"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

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


Kelle at The Never Done Farm said...

I sort of experimented with seeds to see their viablility after two years,three years, etc... last year and my findings were very interesting. Seeds such as beans hold their viablitiy longer than seeds such as squash or pumpkin

On average the seeds that were three years old or older lost 30-40% of their viability but that wasn't true of our Painted Mountain corn seed, it only lost 18% of it's viability in the three year old seeds.

Pepper, sweet and hot had the lowest viability as the seeds aged, for example the three year old pepper seeds( in this case sweet giant bells) only had a 5% viability or less.

Many of the herbs retained their viability very well even dill seeds as old as 10 yrs old still had a viability rate of 80+%

I just thought it would be good informations to know for future reference*wink*

meemsnyc said...

I love how you store the seeds in the glass jars. What a great idea!!

Wendy said...

Great tips. Like I mentioned before, I have such a small garden that I have never had to buy seeds unless I'm trying something new (which I always am!). I'm still using jalapeno seeds I bought probably 7 years ago. I don't think I have enough stats to provide a reliable account, but I'll sow 3 to a little pot and still get 3 seedlings.

That painted mountain corn is incredibly beautiful!

Ohiofarmgirl said...

love the jars idea. but..so.. um.. keeping baskets of beans on the front porch when its 0* isnt the best seed saving strategy?!?! i'm always amazed when anything survives from the previous year


We store our seed packets and pouches in old ammo canisters. They are dark, dry, hold an amazing amount and stack really well. We get them for 10 to 15 dollars at various thrift stores and garage sales.

I'm slowly getting to the point we can save enough seed for each returning year. Squash and spinach have worked and so have peas; we're trying :) However, since our garden is no where near the size of yours, we usually have packets left to save for next year/season.

Mike said...

I was wondering where I could find some of these corn seeds in the photo? I would love to try some of these seeds that seem to do well in our area.

Stefaneener said...

Eventually I'd like to be more self-sufficient, seedwise. I'm enjoying sowing greens by broadcasting. Makes me feel crazy-rich, and they were all grown here. I just wish we had larger space for "true" sampling across many individuals, like you have.

Anonymous said...

Most of my seeds I store in paper bags. My thought is that if there is any moisture in the seeds left, paper will absorb it and dry seeds even more.
I didn't know what to do with my garlic, so I have it in a paper bag in a refrigerator. Now I think that it is not the smartest thing I did...

p3chandan said...

We are not into seed storing culture here, as most households dont really plant their own vegetables for home consumption but only as a hobby. Except maybe the padi farmers and other commercialised producers. I will like to try to save seeds after my first harvest this year if Im successful. Thanks for the information on storing seeds.

City Sister said...

I have just touched my toe in the waters of seed saving...I have a few packets of tomatoes and pumpkin...I can't wait to see how they did!

Malay-Kadazan girl said...

Opps I think I left my seeds outside too long hanging under the shade when it is more than 35 degree Celcius outside. Wow thats a lot of seed supplies. We kept our seeds in home-made envelopes in the shoebox. Thank you for this educational post.

Mr. H. said...

Kelle - I'm glad you shared this because I have noticed that the seeds I save do not always seem to match up with the seed viability charts that are out there. It was very interesting to hear about your Painted Mountain corn, perhaps different varieties do hold up better than others..fascinating. I will definitely keep this in mind going forward.

Meemsnyc - Yes, the glass jars work great and the seeds do seem to last much longer than the ones that I use to just keep in packets with no jar at all.

Wendy - Wow, that is a very good germination rate for older peppers seeds. However you are storing those seeds I wouldn't change a thing because it is obviously working really well for you.

Ohiofarmgirl - Well, actually, if they are not getting wet and moldy and you are replanting them each year it sounds like a perfectly "natural" way to over-winter them. As a matter of fact, the more often you plant, harvest, and replant those same beans the better suited they will become to your location. Which is much better than storing them for extended periods of time. See, your way ahead of the game already.:)

Granola Girl - So, two funny stories...well not really that funny. One of the "games" we played with the boy while out walking this summer was to see how many of those hidden geocache treasures he could find without a compass. I have this uncanny knack for spotting anything that is out of place and always stumble across a few of them each year. We then take the boy to the same spot and let him try to find the "treasure"...great fun. Anyway, they are often in ammo canisters. Of course now I can't remember what the second not so funny story was...I'll have to get back to you on that one...hmm. Anyway, I love that you are saving some seeds and in doing so gaining a greater understanding of how it all works so that if you ever "have" to save them you will more easily be able to do so with the knowledge previously gained...and it's so good for the boy to see this as well.

