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Survival Seed Banks Buyer’s Guide

survival seeds and sees bank

For years I’m trying to find the perfect survival seed bank which I would add to my emergency essential kit. During my quest I’ve looked at many typical seed banks, bought quite a few of them, and choose three which I added to my survival kit. This blog post is some kind of summary of my observations and analysis, with some recommendations about what seeds the ideal survival seed bank should contain, and how it should be packaged.

Main idea behind emergency seed bank (also known as survival seed banks, or survival seed kits) is to use a water and air tight container, fill it up with a bunch of different vegetable and fruit seeds, seal the container and put it on a shelf or other storage place for long term storage. So you could use those seeds to grow a survival garden if, for any reason, the grocery from our stores become unavailable or hard to get.

While I don’t mind this approach, I think far better idea is to use survival seeds to grow a small garden RIGHT NOW, as part of your current lifestyle, collect the seeds from your garden, and then store them back in your survival seed bank. This way, in case the food from grocery store really become scare, you will already posses the knowledge about gardening, you will have the gardening tools, the soil will be prepared for planting, and you’ll easily expand your survival garden to suite your needs.

Comparing All Seed Banks – Most Important Features To Look For:

When I analyze seed banks, to make my comparison, I always order one seed bank from that seed company or manufacturer. Few years ago I would start my analysis by buying the smallest one available, but frequently the number of seeds and varieties in those “beginners” seed banks weren’t the same as in bigger ones, so lately I decided to always purchase top product from every seed company to make my survival seeds reviews.

1. Survival Seed Banks Long Term Storage Capabilities

seed bank
Seed bank needs to have a resistant packaging which can be re-sealed once opened

I noticed that some seed bank manufacturers over-hype the possibility of long term storage of their seed bank, making claims about 20-or-more years storage life, due to special packaging materials and seed preparation techniques they use. From my experience, factors that influence seed longevity the most are drying the seeds before storing them, making sure not to expose them to high temperatures or light, and keeping them away from pests, bugs or other animals. Really is important to store only dry seeds and keep them away from moisture, so sometime I put a desiccant in the jar with my seeds. I keep all my seeds in dark and relatively cold place, and still test germination once a year (by using those seeds to start my garden every year!). Really can’t say with certainty that storing seed in mylar bags had any influence on my seeds, compared to one I stored in plain glass jars. Most seeds seem to store well, and those which don’t, seem to degrade after few years even when frozen in a freezer (although, frozen seeds can last about 16 time longer than seeds you store ant room temperatures!).

2. The Quantity of Seeds

All seed bank that are roughly the size of a soda bottle contain somewhere from 20 to about 40 seed backs, which is from my experience enough to plant maybe quarter of a acre of garden space. So, claims made by some seed company that their survival seed bank which is the size of a small container contains enough seeds to plant a hole acre of land seems really unrealistic! To plant that much land, you would need at least few gallons of seeds!

To plant my half-acre survival garden which my wife and I plant every year, we use about 8-10 POUNDS of seeds! So, realistically, 20 or 30 small packets of seeds just won’t cut it. To put things in perspective, for half acre garden you would need some 10 ounces of sweet corn, 3 pounds of mixed beans, 10 ounces of peas, 2 ounces of squash seeds, 3 ounces of beet, and so on..

3. Survival Seeds Types and Varieties Offered

Seeds for survival garden
Many Seed banks don’t offer plenty of varieties

Besides the quantity of seeds in most survival seed bank, another thing that disappoints me is the types or varieties of seeds being offered. One of the seed bank I bought for my review offers some 20,000 celery seeds and 30,000 lettuce seeds (in three varieties), but as little as 100 seeds from beans, peas and corn! Beans, peas, corn..those are you staple vegetables – vegetables that store well and can feed your family, offering high nutrient value and calories. By skimping on those varieties and filling the seed bank with watery low nutrition vegetables like radish, lettuce and celery, this manufacturer increased the total number of seeds, but you would have very little value from those seeds. In survival situations, vegetables like Brussels sprouts, radish, lettuce, celery, basil and other spices don’t count as real food! If the seed count was reversed, and they offer couple of thousands of seeds from vegetables like corn, peas, beans, turnips, cabbage, beets, carrots and potatoes, that would be a totally different story!

Many survival seed bank offer just one variety of most important staple vegetables, like beans and cabbage. Instead of having a thousand seeds from just this one variety, it would be better if they offered more varieties of each species. That’s why I recommend seed banks that offer more varieties of each species, some offer two or three varieties of most important vegetables, some even more. You can never be sure how exactly will some particular variety perform in any specific garden, so it’s better to have a choice! Every garden is different, not only because of climate, but because of very localized factors, like soil type, sun exposure, water, and so on. Every year when we start our garden, for every vegetable we decide to grow, I choose at least three different species so I can monitor their growth and performance. Next year, I plant the best performing variety from last year, and two new ones, to see which will perform better.

Also, the choice of certain varieties in some of the seed vaults also isn’t the best choice, in my opinion. For example, many seed banks include Beefsteak, Roma and Brandywine tomatoes. These tomato varieties are known to request almost perfect growing conditions and a long growing season, which isn’t always an options for everybody. Smaller tomato varieties, which give more fruits and grow more quickly are better choice for survival garden. Cherry tomatoes are example of tomatoes that would be a great additions to most seed banks, since cherry tomatoes grow quickly, are productive and don’t need perfect growing conditions (you can grow cherry tomatoes even on balconies!). In midst of food emergency, you don’t want to grow varieties that take long time to grow, or are susceptible to blossom end rot, like Roma tomatoes.

4. Locally Adapted Seed Banks

USDA Hardiness Zones
Only few seed banks mention regionally adapted seeds.

Some of the seed varieties offered aren’t adapted for regional differences and distinct growing conditions. You have to be very careful when choosing a emergency seed bank to check if vegetables included in that seed bank grow well in your climate zone.

As far as I can tell, only two seed companies have regionally adapted seeds, claiming that they put different varieties of seeds into their seed bank based on the region the buyer is from. That’s probably the best option, since it is challenging to make a seed mix which would grow well in all growing conditions.

All manufacturers really should offer more options, at least a dozen of survival seed banks adapted for every climate region we have in US. There are 12 eco regions in US, so 12 slightly different seed banks offered by one seed company is something I would like to see, but couldn’t find for now.

Overall Review

Over the course of few years, I bought and reviewed 9 seed banks, out of 10 I found so far on the market (I plan to purchase and review the remaining one this year!). Overall, out of nine reviewed seed banks, 4 were huge disappointment and I would NOT recommend those survival seed banks to anyone.

Out of remaining five, two are good choice if you plant to buy a survival seed bank and use the seeds for planting a garden, but are not the best choice for long term storage (if you plan to put the seed bank in freezer, or some other place and just forget about it).

Only three survival seed vaults meat most of the criteria: quantity of seeds, variety of seeds, local adaptability of seeds, and long term storage capabilities (packaging which is sturdy enough to endure rough conditions, and can be resealed once it is opened). These three emergency seed banks I reviewed in detail, so here I’m just going to post key features of each one.

