The Q&A Archives: Long-Term Vegetable Seed Storage

Question: I am interested in learning more about ways of storing vegetable seeds for long periods of time - perhaps 3-5 years. While I understand this is not the ideal thing to do, I presume there are ways of optimizing the process. Most vegetable seeds do not come packed in inner foil pouches, so providing the best storage conditions would be up to me.

What I need is a list of vegetable seeds, with their in-storage life expectancy, to enable me to "rotate my stock", so to speak. I also need to know how to create optimal conditions for storage. Currently, I keep all seeds in a dry,cool place, in sealed plastic containers. Is there more I could be doing?

For my normal gardening efforts, I buy fresh seeds each year. But, I'm concerned that if there's ever a time when I might need to garden for survival purposes, and seeds become unavailable, I'd need a way to "archive" them.

Doug Kanter

Answer: Generally speaking, seed viability decreases over time and results in decreased germination, regardless of storage conditions. Keeping them cool and dry is about the best you can do; the refrigerator is a good place to keep them. In addition to keeping them in sealed containers or jars you might consider adding some silica (such as those packets occasionally included with new cameras or leather goods). Be sure the seed envelope is also dry when you put them into storage. Finally, be sure to label and date each batch of seeds and keep a log reflecting the historical germination rate of the various types. This will help you predict when to replace your seeds.

Tomato seeds are particularly long lasting and so a few might make your 5 year mark; most others will not. Here is a chart
of vegetable seeds and estimated storage times; frankly I would use it only as a rough and optimistic guide because these numbers are based on professional storage techniques. (In addition to home storage conditions, you have no way of knowing how the seed was handled prior to purchase.) I would also caution about the use of heat to dry them: without the tools required to measure the moisture content a home gardener has no way to know when the seeds have reached an overly dry state.

The only way I can think of to attempt to ensure a continuous supply of seed over any length of time is to grow open pollinated varieties and save your own seed from year to year.

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