Survival Seed Banks, Part 1: What Seeds Are Available?


seed bankLast winter I was kibitzing with my farmer friends about a typical seed bank. Today’s blog is a summary of our observations and analysis. Next week’s blog will detail my recommendations about what seeds I think the ideal survival seed bank would contain. The following week’s post will discuss how to store a seed bank.

The idea behind the marketing of emergency seed banks is to put together a bunch of different kinds of seeds, and seal them in a container, and put them on the shelf so that you can grow a garden if food from the grocery stores becomes unavailable.

Philosophically I think that the better emergency food strategy is to be growing a garden as part of a day-to-day lifestyle, and saving seeds so that they can become locally adapted. Then if grocery store food ever becomes scarce, we already have the knowledge, tools, soil fertility, gene pools, and manual skills to expand on existing gardens. I acknowledge that in today’s world of inexpensive and readily available fuel, it’s easier and less expensive to grow food in another hemisphere and import it into our local grocery stores. If that ever changes, then having a seed bank of maladapted highly-inbred varieties seems better than not having any seeds at all. I’d like to think that we can do better than that.

Comparing Seed Banks

While analyzing the seed bank, we did comparison shopping by making tentative orders from some of the more expensive online seed catalogs. If the sizes of seed didn’t match the seed bank we bought the next larger packet size. Our bottom-line price ended up being 1/3 the cost of what the seed bank was asking, and we ended up with more seeds.

The seed banks are marketed as having special packaging materials and techniques which greatly prolong the life expectancy of the seeds. I believe that this is mostly hype. Longevity seems mostly about storing seeds dry, not exposing them to high temperatures, and avoiding bugs and animals. I store seeds in glass jars in the spare bedroom. If I lived in a damper environment I’d include a desiccant with the seeds before storing. I test germination once a year. Most varieties store well, and I believe those that don’t would degrade about the same whether they are packaged in glass jars or in Mylar bags. If I had plenty of freezer space I’d store seeds in glass jars in the freezer. Life expectancy of frozen seeds is about 16 times that of seeds at room temperature. I’ll write more about storing seeds in two weeks.

I am especially skeptical of seed banks that claim that their seed can plant an acre of land, especially when the container that holds the seeds is the size of a soda bottle. One of my fields is three-quarters of an acre, so I have a good idea about how much seed is required to plant a field that size. It is much more than 20 or 30 small packets of seed. To put things in perspective to plant an acre takes approximately 14 pounds of sweet corn seed, or 5 pounds of squash seed, or 70 pounds of dry bean seed. That’s around 7 gallons of beans!!! I would expect the seed bank that we analyzed to plant about one-tenth acre, even though it claimed to be enough seed to plant an acre.

12/17/2013 3:08:01 PM

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