Sunday, January 23, 2011
On Storing Seed
"Alexander Stchukin died at his writing table, holding in his hand a packet of his most prized peanuts that he had hoped to send off for a grow out. The custodian of Vavilov’s many oat collections, Liliya Rodina, died of starvation, as did Dimitry Ivanov, who as his own life failed, stowed away thousands of packets of rice. … There were others as well — Steheglov, Kovalevsky, Leonjevsky, Malygina, Korzun — some who perished by starving, some riddled by sickness, others by shrapnel. Wolf, the herbarium curator, was hit by a missile shell fragment, and bled to death. Gleiber, the archivist of Vavilov’s field notes, died in the midst of those papers rather than leave his post.” ~ Pavlovsk seed and gene bank
Throughout history people have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect and store seed for the future as is depicted in the above comments from the book Where Food Comes From that tracks the footsteps of Russian seed scientist Nikolay Vavilov across five continents, amassing a collection of over 200,000 plant seeds during his lifetime. A true agricultural hero who ironically died of hunger in Siberia's Saratov prison on January 26, 1943.
One of the most important facets of seed saving is the storing of those seeds as a garden's success partially depends on the quality of the seeds that are planted. We have had great success storing our seeds in airtight glass or plastic containers, preferring glass, they are kept in a cool back room of our house. Sometimes people will add silica gel packets, grains of dry rice, or even powdered milk wrapped in a tissue paper to help absorb moisture and prolong the life of these seeds. Fortunately for us our wood heated house has very dry air so we don't normally have to use any of these desiccants.
We love using these old glass salad dressing bottles to store seed.
Temperatures right around 40°F are perfect for retaining stored seeds viability which is why you will hear of keeping seeds in the refrigerator, although I do question this a bit as it would seem to be such a humid environment for long term storage and I would definitely consider using one of the aforementioned desiccants for extended periods of refrigerated storage. Although, some seeds do require a period of cold stratification in order to break dormancy and germinate properly...certain perennial herbs, flowers, and fruit tree seeds would be a good example of this. Also, when removing the seeds from a cold area it is advisable to allow the container to reach normal room temperature before opening to prevent condensation from forming on the inside.
All of our seeds are stored on (or around:) this shelf in a dark, cool, and dry back room.
A fellow blogger also made mention of a very important point in that if you choose to freeze your seeds for long term storage it is advisable to remember that when freezing seeds the moisture content has to be exceptionally low. If there is too much moisture in the seeds they will form ice crystals which will rupture the cells and ruin the seeds. Also, I have read that one should not to use ''frost free'' freezers for seed storage unless you use very airtight containers, ones with gaskets, because they have periodic warming cycles to remove ice build-up that might evaporate the small amount of moisture that a seed does need to survive. I would love to hear others thoughts on the freezing of seeds as it is not something I have much experience with.
Storing seed is relatively easy, high temperatures, large temperature fluctuations, and humidity are the main enemies of seed, too much light, especially direct sunlight, can also be an issue. That said, even seed stored in less than ideal conditions will most likely last for a number of years. There are many different and varying thoughts on how to best store seed, the important thing is to pick the one that works best for your given conditions and go for it.:)
Please consider submitting a new or old post on the Kebun Malay-Kadazan girls blog during this "seed week" that will run from the 22nd~29th of January in which anyone interested participates by blogging about their experiences as they are related to seeds, bulbs, tubers, rhizomes or cuttings including the collecting, propagating, growing, and/or how to keep them in tip top shape. There is a "linky" to link your post to at the bottom of her blog post. Join in on her seed week so we can all learn from each others experiences.:)
This is a picture of our Painted Mountain corn, a variety that we have been growing the past couple years and seems to do well in our climate and shorter growing season. Corn seed will normally have good germination for 2 years and some of ours seems to be fine even after 3 years.
“Everyone who enjoys, thinks that the principal thing to the tree is the fruit, but in point of fact the principal thing to it is the seed. - Herein lies the difference between them that create and them that enjoy.” - Friedrich Nietzsche