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