Which Survival Seed Banks Are The Best?

COMPARE SEED BANKS – Read complete reviews of all the survival seed bank and view comparison chart here:

Survival Seed Bank Comparison Chart

Survival Seed Bank

survival-seed-bank

 

Quantity: 30,000 seeds
Variety: 22 varieties of Open Pollinated Heirloom Seeds
Packaging: practically indestructible waterproof container made from plastic material
Probably the best known survival seed bank on the market. Read the review and find out if it deserves that status..
Price: $149
I wrote a detail review of Survival Seed Bank, you can read it here: Survival Seed Bank Complete Review

 

Emergency Seed Bank

emergency seed bank

 

Quantity: 37.000+ seeds
Variety: 33 varieties of Open Pollinated Heirloom Seeds, sealed in an airtight military grade Seed Vault.
Packaging: water-resistant Military Grade Ammo Box (container)
Price: $72,95
When it comes to quality of seeds and price-to-quality ratio, Emergency Seed Banks are right up there with the very best on the market!
I wrote a detail review of Emergency Seed Bank, you can read it here: Emergency Seed Bank Complete Review

 

Heirloom Organics Seed Vault

city survival seed vault

 

Quantity:55,000 seeds
Variety:30 varieties of non hybrid vegetable seeds
Packaging: sturdy plastic container, can be resealed
Price: $99
Heirloom Organics Non-Hybrid Seed Packs are sustainable choice for home, homestead and professional gardeners, offering most seeds you can get for your money.

I wrote a detail review of Survival Seed Vault, you can read it here: Heirloom Organics Seed Vault Complete Review

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How To Transplant Your Seedlings To Their Permanent Homes

vegetable seedlings

(Note that this article does not apply to seeds that have been sown directly outdoors. They are already used to outdoor conditions.)

vegetable seedlingsYour little seedlings have grown nicely, and are healthy strong little plants. Now it’s time for them to move outdoors to their permanent homes, in containers (or in the ground – the same principles apply), each according to its proper time. What I’m referring to by “each in its proper time” is that some plants are cool weather plants (lettuce, spinach, others) that can be planted outside early and others (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, others) cannot go out until danger of frost is over or you are prepared to take some protective action on cold nights. The obvious protective action with container plants is to bring them inside. But in any case, the warmth-lovers aren’t really going to take off and grow much until the weather is warm. So you will not gain much by putting them out much before the last frost date.

Ideally, you would “harden off” your little plants before transplanting them to the outdoors. This means to gradually accustom them to the stronger light outdoors, the breezes or winds, and the fluctuating temperatures. This applies only to seedlings that have been grown indoors (under lights or in a windowsill) or in a greenhouse or hoophouse: in other words, they’ve been in a sheltered environment. If you just plop them outside in the strong sun, breezes, etc., they’re going to be very shocked, decline, and probably not thrive. They may even die.

hardening-off tomatoes“Hardening them off” is the ideal way to do this (but not the only way, as we will see later). It’s done by taking the seedlings outdoors for one hour the first day, then two hours the second day, and gradually increasing the time they are outdoors until it’s almost an entire day, at which time you can transplant them out. This takes a week or two and it takes cooperating weather, really, for most of a week. It cannot be done in rain, serious cold, or serious wind.

I’m sure some people manage to do it: but it just doesn’t work in my life. Even if the weather cooperates (which rarely happens), taking all the little plants in and out all the time is a real nuisance and more time and trouble than I want to cope with. And I’m home most of the time! I just cannot imagine how people who work away from home could possibly cope with hardening plants off.

But if you can do this: it’s the ideal way. If you cannot manage it, don’t despair. There’s another way, and I (at least) find it much easier and much less trouble and very successful.

For the rest of us….. you can *protect* the little plants for about a week after they have been transplanted out rather than hardening them off prior to transplanting out. I find this much easier. The idea: you want to protect them from some of the strong sun, the wind, the cold until they gradually become more used to the wide world of the outdoors. So, we’ll discuss transplanting them out first, then protecting them.

The perfect time to transplant your little plants out would be on an overcast day, or in the early evening, so they can recover a bit from being transplanted before the strong sun hits them. Absent the perfect time: transplant them when it’s convenient for you. They’ll manage if you protect them.

See my article on compost, soil and fertilizer for directions on preparing the container. Then you just scoop a hole in the potting soil. Water your little seedling, upend its pot or 6-cell pack, and encourage the seedling to come out of the pot or pack. I do this by squeezing the sides of a pot, or by scooping the plant, and its root ball and soil, out of a 6-pack (using a table knife or teaspoon). Then put the plant’s root ball in the hole you’ve scooped, fill in around it with potting soil, pat the soil down gently with your hands, and water and feed the little plant (use water containing plant food).

Note that most little plants should be transplanted to be at the same level as they were in their prior container: however, tomatoes benefit by being buried deep. This may seem strange, but if you snip off the lower leaves of tomato plants and bury the plant up to its top clump of leaves, it will form roots all along the stem and will benefit in the long-run, producing tomatoes sooner for you.

milk jug greenhouseOK, the little plant is transplanted. Now to protect it for a while. If the weather is cool and the plant is small enough, you can use a milk jug greenhouse, made by cutting the bottom off a milk jug. If the plant is in a really breezy spot, I generally stick a twig (or a small piece of bamboo) down inside the milk jug and into the soil, to ensure that it doesn’t blow over. In really warm weather, I don’t like to use these as I think they might cook the plants.

In really warm weather or for larger plants, you can just shade your plant from the strongest (overhead) sun, and shelter it from the prevailing wind. You can do this by using a little chicken wire cage around the plant, and covering all or part of the chicken-wire cage with plastic. I like to use white plastic kitchen-sized garbage bags for this. They are cheap, and easily available. The (often white) plastic bags you get in the supermarket to carry your groceries home will work nicely for this task, too. I leave the protection there for a few days, then tear part of it away, to leave a partial covering. A few more days later, I’ll remove the rest of the covering.

Rather than a chicken wire cage, you can just use a few stakes or a few pieces of small bamboo (maybe even chopsticks!) to support the covering. Rather than using plastic for the covering, you can use a bit of white or light-colored fabric (old t-shirt, torn old pillowcase, etc.), or of course you can use floating row cover. Some people buy “hot-kaps” which are special little tents made of waxed paper. I have never used these, so I do not know how well they work. There are various other gadgets available and various other home-made contraptions.

container gardenAs a container gardener, you might have an even easier way to do this: if you can put the container in a spot that is sheltered from the wind and in shade, that should be sufficient protection for the little plants. Then gradually pull the container into the full sun and normal amount of wind. I’d do this over the course of a week. This sounds fairly complicated: but it might be as easy as giving the container a little shove as you walk in the door each day after work. It’s one of the things that’s probably more time-consuming to write about than to do.