Mike - I would be more than happy to send you some or you can get it at Teritorial Seed. I think you would like this variety. Let me know?

Stefaneener - It does make one feel rich doesn't it. It's amazing how much seed you can get off your own plants and how expensive the smallest amount is when purchased through a seed catalogue. I sometimes broadcast seeds like dill in the spring and then just weed them out from where I don't want them later on...so fun, and they always seem to grow better that way for some reason, more natural I guess.

Vrtlarica ana - The most important thing is that whatever method you use to save seed works for you..I like your bag idea. As to the garlic, it will be interesting to see how that turns out for you. Theoretically I'm not sure why it would not as most people plant it in the fall and it is exposed to cold damp temperatures all winter long. If the heads are still nice and firm and nothing has rotted by now then I think you will be fine.

P3chandan - It is really good to hear that you are interested in saving your own seeds and I think you will find it to be a very enlightening experience. The fact that so many people in your area do not save seeds is all the more reason for you to undertake this endeavour. The knowledge gained in doing so can then be shared with others.

City Sister - Congratulations, may they grow up to be the best plants ever. It's kind of exciting to anticipate growing a plant from your own seed isn't it.:) I know that I always get excited to see how I did.

Mr. H. said...

Malay-Kadazan girl - Your seeds will probabely be fine, after harvesting them we often leave our brassica and onion seeds to dry outside for extended periods and as long as they do not get wet everything works out good this way.

Yes, we have quite a collection so you can see why I don't keep my seeds in the refridgerator...there would be no room for the food.:) I hope you know that this "seed week" of yours has excited more than a few people to start saving their own seeds...very good.:)

Mavis said...

I think it's awesome that you and the Mrs. are so stinkin frugal/smart that you reuse old glass bottles... instead of BUYING new ones. I store my seeds in the food storage... which is around 55 degrees... but then again I'm not thinking of saving them past the 2 year mark...

Oh All Mighty One... have you heard anything about what the weather is suppose to be like this summer? I'm hoping it will be a hot one like 2 years ago... I need to grow a serious stash of tomatoes!

Kumi said...

Thanks for the seed-saving info in your last couple of posts. We've saved only a few kinds of seeds in the past, but after reading IRT's post (http://www.responsibletechnology.org/blog/664), we're more determined to do better to save our own seeds.

Robert Brenchley said...

Most of my seeds live in sweet tins in the allotment shed. I've now acquiring some rare brassica seed - more than I'd planned since I was offered a range of named couve tronchuda varieties - and it's going to take several years to grow them all out. So they're going in the freezer, and I hope they survive all right! I find seed survives sub-zero temperatures in the shed quite happily, but -18 or so in the freezer is a bit more drastic. I find things tend to dehydrate a bit in the freezer, and they're in a sealed platic tub, so they should be OK.

Julie said...

RATS. i just froze a batch of pigeon peas to kill any unauthorized hitchhikers. These seeds are intended for another gardener so probably i should do a germination test to make sure they were dry enough to begin with.
I learn a little something every day ; ) Thanks.

Faith said...

Wow. Again I am impressed by the amount of effort you put in to saving seeds. What a collection. Our season is awfully short - most plants I like don't produce seeds up here without considerable effort.

Elizabeth said...

wow, very interesting info on storing seeds. What temp would you say your back room is?
That painted corn is beautiful, does it turn your teeth red?
Peace & Raw Health,

Mr. H. said...

Mavis - Your food storage area sounds like a great place to store seeds and at 55°they should last for quite a few years I would think.

So anyway, as to a hot summer, I had a long chat with Mother Nature the other day and asked for just that. I told her that we were not at all pleased with this past years tomato growing conditions and wanted another one of those perfect long summers.:) I sure hope she listened because I would really like to see ours ripen on the vine this year.

I can tell you this, it seems that more often than not on the years we have cold, snowy, wet winters we do end up with much more ideal summers and vice versa. So I'm betting this next summer will be a good one. So it is said, so it is written, so let it be done.:):)

Kumi - Thanks so much for sharing this article's link with me. This is one of the things that I have been so worried about, eventually these phony monocultures with their pesticides, insecticides, and genetically modified plants take away so much from the soil and the plants health that they can no longer fend off these diseases. Now the bugs, weeds, and diseases on the other hand are are learning to adapt and the chemical scientists are starting to run out of ways to get rid of them as Mother nature works to reclaim the land...nature always finds a way. What happens if this giant agriculture system that so many people depend upon should fail? That was a very interesting article...thanks.

