Saving Seeds: A Perfect Complement to Food Storage
In a long-term survival situation, knowing how to garden and grow your own produce is great, but if you haven’t planned ahead, where are you going to get your seeds? If it’s enough of an emergency that the grocery store is not an option, then that garden center down the road is probably not going to have open doors either. Saving and storing seeds is a great complement to stocking up on emergency food storage and emergency supplies, and the good news is, almost all seeds are storable.
Saving seeds is not just a wise emergency preparedness practice; it’s also a great idea when you simply find a fruit or vegetable you like and want to enjoy it for years to come. A few years ago, our garden offered us a little surprise gift in the form of a strange melon that sprouted in the middle of our compost pile. (This sort of thing happens most years and is, in my opinion, one of the best parts of composting.) The melon grew into a delicious cantaloupe/honeydew-type fruit and was one of the sweetest, juiciest garden offerings I have yet tasted. At the end of the season, we naturally wanted to save the seeds and plant them again the next year. So we scraped the seeds out of our last melon at the end of the summer, threw them in a bag, and tossed them in the cupboard above the stove.
Let’s stop the story right there. Do you see anything wrong? If you are a seasoned seed saver, you will know that we violated almost every rule of seed saving there is to violate.
To help you avoid my mistake and to give you even more tricks to keep up your emergency preparedness sleeve, here is your beginner’s guide to seed saving.
One of the simplest ideas to keep in mind when you are getting ready to store seeds is to do the exact opposite of what you would do if you were trying to get the seed to grow. If you were trying to get it to grow, of course, you would give it plenty of water and moisture and expose it to sunlight and oxygen and adequate heat. If you want to inhibit its growth, then, you want to be sure to do the exact opposite: eliminate moisture, keep it cold, and store it out of the sun in an airtight container. Remember: dry, airtight, cold, dark.
1. Remove the seeds from the plant and clean them with water. Many experts recommend allowing the fruit or vegetable to become overripe before removing the seeds. For more specific tips on each individual fruit and vegetable, check out the Seed Savers Exchange’s detailed list of instructions for collecting seeds from each type of fruit/vegetable: http://www.seedsavers.org/Education/Seed-Saving-Instructions
2. Eliminate moisture. After cleaning the seeds well with water, allow them to dry fully. Drying can take a week or several weeks. You’ll know the seeds are done drying when they break instead of bending. It’s important to keep the seeds out of sunlight while they are drying, as sunlight can ruin them. If you live in a humid area, you might also consider using silica gel to dry the seeds to the lowest moisture content possible before storing.
3. Store the seeds in an airtight container. Glass jars with lids are a good option. Ziploc bags can work too. Anything that is airtight and not going to let in moisture or insects is going to work well and keep your seeds viable.
4. Keep seeds in a cold, dark place. Seeds save best when they are stored at cold temperatures, ideally anywhere from just above freezing to about 45 degrees. Especially important is that you find a place that will have a consistent cold temperature. Cellars can be a good option because they stay consistently cold and dark. Many people also recommend the freezer as well, but be sure not to put your seeds in the refrigerator because moisture can accumulate there as people open and close the refrigerator door repeatedly.
Now, you are set. How long will the seeds last? Under perfect conditions, maybe you’ll be this lucky: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-20/32-000-year-old-plant-reborn-from-ancient-fruit-found-in-siberian-ice.html. Seriously, though, seed-saving is not an exact science. The storage time for seeds can vary a lot depending on storage conditions and the type of seed. In general, larger seeds save longer and smaller seeds usually have a shorter shelf life. Typically, the range is from 1-5 years, meaning every few years you may want to cycle your seeds out and save some new ones. If you have used silica gel to remove moisture and have stored the seeds in the freezer, some say your seeds will easily last ten or more years.
Experiment a little and find your favorite varieties. Select fruits and vegetables and even herbs that your family loves, and get in the habit of saving seeds at the end of every growing season. Then add them to your emergency food stash. Saving seeds is not hard to do, and it’s easy to imagine the benefits of having fresh produce on hand along with your emergency food storage in a survival situation.
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