I also pay particular attention to keeping the soil moist when the plants have first been transplanted outdoors and need to get over their shock at being transplanted.

Now your little plant has been transplanted outdoors, protected, fed, watered, has become accustomed to the wide outdoor world, and is well on its way to maturity.

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FAQ: Containers, Potting Soil and Fertilizers

Containers, Potting Soil, and Fertilizers

Please refer to our Seed Starting FAQ for directions on starting seeds.

FAQ: Containers, Potting Soil and Fertilizers

1. Are there any requirements for containers?

2. What should I fill the containers with?

3. How about fertilizer? What should I use and how often?

1. Are there any requirements for containers?

carrot vegetable containerAs far as I’m concerned, there is one absolute requirement for containers for living plants: the container must have drainage holes. No excuses: if you want the plant to live, the container must have drainage holes. Often you can drill holes in containers that don’t already have them. If you have a beautiful container that you really want to use but cannot drill holes in, then you can use it as a “cache pot.” Pot your plant in something else with drainage holes, and set that pot in the beautiful pot with no holes. In this case, be sure to drain the water out of the “cache pot” an hour or so after each time you water.

Otherwise, anything that will hold soil and have enough room for what you plant in it will be OK. Clay (terracotta) pots are cheap and look good, but dry out quickly, are heavy, and tend to shatter from frost in below freezing weather. Plastic can look reasonably good (as honest plastic) or fairly terrible (as fake-something else). Most of my containers are plastic. Wood is lovely but expensive. There are various other materials.

Non-traditional containers include five-gallon buckets, laundry baskets lined with plastic, plastic storage containers, heavy plastic growing bags, dishpans, large plastic bowls, and just about anything and everything else that will hold soil.

2. What should I fill the containers with?

potting soilI’ve looked this up in several container-garden specific books that I own to be certain I’m giving you good advice. Fortunately, the books agree with my own experience, so I am answering this based on my own experience, plus the recommendations of several books.

My first recommendation is a commercial, all-purpose Soilless Mix, often called “potting soil.” One popular brand is “Pro-Mix” and another brand is “Jiffy-Mix”. There are several others and I have used various brands with uniformly good success. These are available at local garden centers. If you want organic potting soil or you cannot find it locally, you can buy it online at Gardens Alive!, Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, or other online suppliers. This is a very, very expensive way to buy it though: local garden centers should be much cheaper. Because I use a lot of it, I buy it in 3.8 cubic foot compressed bales, and store it in two garbage pails on our deck. Smaller sizes are available too.

Garden soil, no matter how good, is not suitable for containers. Purchased “topsoil” (alone) is not suitable for containers either. Both are too heavy, and will compact. Don’t buy potting soil labelled for one specific use either, but get an all-purpose blend.

If you want to, you can add various things to your soilless mix: sand (builder’s or “sharp” sand, not seashore sand), for one. I rarely do, though, but use it “as is.” If you have compost, you can add that (for outdoor containers only). If you can purchase “spent mushroom soil” economically, you can add that to outdoor containers. Here’s a link where you can purchase mushroom soil. I don’t recommend adding *anything* that isn’t sterile to indoor containers. Once you’ve had one infestation of fungus gnats (or other pests) in indoor plants, you won’t want to add anything non-sterile to potting soil used indoors! (Please note that if you add either compost, you’ll need to adjust the fertilizer advice given below.)

The alternative is to mix your own “potting soil” or “soilless mix”. I used to do this before the premixed kind was easily available. It’s bit of a nuisance and I don’t do it now, but it can certainly be done. If you want/need to mix your own, I recommend this mix:

(“Parts” are by volume, not by weight. One bucket of this, one bucket of that, etc……)

One part of peat moss or coir (coconut fiber)
One part of perlite or horticultural grade vermiculite
One part of builder’s sand
One part of purchased and sterile topsoil (this can be omitted)

Other “recipes” for potting soil that also work well are found here..

3. How about fertilizer? What should I use and how often should I fertilize?

container-garden-fertilizersYou will realize, of course, that regular feeding of plants in containers is absolutely necessary. Again, I’ve looked this up in a couple of books. I recommend a two-fold approach (based on the books plus my own experience):

1. Mix a slow-release fertilizer with your potting soil before you pot the plant. “Osmacote” is one popular brand of slow-release fertilizer. Slow-release fertilizers are available at local garden centers as well as online. For organic gardeners, there are slow-release (pelleted) organic fertilizers, including pelleted fish fertilizer and pellitized compost.

2. When the plants are growing, apply a complete, balanced fertilizer, diluted to half strength, once a week. You want to look for the words “complete,” “balanced,” and “micronutrients” on the fertilizer. The three numbers on fertilizers represent nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium (N, P, K). I don’t think the specific numbers are really all that important. You are going to give your plants *enough* of all three main elements. As long as there is *enough*, a little extra of one or the other isn’t going to harm anything. Grossly too much might be harmful but a little too much won’t. And if you apply the weekly fertilizer at half recommended strength, you aren’t going to have grossly too much.

I have used “Miracle-Gro” and other commercial fertilizers (even houseplant food!) with very good results, and I’ve also used organic fertilizers with very good results.

These are the basics. There are various other beneficial additives, such as greensand (a natural mineral with many micronutrients), kelp spray, and a host of others. If you want to do an absolutely superb job with your plants, you’ll probably want to investigate these or some other soil amendments, but they are outside the scope of this article.

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How To Start Seeds FAQ

howToStartSeeds

 Seed Starting FAQ:

This FAQ is based on how I start seeds. Many variations to my methods of doing things are equally valid. But I can only tell you how I do it – I don’t know, in any significant degree of detail, how other people do it. My way of starting seeds works for me so I am certain that if you follow my directions carefully, it will work for you too. If you find another way that works better for you or is more convenient for you, that’s obviously fine. I do mention alternatives in a few cases.

OK, here goes – in question and answer format. You can click on a question (immediately below) to go directly to its answer or you can browse through all the questions and answers by clicking here.

1. How do I know when to start a particular seed?

2. What containers should I use for seed-starting?

3. I see that some people recommend starting seeds together in a larger container, and transplanting them to 6-cell packs when they have two sets of seedling leaves. Why don’t you recommend this?

4. What seed-starting medium do you recommend?

5. Can I put more than one type of seed together in a 6-cell pack?

6. OK, I have the seed-starting mix, and the 6-cell packs, and seeds, and labels: and I’m ready to start seeds. Now what? What do I actually do?

7. Now my seeds are sown. What next? Where do I put the 6-cell packs?

8. One of my seeds has sprouted! Now what?

Questions and Answers

1. How do I know when to start a particular seed?

First, you need to know your expected last frost date. If you do not know it – and you’re in the USA – contact your state’s Cooperative Extension: either using their website, or phoning your local (county) Extension Agent. Links enabling you to find both are on our Resources Page. (If you’re not in the USA, I’m sure the equivalent information is available somewhere in your country, but I can’t help with that.) Asking a neighbor who has a vegetable garden can help too – assuming that your neighbor’s information is accurate. Gardening neighbors of mine have given me some wildly inaccurate answers to this question.