Robert - How exciting to have these unusual brassica seeds. I would be very interested to hear how your seeds do in the freezer. My guess is that as long as they are dry enough and well sealed like you said that they should be just fine. Here is an article that you might find interesting.

Julie - Hopefully they are fine, but if you are worried that they were not dry enough before being frozen a germination test would be a good idea. I saved some peas a couple years ago and by spring the the jar had filled with weevils...wish I had frozen those ones...darn bugs.:)

Faith - I can only imagine how difficult it would be to save seeds in your climate. We struggled with the saving of certain seeds this past year due to the cooler and shorter gardening season we experienced...and yours is always very short.

Elizabeth - We manage to keep the temperature in our "seedroom" between 40 and 55°, not perfect but it seems to be good enough. The corn does not turn your teeth red but sure makes for pretty cornbread.:)

Robert Brenchley said...

Thanks for the link. I think it's safe to assume that temperate-climate vegetables are going to be 'orthodox'; if there was a problem saving the seed over winter, the plants wouldn't have got anything like the input they have from farmers and gardeners!

The article missed delayed germination. I'm told, for instance, that really fresh Trilliums will come up in their first spring. By the time I get them, through a swap, it takes 18 months to three years before they deign to emerge.

Sense of Home Kitchen said...

What a terrific article to read on lunch break. I like thinking about planting and working in my garden. That red corn is facinating, I've never seen nor eaten red corn. These are the varieties that could get lost if it weren't for people like you.


Daphne Gould said...

I always store my seeds in an airtight container in the fridge and always let it come to room temperature before I use it. I do leave them out often in the spring during the busy planting season though as I would have to put them in and take them out way too often.

The airtight container is really important here though as we have high humidity. Seed wouldn't last long if I left them out I think. They last a very long time the way I do it though.

Mr. H. said...

Robert - Very interesting information on delayed germination. I did not know that about trilliums and will have to read up on it some more...so much to learn.

Brenda - Thanks, I have been day dreaming about gardening as well and am really looking forward to this summers gardening adventures. The red corn is just OK fresh, but makes a wonderful cornbread which is what we use most of it for.

Daphne - It sounds like you have a really good system in place and you are very wise to use good containers for your seeds as you are right in that high humidity can drastically shorten a seeds life span.

Ms. Adventuress said...

Thank goodness for everyone who came before, teaching us so much, even when their fate did not turn out as we would have preferred.

BEAUTIFUL red corn!

LOVE learning about seed storage and look forward to reading comments responding to this, your post.

(And I bet those exotic noodles were good, too. I'll be braver next time. :o)

Robert Brenchley said...

Hellebores are another case in point. Sometimes I get seed as soon as it's collected, and that'll come up straight away. If I buy it from a specialist who stores it short-term, like the Trillium swap, and sends it out within a few weeks, it'll come up irregularly next spring. If I get it from a regular seed company, I might get some come up, or I might not.

Paeonies seem to come up in the second spring no matter how they're treated, if they come up at all. When I've had problems, I'm nit sure whether that's been storage or other factors.

kitsapFG said...

I need to track down another big gallon sized glass jar. I have one now but I use it periodically for refrigerator dill pickles. I use small (hobby sized) zip lock bags and put my saved seeds in those - or in empty prescription pill containers. I think the bagged seed would do better if I dropped them into a glass jar (with lid) though. Thanks for the idea!

Mr. H. said...

Ms. Adventuress - Oh, you should have tried those noodles...it was the color wasn't it.:) Yes, I actually ordered the Nikolay Vavilov book and am looking forward to reading this fascinating story in its entirety.

Robert - This is all such good information to be aware of. The seed that I have had the hardest time with has been Sea kale, even after proper stratification I only had a few germinate in 2009, I divided those three plants via the roots in 2010 and am hoping to get a bunch established this year. I have yet to get viable seed off them? Not sure why.

Laura - I do keep some of my store boughten seed envelopes in zip-lock bags and they seem to be fine that way. Honestly, regardless of this post, I think that many of these seeds are far more resilient than we read about.

Robert Brenchley said...

I haven't tried seakale, but from what I can pick up on the Net, the problems are down to dormancy (unspecified; maybe very fresh seed would do better)and low water takeup. You can compensate for the latter by treating with acid, filing the seedcoat down, or soaking. I believe a soak in hot water is useful with some seeds, but I've never dared try it.

