Survival Seed Banks, Part 2: Types and Qualities of Seeds to Include

Reader Contribution by Joseph Lofthouse

Part one of the emergency seed bank article evaluated the offerings currently on the market and found them mostly unsatisfactory. Today’s article, part two, details the quantities and varieties of seeds that I think should be included in an emergency seed bank. Part three will discuss long-term storage of seeds.

I recommend that the following quantities and types of seeds be included in an emergency seed bank suitable for planting a one acre garden. Emphasis is on staples: crops that provide a lot of food that can be stored long-term without refrigeration. I’d rather see lots of different varieties for each item in the list rather than only one variety per species. Genetically diverse varieties and mixed seed are preferred over highly inbred varieties or single cultivars. Hybrids are OK to use for some species. I believe that if the time ever comes when we are required to grow our own seed, we’ll be better of starting our survival-of-the-fittest gardens with a lot different kinds of genetically diverse parents.

Joseph’s Survival Seed Bank Seed Variety Recommendations

Variety Name

# seeds

Joseph’s Suggestions

Bean, Dry


One of the few sources of significant amounts of protein in a vegetable garden. They aught to be well represented. (Dry bean soup from the grocery store is an inexpensive source of mixed seed. Check germination before storing.) I think that many different species of beans should be included in an emergency seed bank. A disease, pest, or weather pattern is less likely to take out every species during the same growing season. Example of different bean species include common beans, tepary beans, runner beans, garbanzo beans, fava beans, soybeans, chickpeas, yard-long beans, mung beans, lentils, lima beans, lupinis, etc…

Bean, Green


I don’t think green beans have a place in a survival garden. They don’t have enough nutrients to justify the labor. However green beans turn into dry beans if left to dry on the vine.



Can provide both early edible greens and long lasting roots. No hybrids.



A very difficult crop for me to grow well because of bugs and hot arid days. A highly nutritious crop, so in an emergency I’d eat the bugs and put up with the sulfurous taste. Broccoli is not a staple, so no sense planting more than a row or two. No hybrids.



A traditional survival food. No hybrids.



A good staple for a survival garden. Gotta keep up on weeding small plants but yield is great, and they store well. No hybrids.



More nutritious and longer season than lettuce. If the outer leaves are harvested a few plants will produce food all season long in my climate. No hybrids.

Corn, Sweet


Successive plantings about 10 days apart allow extended harvest. May be dried for addition to soups. Prefer the reliability of old-fashioned (su), rather than sugary enhanced (se), or super sweet (sh).

Corn, Flour


For making corn meal. Easier to grind than flint corns. Much easier grain to harvest and process than wheat.



Cucumbers don’t seem like a survival food, but are nice for a change.



I believe that even in good times, eggplant is not a food.



I wouldn’t include lettuce in a survival garden. Nutrient density is low.



Muskmelons don’t store well. Nice to have something sweet for a couple weeks, but they are not a staple. Hybrids OK.



Onions store well and make other things taste better. No hybrids.



Can overwinter in the ground, and be harvested whenever the ground is not frozen. Life expectancy of the seed is short, thus the high numbers of seeds. No hybrids.



Another significant protein source. I’d prefer soup peas for a survival garden. That way they are more of a staple and less fleeting. Pea greens may be eaten as an early spring salad.

Pepper, Green


Again not a staple, but something to make the flavors more appealing.

Pepper, Hot


I wouldn’t include hot peppers in a survival garden, but who cares if it’s only 50 seeds? Will transfer hot gene to sweet peppers.



Pollinated potato seeds should be a component of every emergency seed stash. Even if all potato tubers are lost in storage they can be readily regenerated from true seeds. Yield of 2nd year tubers is greater than from first year seedlings. This amount of seed is intended as a safeguard to be able to generate enough tubers for replanting. I recommend only abundantly fruiting varieties for an emergency seed bank. That would allow survival-of-the-fittest selection to be practiced.



I don’t think of radishes as a food. However they produce a quick crop that could be eaten if you were hungry enough. No hybrids.



My favorite early spring green. Hybrids are great.


Winter squash should be one of the main staples in a survival garden. They store very well without refrigeration in a warm dry place. They dehydrate easily. It’s an embarrassment to most survival seed banks that so few squash seeds are included. Often times even if seeds are included it’s only one of the four common species. Growers in hotter climates may consider including luffa and lagenaria summer squash. Hybrids are great.

Squash, Cushaw


They don’t grow well in my cold climate. They are included because I think it is best to include as much biodiversity as possible.

Squash, Maxima


Often susceptible to bugs. Good long-term storage (3 to 6 months). Hubbard, Banana, Buttercup, Lakota, Sweet Meat. I think the buttercups are the best tasting squash in existence. Hybrids and cross pollinated maxima squash are wonderful.

Squash, Moschata


The most bug resistant winter squash and longest keeping (up to 12 months). Butternuts, Black Futzu, Long of Naples, Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck, Long-Necked Squash, Libby’s Pumpkin, Long Island Cheese, Seminole Pumpkin. I have had wonderful success allowing the different varieties to cross-pollinate.

Squash, Zucchini


Pepo winter squash don’t keep well (1 to 3 months). I think their flavor is horrid. I’d rather grow a pepo summer squash — something like a zucchini or a crookneck, but only one type so that I can maintain a consistent type.



Can overwinter in the ground, and be harvested whenever the ground is not frozen. A great crop to plant in an out of the way place and forget about it until needed.



It’s better in my opinion to grow modern hybrid tomatoes instead of heirlooms. I have found that yields are better and they are more reliable. Seeds can be saved from hybrid tomatoes, and the offspring are likely to be more productive than highly inbred heirlooms. I recommend not including Roma tomatoes due to their susceptibility to Blossom End Rot.

Tomato, Cherry


Always the earliest tomatoes to produce fruit in my garden. Mixed varieties are wonderful. Hybrids are great.



Produce larger harvests over a longer season than radishes, and can be stored both in the ground and in a root cellar. No hybrids.



Store better than muskmelons, and nice for a change. Not a staple. Hybrids OK.

Wheat, Winter


Wheat is extremely labor intensive to harvest in a home garden. Corn provides a much better return on investment. I recommend winter wheat because its winter growth habits make it more resistant to weeds, and in dry climates it does not need irrigation. I recommend varieties that are easily threshed by hand. Rye is an acceptable substitute. Rye typically grows taller and is even more resistant to weeds. This quantity of wheat seed will not feed a family the first year, but it would give you options later on.

Other Species

My list of varieties is customized for my northern temperate mountain garden and cultural norms about what foods are acceptable. Growers in warmer or damper climates or in lowlands would want to include additional or different species that grow better in their environment and that fit the local food customs. Spices could be included for planting in later years of a food emergency. I think the first year should focus on staples. A medicinal herb seed bank would be clever. I don’t have the experience to recommend varieties. I did not include fruit and nut trees. I recommend that food trees be planted now. They can be left to grow feral until needed as food. Yes falling fruits and nuts make a mess in a carefully manicured lawn, but I believe that it’s better to waste the food year after year than to not have any hope of a harvest because food trees were never planted.

I think that a seed bank containing approximately this quantity of seeds would make an excellent survival seed bank for a one acre garden if you started with genetically diverse seeds. They would turn into locally-adapted survival-of-the-fittest landraces once you started saving seed from them. This is part of the reason why I believe that landrace gardening is a path towards food security through common sense and traditional methods.

In next week’s blog I’ll write about long-term storage of seed banks.

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