Then, knowing the last frost date, you consult the growing directions for the particular plant. These will usually say something like this: “Start seeds 10-12 weeks before last frost date” or “Start seeds 1 to 2 weeks before last frost date.” There are also some tables giving these dates, and they are handy. One is located here. Many gardening books also have such tables.

If you see directions such as “Start seeds May 1,” you need to be wary. What area was the writer referring to? By May 1, the weather may already be too warm for lettuce to grow happily in Southern Florida or California, for example, whereas other areas may have a foot of snow on still-frozen ground.

2. What containers should I use for seed-starting?

After experimenting with many types of containers, I settled on 6-cell packs. They are space-economical, they aren’t tippy, and my seedlings grow very well in them. They are reusable and – with reasonable care – will last quite a few years. Their only disadvantage is that it’s almost impossible to buy them in small quantities (although we are selling them as a convenience for our customers). Of course, if you buy seedling plants at a nursery, then you can save the packs.

Other possibilities include:

Foam coffee cups – they aren’t space-economical and they are tippy. They also use quite a bit of your seed-starting mix, but otherwise they are OK. Punch drainage holes in the bottom with a pencil.
Little paper cups (about 3″ high) – I think these are sold for use in bathroom paper-cup holders. These work fairly well. Punch drainage holes in the bottom with a pencil.
Eggcartons – I don’t like them because there’s so little room for seed-starting mix (or the plant’s roots) that you will quickly have to transplant all your little plants. This adds an additional and unnecessary step to the process. Punch a drainage hole in the bottom of each little cup if you use these.
Yogurt cups – not space-economical and not seed-starting mix-economical. Otherwise probably OK, assuming you have a lot of them. Punch drainage holes in the bottom.
Peat pellets – I have never used them, but a friend of mine likes them. They aren’t reusable, and therefore probably somewhat expensive. I’m somewhat skeptical of them because of my bad experiences with peat pots (see below). On the other hand, they include seed-starting mix: they are the container plus the mix.
Peat pots – I’d like to warn you about peat pots. I’ve tried them several times and had very poor results with them. For one thing, you have to water the little plants much more often than with other containers, as they dry out very fast. For another thing, I have had several plants mysteriously just refuse to grow after being transplanted outdoors in their peat pots. The idea is that you leave the little plants in their peat pots, and just bury the peat pots in the soil and they will dissolve away into the soil. (In fact, you must do it this way: the plant’s roots will grow into the walls of the peat pot.) Well, in several cases of plants refusing to grow for no apparent reason, I finally dug up the roots and discovered that the peat pots had not dissolved at all, and the plant’s roots were still confined mainly to the peat pot, months after being transplanted outdoors. So I do not recommend them.

3. I see that some people recommend starting many seeds together in a larger container and transplanting them to 6-cell packs when they have two sets of seedling leaves. Why don’t you recommend this?

I just cannot see the point of it. It adds an extra and unnecessary step, more work. It is certainly not necessary and I don’t do it. I want to keep the process a simple and easy as I can.

4. What seed-starting medium do you recommend?

    My first recommendation: A commercial seed-starting mix, available at local garden centers and nurseries.
Advantages: This is designed for starting seeds, it’s a fine mix. It’s sterile (to prevent damping-off: a fungus that results in the sudden death of seedlings). It’s just right for the job.
Disadvantages: None, if starting seeds on a fairly small scale (as most container gardeners probably do). It’s a little expensive if you need to buy several packages per season.

My second recommendation: A commercial, all-purpose soilless mix, available at local garden centers and nurseries. One popular brand is “Pro-Mix” and another brand is “Jiffy-Mix”. There are several others and I have used various brands with uniformly good success. This is what I use because I start so many seeds that the seed-starting mix gets a bit expensive.
Advantages: Economical when bought in larger quantities. Sterile. Works very well. Is very versatile: you can also use this when you transplant the little seedlings into larger containers indoors (tomatoes, etc.) or as your indoor or outdoor potting soil.
Disadvantages: Can be a bit coarse for the smaller seeds. You can strain it through a piece of 1/2″ or 1/4″ mesh hardware cloth to get out the larger pieces. I very seldom bother to do this, though.

My third recommendation: A mixture of one part peat or sphagnum moss or coir (coconut fiber), one part (purchased and sterile) potting soil, and one part horticultural vermiculite (or perlite, or sand). I used this before soilless mix was readily available. I wouldn’t dream of using it now.
Advantages: Maybe someone, somewhere, can’t purchase soilless mix locally.
Disadvantages: The inconvenience of having to buy three things, store them, mix them, etc. It’s a nuisance, and I believe that it is not as good for the task as the others listed above. But it will work. I did it for years: I used four big garbage pails for storage: one for peat moss, one for potting soil, one for vermiculite or sand, and the fourth for the already-mixed medium.

WHAT NOT TO DO: Do not use unsterilized soil from your garden. It will probably have organisms that cause damping-off, and this will result in the death of your seedlings. In almost all cases, garden soil is also too heavy for good drainage in a container. If you have no other choice and must use garden soil, you must sterilize it first. I recommend Nancy Bubel’s book “The New Seed-Starter’s Handbook” for information on using garden soil.

    5. Can I put more than one type of seed together in a 6-cell pack?

    You really shouldn’t. For starters, they would probably germinate at different times and this would be a problem (as you’ll see below). Also, watering requirements would be different, etc.

6. OK, I have the seed-starting mix, and the 6-cell packs, and seeds, and labels: and I’m ready to start seeds. Now what? What do I actually do?

    First, fill as many 6-cell packs as you plan to use with your seed-starting mix. The next step is to get the mix wet. Seed-starting mixes (and soilless mixes) all resist getting wet but I have found that using the hottest tap water available will get them thoroughly wet. So I take the 6-cell packs to my kitchen sink and get them thoroughly wet using very hot water. Then I either let them sit overnight (to cool down) or run cool water through them to cool them down. (I don’t want to put the seeds into scalding hot seed-starting mix.)

I know some people put a large quantity of seed-starting mix in a bucket, and get it all wet first, then fill their 6-cell packs (or whatever containers they use). I’ve tried this, and I just don’t find it as easy and quick as filling the containers first, then getting the mix wet. But either is fine: whichever you prefer.

howToStartSeedsNext, assemble the items you need to start the seeds. The picture to the left shows you what I use:

6-cell pack filled with now-damp seed-starting mix
Saucer, in case the 6-cell pack drips
Packet of seeds
Labels
Scotch tape
Scissors
Pencil
Toothpick
One little dish with water
One little dish with nothing in it

Here’s what I actually do:

First, I write the seed’s name, variety, and the date on a label, using the pencil.
Second, I shake a few of the seeds into the dry little dish.
Third, I dip the toothpick into the water in the other little dish.
Fourth, I use the toothpick to pick up one seed at a time and place a seed (more often two) in each cell of the 6-cell pack. (I dip the toothpick into the water again for each seed.)
Fifth, I smooth just a little of the seed starting mix over each seed, using a finger.
Sixth, I put the label in the 6-cell pack.
Seventh, I shake unused seeds from the (dry) little dish back into their packet.
Eighth, I scotch-tape the seed packet closed and put it away until the next time I will use it. It is best to keep your seeds under refrigeration, if you can.

