makes people vulnerable to food shortages, and rising prices as we’ve seen in 2022. However, food security is a foundational aspect of being self-sufficient. And there is no better way to secure your food supply for your family than growing it yourself. By storing seeds, you’re reducing your dependence on outside forces out of your control.
In recent years, more and more preppers, have started building survival seed banks to store their seeds long-term. This allows them to have seeds to sow in their survival garden and store a variety of different seeds.
Now that you understand why it’s important, let’s get into proper seed storage.
Step-By-Step Guide: How to Store Vegetable Seeds Long-Term
The best way to store seeds is to keep them in air-tight containers, protecting them from heat, oxygen, moisture, and light. With mylar bags, mason jars, or even plastic zip bags, you can maximize the shelf life of your seeds.
That said, vegetable seed viability will decrease over time regardless of the storage method. The good news is you’ll be able to delay the deterioration process if you keep seeds in optimal storage conditions.
Here’s how to properly store vegetable seeds:
Step 1: Start With High-Quality Seeds
When it comes to storing seeds long-term, you want to collect seeds from healthy plants or buy heirloom seeds from a reputable supplier. That’s to reduce the risk of introducing seed-borne pathogens in your garden.
This is especially true if you are storing tomato seeds. Low-quality tomato seeds might cause bacterial canker, a hard-to-control, destructive disease that stunts the plant’s growth and eventually kills it. Not only does it harm tomatoes, but it can also spread to other plants, like pepper.
If you suspect the seeds harbor bacteria on their surface, you can use bleach treatment to remove the pathogens from the seed coat. Alternatively, you can try hot water treatment to eliminate the bacteria inside and outside the seed.
Note: Only treat the seeds before planting them, and not before long-term storage—water breaks seed dormancy.
Step 2: Transport the Seeds to Tightly Sealing Containers
Whether you are storing seed packets or unpackaged seeds, you should place them in air-tight containers for long-term storage. Some of the more popular storage containers are:
- Mylar Bags
- Mason Jars
- Plastic Zip Bags
We’ll discuss them in more detail below:
For Mylar Bags
Here’s how to store seeds in mylar bags:
- Label the bags with the storage date and the vegetable seed type.
- Place the mylar bags inside a container to collect any spills.
- Fill the mylar bag with the seeds, up to 80% allow for easy sealing.
- Place oxygen absorbers OR silica gel packets which help extend the shelf life of the seeds.
- Expel excess air.
- Seal the bag with a hair straightener or pre-heated iron.
- Place the mylar bag in a cool, dark place (a fridge or a freezer would be ideal).
Note: O2 absorbers and silica gel packets should not be placed together in a bag because the O2 absorbers will not be activated without moisture.
Related Article: How to Store Food in Mylar Bags: A Guide for Beginners
Related Article: Oxygen Absorbers vs. Silica Gel Packets
For Mason Jars
You can also use tightly sealed mason jars to store seeds in your pantry, fridge, or freezer.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Sanitize the mason jars only (not the lids) by washing them in the dishwasher.
- After drying them, label the jars with the date and seed variety.
- Load the vegetable seeds into the jars, leaving around half or one-inch space from the rim for proper sealing.
- Shake the jars to settle the seeds and remove air particles.
- Place an oxygen absorber OR silica gel packet in the glass jar.
- Seal the jar tightly with the lid.
- Place the jar in your pantry, fridge, or freezer.
Related Article: Long-Term Food Storage in Mason Jars
Pro Tip: you can place two tablespoons of powdered milk in cheesecloth to use as a desiccant.—its effectiveness will last for around six months.
For Plastic Zip Bags
The process is simple. All you need to do is fill the bags, roll them tightly before zipping them to expel excess air, and place your seeds in the freezer. This is the least effective way of storing seeds. But to extend their shelf life, we would suggest placing them in a freezer-safe glass container afterward, as an additional layer of protection against moisture and oxygen.
Also, don’t forget to label the bags with the date and type of seed.
Step 3: Store Under Appropriate Conditions
When it comes to the best way to store seeds, they should be kept in temperatures between 32ºF to 40ºF and humidity less than 40%. For most preppers, this makes fridges and freezers the best place to house your survival seed bank. These storage locations will protect your seeds from heat, light, and humidity.
Step 4: Using Seeds in Cold Storage.
If you have kept seeds in your fridge or freezer, they should not be used right away. Using them right away would actually make them ineffective. Ideally, you should:
- Remove the containers from the fridge or freezer.
- Allow the container to warm up to room temperature.
- Open the bag, and remove the seeds you expect to use.
- Replace the oxygen absorbers OR silica gel packets.
- Reseal the container.
- Place your seeds in the freezer or fridge once again.
Where to Store Seeds?
Ideally, you should keep seeds in a place that is cool, dry, and dark. It could be the pantry, refrigerator, or freezer. However, if you place the seeds in your pantry, your room temperature and humidity shouldn’t exceed 70ºF and 60%, respectively.
Before storing seeds in the freezer, it is important to make sure the seeds are completely dried. If you store seeds while they are still wet, they can crack and break, permanently damaging the seeds.
How Long Do Vegetable Seeds Last?
Generally, vegetable seeds can maintain their quality for 12 months at room temperature when you keep them away from light and humidity.
At refrigerated temperatures (below 40ºF), vegetable seeds can last between three to five years.
Drying and freezing the seeds can maintain their germination for ten years. That said, the shelf life will vary depending on the seed variety. Here is a table of the average shelf life of seeds by type:
|Seed Type||Average Shelf Life (Years)|
Why Do Vegetable Seeds Expire?
When storing seeds for long-term storage, your goal is to eliminate high humidity, air exposure, and heat to prevent pathogen growth or decay of seed nutrients. When vegetable seeds expire, it’s because they break dormancy or get infected by pathogens and pests.
Seeds contain stored sugar and other organic compounds used for the respiration process during dormancy. Basically, respiration does the opposite of photosynthesis. Instead of making energy compounds and removing carbon dioxide, respiration uses the stored sugars for energy and releases carbon dioxide.
So, during dormancy, seeds are respiring and active, but they do those physiological processes slowly. Heat, moisture, light, and oxygen help facilitate respiration, breaking the seed dormancy. Once they’re no longer dormant, seeds consume all stored sugars and die from the lack of energy.
Additionally, keeping seeds in high humidity and heat aids fungi and bacteria in penetrating the seed coating and feeding on the stored organic compounds, eventually infecting them.
How to Determine Plant Viability?
Even before storage, not all seeds can produce plants when sown because they lack viability. To know whether your seed collection is viable or not, you can try the germination test.
All you have to do is take random seed samples, put them on a wet paper towel inside a jar, and place them in a warm place. If the seeds are viable, they’ll germinate within seven to ten days.
What are the Best Vegetable Seeds for a Survival Garden?
When we were making this list, we qualified seeds by considering, 1) shelf life, 2) versatility, 3) nutrition density, and 4) the nutrient makeup of the vegetable. The seeds every prepper should have in the seed bank are:
- Potatoes, Sweet
To sum everything up, properly stored seeds last up to 10 years, but this largely depends on the storage method and the type of seed. Potatoes, corn, and beans have some of the longest shelf life, making them great additions to your seed bank. When storing seeds long term, it is important to also protect them from air, heat, and light exposure, and the best way to store your seeds is by keeping them in an airtight container such as a mason jar, mylar bag, or a plastic zip bag.
Related Article: Rainwater Harvesting: How to Collect Rainwater at Home
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If you are looking to buy cookware, you probably came down to ceramic cookware vs stainless steel cookware. Learn to see which is better for you.