Eliza @ Appalachian Feet said...

That is certainly some tomato seed! You may be worse than me (assuming all those packets are unique varieties). Wonderful storage commentary -- can't say I know about the freezer. I don't do much refrigerator storage, either unless it is something that has to stay fresh like a pawpaw seed.

I tried to find you on the Blotanical directory today to add you to my favorites... guess you aren't there?

6512 and growing said...

I used to collect wildflower seeds from our Colorado mountains. I'd try to follow the natural freeze and thaw cycles via the fridge and freezer. The lupine seeds I'd rough up with knives. And I had so little success (a few columbines and lupines is all that ever germinated), that I have left the wild seeds to mother nature. But I do love to collect and store seeds from my garden.
Thanks for the info!

Robert Brenchley said...

Had you thought of planting them in pots buried in the ground? It works for some people. Sometimes you have to wait a couple of years.

Mr. H. said...

Eliza - We do enjoy growing a very wide array of different tomato plants.:) As far as I know I am not listed on any blotanical directory but will have to take a peek and see what it's all about.:)

6512 and Growing - Nature does indeed seem to have the greenest thumb of all and one that is hard to duplicate...we have never had great success with wild flower seeds either.

Robert - Letting nature run its course with the sea kale is probably a really good idea and one that I might just try if I can get some seeds off the ones we are growing. I hope to do a post on sea kale this spring if they have survived another winter...it really is a very interesting plant and one that I hope to keep going.

Robert Brenchley said...

If you can get your own seeds, try planting some at once, and another lot the following spring. The very fresh ones might do better, or they might not.

Eliza @ Appalachian Feet said...

Great! I've added you to my blogroll but I'd love to keep up with your posts on Blotanical, too. (Most days I only have time to read through one set of feeds).

Kevin Kossowan said...

I use little cup-sized mason jars now for seed, but am still a seed-saving newbie. Clearly a popular topic given all the comments!

Anne said...

Irony is that very station where quite a few people died of starvation to save those plants.. is now slated for building development.

They are trying to stop it.. or slow it in an attempt to save as many plants as they can (as most of these varieties exist no where else.) They won't let them on the property to tend to the plants & orchards or propagate them to relocate them.

Very sad as this is a resource of hundreds of thousands of unique crops, berries, flowers, etc. that have been collected for so long... survived war times and weather fluctuations.. soon to be lost forever.

Anne said...

Actually to p3chandan..

It is only in the last few decades that the whole concept that you got your seeds from a store developed. There are thousands of varieties.. that were created and continued by backyard growers. A concept that people had for thousands of years.. yet only in the last century did we forget.

Mr. H. said...

Kevin - It does seem to be popular and I'm glad because I truly believe that this is something that we should all take some small part in, at least enough so that we are aware how to go about doing itshould we ever need to.

Anne - It really is sad as those men are considered heros and went to such great lengths to preserve these plants for future generations...and now they want to build houses on that land. One of John Muir's quotes comes to mind -

"God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools."

Leigh said...

Another interesting post. Last year was the first time I started saving seed in earnest, and I admit that I feel I have a lot to learn. I initially was going to use glass jars, but then read about the humidity issue and problems when storing in glass containers. Our heat and humidity are problems here, so I'm not sure about our best option. That said I did store my seeds in the fridge(!), but wrapped the packets in plastic in hopes to guard them from excess humidity. This summer I'll plant OP field corn seed that is two years old. I'm really curious as to how well that will work out.

Mr. H. said...

Leigh - I just did a simple germination test on some of our corn that was over 3years old and was somewhat surprised to get 100% germination off the 15 seeds I tested. I just rolled the seeds in a damp paper towel and tucked it into a baggy that was set upon the mantel of our fireplace where they would stay warm. Five days later all have germinated. It always surprises me how much longer these seeds last compared to the suggested viability. I bet that all of your corn seed is still good too.:)

Sheryl at Providence North said...

We store our seed in zip loc baggies, in 26 large envelopes (one for each letter of the alphabit) standing vertically in alpabetical order in a large cooler. We have small bags of silica gel in the bototm of the cooler and keep the lid closed. We store the cooler in a cool, dark room of the house.

This fililng system makes it easy to find the various seeds ordered from our site. The cooler keeps the temperature from fluctuating and keeps the moisture out.

We have wood heat too, so humidity is not a problem.

Mr. H. said...

Sheryl - It sounds like you have an excellent sytem in place. I like the idea of bags in coolers and will have to think about that one.

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