Finished! In the case of very large seeds, I will skip the toothpick and just drop them into place with my hands. Very large seeds also get pushed down a bit into the mix (I use the eraser end of the pencil to do this). In the case of really tiny (almost microscopic) seeds, I have to be content to put several together in a clump, as this cannot be helped. There are some exceptions to this procedure: some seeds don’t get covered at all as they need light to germinate. But basically, that’s how it’s done.

I usually put two seeds in each cell. When they have both sprouted, I will cut one off with a small pair of scissors so the other will have room to develop. (Do not pull one out, that may disturb the other’s roots: use scissors.) Sowing two is just insurance – it insures that I get at least one that sprouts. In the case of expensive seeds, I don’t do this – then I just put one seed per cell.

        7. Now my seeds are sown. What next? Where do I put the 6-cell packs?

        Many, probably most, seeds will germinate well and quickly in temperatures from around 70 – 85 F (21 – 29C). This is just a bit warmer than average house temperatures (well, it’s warmer than we keep our house anyway). In other words: they pretty much want the same conditions that bread wants while rising. There are several possibilities for keeping your seeds warm while they are germinating:
Use of a seedling heating pad (commercially available at many online sellers). These tend to be expensive.
Use of a mini-electric greenhouse (commercially available at several online sellers). I have two of these. Their floor space is 17″ x 11″ (each) and each will hold eight 6-cell packs (stacked in two layers). One cost me $30 and the other (on sale) $15.
Putting the seeds on top of a refrigerator or freezer – if the top is warm.
Putting the seeds on top of a hot water heater.
Putting the seeds on top of a heating pad (the kind used for arthritis and so on) with the heating pad set on “low” and wrapped in a thick towel.
Heating a brick or stone in the oven, wrapping it in a towel, and setting the seeds on it. Reheat from time to time….
Putting the seeds on a sunny windowsill.
Putting the seeds in an oven, with the oven OFF, but the oven light on. (If you forget and turn on the oven: total disaster! Maybe even a fire.)
If you cannot provide a warm place like this for your seeds while they are germinating, they will probably sprout anyway, but it will take them longer.

Unless your seed will be in a closed environment (mini-electric greenhouse, etc.), it’s a good idea to cover the cell-pack loosely with a piece of plastic wrap (cling film) or a plastic bag to keep it from drying out quickly. You need to keep the seed-starting mix damp (but not dripping wet) while the seeds are germinating. I use a spray-bottle (mister) for this.

These are what I think of as “standard conditions” for seed-sprouting. There are exceptions to the standard conditions: some seeds need cooler temperatures to germinate. Some need total darkness to germinate. Some seeds need light to germinate. Some seeds need to be chilled before they will germinate (but these are mostly shrubs, trees, or perennials). Refer to your seeds’ growing directions for this information, or to a book such as The New Seed-Starter’s Handbook or Park’s Success with Seeds. Many other gardening books also have this information.

8. One of my seeds has sprouted! Now what?

        Remove the covering. Put the covering aside, and do not cover your seeds again. Take the seeds off the heating pad (etc.), and don’t use the heating pad again. They no longer need such warm temperatures and, in fact, somewhat cooler temperatures are better. Ordinary room temperatures are fine from here onwards. Put the 6-cell pack into as much light as you can give it: under fluorescent lights or on a sunny windowsill. I do this as soon as even one seed has sprouted. The others will sprout very soon. (This is one reason why you didn’t mix the types in a 6-cell pack.) The cell pack will, of course, need to be set in a flat (plastic tray made for this purpose), or a dish, or a foil pan so water doesn’t drip on to the surface below.

Now your seedlings are little growing plants. Keep them well-watered: bottom watering (setting the 6-cell pack in a dish of water and letting it take up water slowly) is usually recommended and I do use it for tiny fragile seedlings (but it takes more time, so I top-water more robust or larger seedlings). They will need to be fed, as all plants do, but with dilute plant-foods. I first feed seedlings about a week after they have sprouted, and then I feed them about twice a week with an all-purpose plant food (or all-purpose house plant food) DILUTED TO HALF STRENGTH (half the strength recommended on the container). Fish emulsion can be used instead of the all-purpose plant food, but if you have a cat, it may be a problem: the cat may want to dig up the seedlings because of the fishy smell.

Give your seedlings as much light as you possibly can. If you are using fluorescent lights, the lights need to be just a few inches above the seedlings: about 2″ above the little plants is perfect. Lights can be hung on a chain and raised and lowered as the plants grow, or the plants can sit on something (egg cartons? books?) and be raised and lowered. Seedlings should have a “night time” when the lights are turned off. I turn our fluorescent lights on around 6 am and turn them off around 10 pm each night. The ideal is 16 hours with the lights, 8 hours in the dark, each day (very like the human day/night cycle). Some people use timers for their lights.

My fluorescent lights are ordinary, cheap, 4′ long shop-lights with ordinary, cheap cool-white, 40 watt, fluorescent bulbs. A combination of warm white and cool white might be better, but I can never find warm-white bulbs. You need to be careful to get 40 watt bulbs: there are some 4′ bulbs that are lesser wattage.

If your seedlings are growing in a sunny windowsill – and it really does need to be a sunny windowsill – it helps if you can reflect the light back at them, by a covering a piece of cardboard with aluminum foil (shiny side out) and supporting it inside of (towards the house) the seedlings. Foil can be used underneath the seedlings too: or they can be set in a foil-lined open box (such as a shoe-box). If your seedlings are growing tall and splindly, they are not getting enough light.

Sometimes, seedlings will outgrow their 6-cell packs before before it’s warm enough for them to go outdoors. This is often the case with tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. They cannot be put outdoors until after the last frost in spring. Then you will need to transplant the seedlings into a larger container: I use 4″ square pots for this. If you’ve started your seeds way early, you may even need to transplant them another time before they go outdoors. This is a nuisance, but it will get you more-developed, larger plants to transplant out, and earlier tomatoes (etc.). (If you have a long frost-free season and/or you don’t want to have to transplant anything more than once, then just start the seeds a bit later.) On the other hand, plants such as lettuce that like cool weather won’t need to be transplanted indoors at all: they can go out in early spring.

Your seedlings cannot be transplanted outdoors without either being “hardened off” or protected in some manner. “Hardening off” the seedlings means taking them outdoors for increasing amounts of time over several days, starting with one or two hours per day and building up to all day. This gives them chance to gradually become accustomed to stronger sunlight, winds, etc. I find this to be a terrible nuisance, and I don’t see how people who work away from home all week could possibly do it. Therefore, I protect my newly-transplanted seedlings instead. There are various methods of doing this: the idea is just to keep most of the sun and wind away from them for a few days. I will cover hardening off or protecting the little plants and transplanting them outside in a subsequent article, to be posted soon.

