The Basics of Seed Storage

Seed storage complements your skill set of food preservation techniques. Learn how to store seeds and what problems you should avoid during the process.

| January/February 1975

In MOTHER EARTH NEWS I discussed the collection and storage of a long-term emergency food supply. Such a basic reserve, however, might not be enough. If you have to fall back on tucked-away provisions, you'll need to supplement your meals with as much fresh produce as possible . . . and, ideally, you should be able to grow your entire future diet if necessary. Those are two good reasons why a cache of survival supplies should contain vegetable and grain seeds, stored and rotated for maximum viability. (Be sure to include varieties of plants which are high in vegetable protein: beans, soybeans, peas, sunflowers, etc.)

Note that this article covers seed storage only, not the growing and collection of garden seeds. This, however, is a skill you should certainly learn. Some of the sources listed in the bibliography contain information on the subject, and your local library can supply any additional material you need.

How Long Can You Store Seeds?

Even under ideal circumstances, seeds will not live indefinitely in storage. Forget those stories you've probably heard about viable specimens two or three thousand years old being found in Egyptian tombs. Plant physiologists now discount all such claims, since every authentic ancient sample has turned out to be dead when tested (and has promptly disintegrated).

Nevertheless, seeds that are free of insects and harvested dry (or dried soon after gathering) will remain sound and will sprout for long periods. Many samples of wheat and corn — stored with a moisture content of 10 to 12 percent — have had a better than 90 percent germination rate and have otherwise proven quite healthy when tested four to six years later.

The trouble is that, when you purchase seeds to put by, you have no way of knowing their condition. You can only assume that they've been cared for correctly up to that point Therefore, the periods of viability listed in the table in the Image Gallery must be considered as only approximate.

The above estimates hold good, of course, only if the seed is correctly treated in storage. The following are some of the factors that determine whether your potential garden will retain its viability on the shelf.

Cornhusker Cooking
2/19/2018 6:27:23 PM

Thanks. I am thinking of storing seeds this year

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