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Storing Seeds

Seed Storage Techniques

Many, many times we get asked how long seed will store or keep? That depends on a great many things! Seeds are living things.

Here is a basic chart, but I will go into more detail below.

Seed Type Years Seed Type Years
Asparagus 3 Muskmelons 5
Beans 3 Onions 1
Beets 4 Peas 3
Broccoli 5 Peppers 2
Cabbage 5 Pumpkins 4
Carrots 3 Radishes 5
Cauliflower 5 Spinach 5
Corn 2 Squash 4
Cucumbers 5 Tomatoes 4
Lettuce 5 Watermelons 4

First you need to understand what the enemies of seed are. Here are the basics...

Storage Containers

Plastic is not airtight! Lets get that out in the open first off. It is not bug or rodent proof either. The best thing in my opinion is glass mason jars. They are airtight and will keep out moisture, bugs and rodents. Yes, mylar bags work great, but I still put them in mason jars to keeping gnawing critters at bay.

Moisture

Many seeds can have many different ideal moisture storage rates, but this can get complicated. For the home gardener the best advice is this:

To quote from Susan Ashworth's book..."vegetable seeds are at their peak when they reach maximum dry weight on the mother plant." Generally, this means a moisture percentage of 8-10%. Many people use silica gel packets to keep seeds at the ideal moisture inside mason jars. There are moisture strip test tapes you can buy that will indicate moisture levels (we will be offering these soon).

Exceptions...

  • If you plan to freeze your seed, you better understand the moisture level that your particular seed should be stored at before freezing. The reason is seed can be severely damaged when frozen if it contains too much moisture. We recommend the book Seed To Seed for more information.
  • Do not get carried away! Drying seeds to 0% moisture WILL destroy them in many cases.

Light

Seeds need to be kept in a dark and cool environment. Certain seeds are triggered to germinate in the light. Keep them in a dark closet, root cellar or refrigerator. You want to keep them in a dormant stage.

Temperature

This is probably the number one problem with seeds. I've seen more farmers or nurserymen than I can count drag their entire seed collection into the greenhouse and leave them there while they plant or head to the field. That could be one day or many, but most greenhouses get HOT. That is what they are supposed to do, but that will destroy the viability of the seed left in the packages unattended. Take only what you intend to plant to the greenhouse or garden.

Even leaving them out in the sun on the moist ground is bad when planting. I can't tell you how many times I've seen this. Gardeners drag paper seed packets that wick up moisture through the hot/moist garden while planting. Then they will store the remaining unused seed for next year after it has been sun-baked and full of moisture, only to wonder next year why they have "bad seed".

The point is you need to store your seed in a consistently cool area. That means no wild fluctuations in temperature. Preferably in the 40-45 degree range for maximum storage life.

Fungus/Mildew/Mold

Store clean, dry seed and this will not be a problem. If the seed is too moist, it will mold. If you have stored seed like watermelon (lots of sugars) and not properly cleaned them...expect problems. Store only clean, dry seed and you will be just fine.

Bugs

Weevils and the like can be a real problem in beans, corn and grains. I suggest drying beans to the proper moisture level and then freezing them before storing them. This will kill any live or larval bugs.

 

These are the basics of seed storage. To learn more about seed storage and seed saving get Seed To Seed by Susan Ashworth.


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