I hope this all makes sense to you. If you’ve never started seeds before, reading a book such as “The New Seed-Starter’s Handbook” (or one of the excellent general-purpose gardening books reviewed in our Bookstore) would probably be extremely helpful.

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Mulch Research Report: Mulching Your Garden

diffrent mulching materials

diffrent mulching materialsAll gardening experts agree that mulching your garden around plants and bare ground is the most important step in creating a low maintenance vegetable garden. Mulching is a simple process that suppresses weeds, prevents the soil from drying out to fast, prevents erosion, reduces the compaction of soil, moderate ground temperature, prevents mud from splattering, increases the nutrients level in the soil, increases the populations of beneficial soil microbes and earthworms and – let’s not forget – makes your garden look prettier and well kept.

When to Mulch

Mulching should be done every year in spring time just about when the soil starts to warm up, which depends on your climate. Some gardeners, especially ones living in colder climates mulch in autumn so the mulch would prevent the soil from thawing and freezing during winter. Besides regular once-a-year mulching, you should add much immediately after disturbing the soil, meaning after planting. If you have a bare ground patch in your garden, you can put mulch on it any time.

How Much Mulch

At the beginning start by putting around 1-2 inches of mulch if your garden has a layer of compost on top. If you haven’t used compost, you can add around 2-3 inches of mulch. In any case, the mulch will break down over time, so you should add it when needed. But don’t go overboard! Too much mulch (more than 2-3 inches) is too much, it will harbor pests like slugs, prevent the soil from warming up in the spring and keep out moisture from watering and rain. Only in very sunny spots you can use more than 3 inches of mulch, if really needed.

How to Mulch Your Garden

Start by removing all the weeds, grass, and other unwanted plant material. Then loosen top of the soil which will at the same time incorporate what’s left of old mulch (from previous year) into the ground. Water your soil well and then start adding mulch but never pile it up against tree trunks or plant’s stems. Insure that the mulch isn’t touching the stems and that there is no mulch on top of (lower) plants and on leaves.

Types of Mulch

There are all kinds of material which can serve as mulch, and I will address each of them further in this article. Some types of mulch are preferred for vegetable gardens, while other (like bark or pebbles) are used almost always in flowerbeds, shrubs and pathways. If the nutrients levels in your soil are in desired range, you can use any other organic material which you fancy. If you soil needs more nutrients, adding nutrient-rich, fast decomposing mulch material (like compost and leaf-mold) is a great way to improve your soil at the same time while protecting it.
Be careful which type of mulch you use around your plants, since some types like shredded wood chips use nitrogen from the soil while they’re decomposing. Pine needles and leafmold should be find, but don’t make your layer higher  than inch or two. Bark chips are better choice, but they come at a price.

compost mulchCompost isn’t very suitable as mulching material. Compost is generally speaking animal waste product that has been decomposed entirely and looks like a bit like coffee grounds. Compost is a rich source of nutrients, so if your garden soil needs them, try to get your hands on some compost. The problem with compost when used for mulching is that weeds love it, and wind blown seeds thrive on it. The only way would be to top the compost with other mulch material on it, organic one proffered.

grass clippings mulch
Grass clippings. Great for vegetable gardens, especially if dried first. Just don’t use the grass that was treated with any kind of herbicide! Grass is great mulch, since most of use have it in our front lawns or garden, hence it’s free! Although grass decomposes quickly, don’t put more than 2 inches or it will mat down and prevent correct watering of the soil.

 

hay mulchHay. Avoid using hay as mulch material if possible. Unlike straw which has only the stems of plants, hay has seedhands which can sprout into weeds in your garden. If you do use hay, make sure it’s weed and seeds free, otherwise you’ll make trouble in your garden. Never pull straw or hay up to the stems of your vegetables, or you’ll have rodent and slug damage.

 

Leaf Mold MulchLeaf mold are old leaves from trees and plants, chopped or shredded and aged. It’s not often sold, but you can make leaf mold yourself, it’s quite easy. As a mulch, leaf mold is one of the best – nutrient high and excellent soil amendment. Shredding leaves will not only make them a prettier mulch, but will also speed their decomposition. Earthworms love shredded dried leaves, and turn them great fertilizer. The “no more that 2 inches layer” rule applies here.

 

leaves mulchLeaves. If not shredded first, leaves aren’t a really attractive mulch material. They don’t look attractive and can get be easily blown away by wind. Also, in colder climates, leaves are easily matted and could freeze into blocks of ice, damaging your plants instead of insulating them. If you have access to sufficient quantities of leaves, you can shred them and make mulch using simple rotary mower (just run them over). Don’t use fresh leaves if you don’t know what you’re doing, because some sorts (like Oak) are acidic when fresh. Spread shredded leaves in 2 inches layer.

 

newpaper mulchOld newspapers. Or new ones, if you prefer. 😀 A three or four sheet layer of newspapers is very effective mulch, when it comes to suppressing weeds. Don’t use slick paper or colored newspapers since the colors can contain lead or other heavy metal. The problem with newspapers as mulching material is that you need to wet it down and cover with another layer of heavier material, like bark chips.

 

pine needles mulchPine needles decompose slowly, but during decomposing process they can deplete the soil of nitrogen if used in excess. But don’t worry, 1 or 2 inches of pine needle mulch won’t change the pH levels of your soil. The acidic nature of pine needles makes them not the best mulching material for plants that don’t like acid soil. You can use them on paths or play areas, or around plants in thinner layer.

Sawdust and other wood chip material area a huge drain of nitrogen during their decomposing process.

hay mulchStraw. Straw is a great, cheap mulch for vegetable gardens. They aren’t attractive, so people avoid using it in flower gardens or need the house, but in vegetable gardens they are great source of nutrients. Straw breaks down quickly and won’t mat down like grass or leaves, so you can use a much thick layer that most other mulches (6 or 8 inches is fine). However, if you live in a rainy climate, avoid using straw since it will rot if always wet.

 

Bark is good looking and breaks down slowly, but because its moderately expensive it’s not suitable for vegetable gardens.

Dyed mulches made from pallets or other waste wood should be avoided in vegetable gardens due to the fact their dyed (albeit with non toxic colors).

Gravel and rocks. Perfect for flower gardens, paths or play area but since they don’t improve the soil not recommended for vegetable gardens.

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Beginner’s Guide to Growing Food

garden preparation_small

Organically grown, local food is in the news and sure enough, many of us are looking for help in growing food for the first time.

I want to grow a vegetable garden. How do I start?

raised bed gardeningFor the best results, choose a location that gets at least 6 – 8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Make sure a water source is readily accessible. (Do you have a faucet nearby? Can you install a rain barrel on site?). Also, make sure your site has good drainage.

Don’t have a sunny location? Leafy greens like spinach, mustard greens, bok choy, kale, leeks and Swiss chard—grow well in shady environments, as do turnips, broccoli, rutabagas, cabbage and zucchini…” (Hope Reeves, New York). Shade-loving plants with shallow root systems like beets, radishes and lettuce can be grown in containers smaller than ten inches in diameter.

If you have limited space, consider growing a garden in containers. “Anyone who has a window or a fire escape, some terra cotta or wooden containers, and a bag of soil can grow a multitude of fruits and veggies.” (Hope Reeves, New York, September 2007). Some seed companies sell “miniature” varieties of vegetables that are well-suited for containers (e.g., Thumbelina carrots, Spacemaster cucumbers). Make sure the containers are suitable in size for what you want to grow (tomatoes and peppers are deep-rooted vegetables). The container should have holes for drainage/air circulation. Water your plants regularly — container gardens dry out much faster than gardens in the ground. Some places sell “self-watering” containers. Learn more about Container Vegetable Gardening.

Join a community garden. There are many community gardens out there. The American Community Gardening Association has a database of community gardens.

Test your soil

The most important step to growing healthy vegetables is providing healthy soil. Make this a priority in your first year of gardening.

Even if the only thing you accomplish in your first year of gardening is building a great soil, you will be ahead of the game and richly rewarded later. Before planting anything, have your soil tested by a reputable soil laboratory. Do not try to do this yourself with one of the amateur kits sold at garden centers. You need a thorough assay of the structure and nutrients in your soil, as well as any hazardous materials. Urban gardeners should be concerned about the potential for heavy metals or other toxins in their soil, especially lead and arsenic. Lead in soil is almost a universal condition in urban areas, especially near older buildings that might have shed lead paint and near heavily trafficked roadways, where lead in automobile exhaust has drifted into yards. Purchasing soil for a new garden or raised beds is no guarantee that it is pure. The potential danger of lead being taken up by vegetables is highest in leafy greens and root vegetables. Lead does not appear to be a problem in fruits or fruiting vegetables.

test garden soilBy far the most dangerous aspect of soils with high lead levels is airborne contamination, inhalation, oral ingestion from hands touching lead-laden plants, clothes, shoes, etc.” Lead is very stable and therefore difficult to remove from soil. “I recommend the University of Massachusetts soil testing lab.” It’s inexpensive and you can get information and recommendations on soil fertility, pH, toxins, etc. In soils with high lead levels, take precaution and do not plant directly into the soil. Use raised beds (high enough to keep roots away from lead-laden soil). To create a good soil mixture inexpensively, use the “lasagna gardening” method (described in more detail below).

There is no agreed-upon definition of top soil and no standards. Even within a brand, unlike with potting soil, there’s no standard or consistency. The last time I looked at the ingredients of top soil at Home Depot and Lowe’s, fly ash was one of the main ingredients. I’d never want to grow vegetables in that (probably contains lots of heavy metals). I grow vegetables in raised beds with pure compost made by me. But I still get my soil tested (but not the compost).

If you have concerns about lead in your soil, make sure to thoroughly wash and peel root vegetables before eating.

Not all soil labs test for lead. Check with the lab before sending in your sample. The Maryland Cooperative Extension has a list of regional soil test labs on its website.

A basic soil test will also help you determine the soil’s pH and nutrient levels. Soil pH governs the uptake of nutrients by plants. Vegetables grow best in soil that has a pH between 6.0 to 7.5 (around 6.8 is ideal).

Plants need certain macro-nutrients to thrive, especially nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. A professional soil test should indicate whether your soil contains adequate levels of these nutrients. The test should also indicate the level of vital micro-nutrients, especially calcium and magnesium. Even more important is “saturation percentage” of calcium and magnesium, and the relative saturation of one to the other. The desired range is 65% to 75% for calcium and 10% to 15% for magnesium.

Test your soil once every three years.

Organic Gardening’s website has a good section on understanding soil.

How to I prepare my location for planting?

garden preparationRemove stones, grass, weeds. Check the consistency of your soil. A squeezed handful of soil shouldn’t clump (too much clay) or crumble (too sandy). Vegetables grow best in soil that’s rich in organic matter (a minimum of 5%). You can improve soil by adding compost, aged manure, and other amendments such as lime, bone meal, etc., (based on the results and recommendations of the soil test). Bags of compost can be purchased at garden centers and nurseries, but that gets expensive quickly. Some places offer compost in bulk; you can buy it by the truckload. In Maryland, Pogo Organics offers this service. To save money, build a compost pile of your own. Read the DC Urban Gardeners primer on Composting. Montgomery County Maryland residents can get a free basic compost bin from the Department of Environmental Protection. If you don’t have a yard our outdoor space for a compost bin, consider setting up an indoor vermicomposting (“worm composting”) system to turn your food scraps into compost.

Don’t want to dig up sod? Try Lasagna Gardening or Sheet Composting. Lay down sheets of wet newspaper or cardboard followed by layers of other organic materials (grass clippings, leaves, soil mix, straw). These layers will eventually “smother” the existing vegetation where you want to plant.

Build raised beds. Raised beds tend to have better drainage, and the soil warms up faster in the spring so you can plant a little sooner.

 

When can I plant?

That depends in which USDA Hardiness Zone you live in.

  • Many gardening books provide a basic month-by-month calendar of “what to plant when.” A good one is Rodale’s Almanac & Pest-Control Primer.
  • A good online resource for planning is the Weekend Gardener Grow Guide.
  • Washington Post online has a basic month-by-month gardening calendar.
  • Washington Gardener E-News also provides monthly reminders. Sign up here for the newsletter.

Where can I get seeds and plants?

Purchase plants at local nurseries such as American Plant Food Company and Behnke’s. They’re likely to have a better selection — and healthier plants — than big-box stores such as Home Depot. Avoid plants that are getting long and lanky or yellowish. For the best variety, and/or to save money, many vegetable gardeners prefer to start plants from seed.

Seed Exchanges and Plant Swaps. Check out Washington Gardener magazine’s annual Seed Exchange (January). Neighborhood gardening clubs also hold plant swaps occasionally (find a DC-area garden club here. Go online to exchange seeds at Garden Web or use the Garden Online’s Seed Exchange. Ask your neighbors for seeds or transplants. Post a message to your local Freecycling group and see if anyone in your neighborhood has the seeds/plants you’re looking for. Gardeners like to share!

vegetables from my garden
vegetables from my garden

Seed Catalogs. Good ones for vegetables are Seed Savers Exchange, Seeds of Change, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Fedco Seeds, Vermont Bean Seeds Company. They will send you a free catalog for the asking, or just place your order online.

What about plant pests and diseases?

Plants are susceptible to viruses, parasites, and diseases. The following resources can help you determine what’s bugging your plants, and what to do about it. Vegetable MD Online is diagnostic help from Cornell.

Final Thoughts

Start small, go easy! A single zucchini plant can provide enough zucchinis for two people for an entire summer. It’s easy to plant too much at first and then become overwhelmed with the chores of watering, weeding, harvesting, soil amending, etc. Vegetable gardening takes effort, and it’s extremely rewarding when you succeed. A great resource for determining how much to plant (and how) is Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening. Also, consider starting with some of the easier-to-grow plants: lettuce, Swiss chard, kale, radishes, squash, cucumbers, carrots, turnips, beans, basil, thyme.

 

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Seed Storage Times and Viability

Seed Storage Times and Viability

How long can we store vegetable seeds and still expect them to germinate and grow when planted?

Table below shows the longevity of vegetable seeds in near perfect storage conditions. It is a compilation of my own experience, experience from other gardening bloggers and “estimates” published by gardening websites. Please note that these values can and will vary widely depending on your individual conditions, so virtually everyone will have a different experience. While reasonably accurate, the numbers below are achievable if you follow seed storage guidelines to the best of your possibilities. The numbers are conservative, meaning you could probably store your seeds for longer periods, but again, these are rough estimates for well stored seeds!

Best seeds storage conditions are: very dry, dark, low and stable temperature. These conditions aren’t that hard to achieve if you use a plastic or metal container or ammo case. Put some desiccant (like silica gel) with your seeds in the case, and store the case in a dry and cool (circa 45°F) place. Bear in mind that the temperature should be as steady as possible! In extreme situation, if you have water-resistant container, you could bury it two feet in the ground.

If storage conditions are ideal, some seeds can last twice as long as shown in this table, but these conditions aren’t easy to sustain for such a long periods of time.

The table is sorted alphabetically, but you can click on “relative longevity” text in header to sort it by longevity if you prefer. Or you can search for particular vegetable using the search bar. If you find this table useful , feel free to bookmark it or share it.

 kind of seedrelative longevity (years)
Asparagus
3-4
Beans
3-6
Beets
3-4
Broccoli
4-5
Brussels Sprouts
4-5
Cabbage
4-5
Cabbage, Chinese
3-4
Cantaloupe
6-10
Carrots
3-5
Cauliflower
4-5
Celeriac
4-5
Celery
3-5
Chicory
4-5
Collards
4-5
Corn
4-6
Corn salad (mache)
5-6
Corn, sweet
2-3
Cress
5-6
Cucumbers
5-7
Eggplants
3-5
Escarole/Endive
3-4
Kale
4-5
Kohlrabi
4-5
Leeks
2-4
Lettuce
3-5
Mustard
5-8
Okra
1-2
Onions
2-4
Parsley
3-5
Parsnips
1-3
Peas
4-6
Peppers (all)
3-5
Potatoes (real seed)
5-7
Pumpkins
3-5
Radish
3-5
Spinach
3-4
Squash (all)
3-5
Strawberry
3-6
Sunflower
4-6
Swiss Chard
3-4
Tomato
4-7
Turnip
5-8
Watermelon
4-6
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How To Properly Store Vegetable Seeds

how to store seeds

Have you ever wondered what it takes to store seeds so they keep vigor and viability for as long as possible?

how to store seedsAt the beginning, I would like to teach you that all seeds (vegetable, fruits, flowers, herbs) fall into one of two types: drying-tolerant seeds and drying-intolerant seeds. Of course, in this post I’m talking about storing drying-tolerant seeds, which are virtually all herbs, vegetables, flowers and many trees, so yi have nothing to worry about: the seeds you’re trying to preserve, are almost certainly drying-tolerant. In case you were wondering, drying intolerant seeds are seeds from large seeded plants and trees, like chestnut, oak, buckeye. These seed germinate immediately when they fall to the ground.

But, back to drying tolerant seeds. When seeds dry naturally (on the plant, or in good artificial conditions) they transform from active to dormant, and important changes occur within the seeds, as sugars and other components convert to stable and storable like fats and starches. When they reach this dormant state, many vegetable seeds can be stored for years, assuming that ideal storage conditions are maintained.

So, what are ideal storage conditions for storing seeds?

Humidity.

As a general rule, when storing seeds humidity should be kept between 25-25%. If humidity is too low, it will draw moisture from seed structures which will have negative impact on viability and germination rates. Surprisingly, the average humidity level in most homes is frequently lower than 20%, which can harm your seeds if you keep them in envelops or paper bags, so it is best to store seeds in sealed, air tight container or glass jars. You can even use zip-loc bags. Cardboard boxes or cloth bags also aren’t good solution, because these materials allow too much moisture exchange with surrounding environment. Great way to reduce the levels of moisture of your seeds is to put desiccant inside the jar or container and then add the seed packets. Simply put silica gel in the container together with your seeds, and seal it.

Temperature

Seed-StoringLike humidity, when storing seeds, temperature must also be kept in relatively narrow range. Nearly constant temperature of about 40-45-degrees (so, just above freezing) are ideal for short and medium term seed storage in our homes. Places like cellar floor (if the cellar ins’t damp!), as far as possible from heat sources like water heaters and furnaces would be one example of great spot to keep your seed. For long term seed storage, freezing seeds seems to be best option. Most seeds can be stored for many years, almost indefinitely if deep frozen. But, if you rotate your seed supply buy using your seed for planting, and then collecting new seeds at the end of growing season and storing them (so in essence every year or two you “rejuvenate” your seed stock), you don’t need to deep freeze your seeds, just keep them at above freezing temperatures.

Darkness

Equally important as humidity and temperature, is darkness. Light, in combination with proper temperature and humidity, will stimulate seeds to germinate and sprout, so keeping seeds in dark place is necessary. Seeds, like food or pharmaceuticals, will either germinate (if moisture and temperatures are adequate) or deteriorate when expose to light, which will decrease viability and germination rates of your seed stock. So, find a dark corner of your basement, and put seeds in non transparent materials (put them in paper bags and then put bags in glass jars).

Some Common Seed Storage Problems

Mold or Mildew

If your seeds aren’t dried correctly before you put them in glass jar or plastic bags, they will probably rot. Damp seed decay very quickly, so make a simple test: after you put your vegetable seeds in a jar or plastic bag, watch out for condensations on the sides of the jar. If condensations appears, the seeds need to be dried more!

Insects and Pests

If you keep your seeds in a garden shed or other place which is easily exposed to all kinds of insects, make sure your glass jars are sealed tightly! In this case, I would not recommend using plastic bags, as some insects will penetrate plastic quite easily and wreak havoc on your stored seeds. Some people use powerful commercial insecticides to protect their seeds, but I found that a pinch of diatomaceous earth (DE) which can be bought at any garden store or large garden centers will do the trick. It is inexpensive, safe, non toxic and you only need a pinch, so I think it is far better insurance against insect damage.

Rodents

Again, if you store your seeds in a garden shed or any other place that is available for rodents and other vermin, you could have a problem. Prevent damage to your seeds buy using glass jars, and put them inside a plastic container, unused picnic cooler or some metal box.

To sum up, when storing seeds, dry, cool and dark are conditions you want. If you follow the above guidelines for seeds storing, you should ensure viability, longevity and germination of your vegetable seeds!

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