Whether you are saving your own seeds from a vegetable garden or buying high-quality seeds, storing them correctly will allow you to preserve them for as long as possible. Here are some tips for successfully storing garden seeds and how to keep them in the best condition for long-term storage.
Disappointment of improperly storing seeds
We have all been there: we save the remaining seeds in the winter (because our gardeners are thrifty people, why should we throw away the seeds?). Spring is here, we plant them happily and anxiously await the emergence of new shoots. Let's wait a while.
In the end, we realized that the seeds we saved seemed useless, and just like that, the hopeful garden season started with disappointing notes, and we suddenly fell behind plan.
Here are some strategies that can help you take care of those precious seeds so that they can not only be stored for as long as possible, but can also be stored in the best quality to make spring planting a success. (Or at least in the case of failure, we can exclude seed quality as the culprit!)
Start with Completely Dry Seeds
I cannot overstate the importance of starting with dry seeds!
For example, one of my favorite seeds to save is cilantro (coriander), but I always wait a few days after a rain before harvesting the seeds, and I let them dry out for up to a month before I store them.
“The two greatest enemies of stored seeds are high temperature and high moisture.” —Suzanne Ashworth, Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners
So, if you've saved your own seeds, be sure that the seeds are thoroughly dried before storing.
The best conditions for storing seeds
Airtight containers are important for storing seeds-containers can be glass, metal or plastic. I store the seeds in a seed envelope in a large, airtight, Tupperware-type container. However, I also like to use mason jars, but when I go outside to plant them, I don't trust them too much. I always worry that I will break glass in the garden!
I also saved the silicone bags in the shoe box and vitamin bottle and added them to my seed storage container to prevent moisture. If you don't have these things around, their purchase cost is very low, and they can be reused again and again.
Seeds should be stored in a dry, dark, and always cool place-such as a cabinet. I store the seeds in a dark basement.
Store the seeds in the refrigerator for long-term storage
For long-term storage-or if you don't have a basement or cabinet with a consistent temperature-consider freezing (completely dry) seeds in glass jars. The refrigerator is the second best, because the temperature there is inconsistent.
Recover seeds from the refrigerator or freezer
This part is very important for maintaining seed quality!
Remove the seeds from the refrigerator for use:
Place the jar on the kitchen table or shelf for 12 hours to bring it to room temperature. This will prevent moisture from condensing on the seeds.
Open the lid for a few days before planting to expose the seeds to the air.
Avoid moving the seeds from the refrigerator to room temperature more than once, as each transfer will reduce the vigor of the seeds.
Do you want free resources like calendars, checklists, and planting worksheets to help you organize?
Organize seeds: make sure you can find and use those well-preserved seeds!
Having a system for sorting seeds allows you to count the seeds you own, so you won't end up buying seeds you already own. It can also help you track seeds by age so that older seeds are used first, and expired seeds are composted instead of planted.
Each seed packet has a start date, which is the date when the seeds are collected. (If you collect your own seeds, be sure to indicate the date of your own data packets!) If you need to, using this number can help you quickly filter the seed packets and sort them by year.
I like to organize seeds in two ways: card catalog style and mason jar style. Your storage organization depends largely on your lifestyle and environment, but no matter which style you choose, make sure it is a sealed solution that keeps the seeds dry and cool.
Don't forget your silicone bag!
Organizing Seeds with the Card Catalog Style
Are you old enough to remember library card catalogs? Use a rectangular airtight container that is deep enough to store seed packets standing up. Make sure the lid fits well when full. I love this method because all the seed packets live together in one or two containers.
Dividers can help you find things even quicker. Seeds of a certain type can be catalogued in order of their origination date, so older seeds get used first.
Storing Seeds for Long-Term Seed Saving: Here are some tips for successfully storing seeds for the garden and how to keep them in the best condition for long-term storage. A plastic shoe box transforms into a card catalog style seed organization box.
Organizing Seeds with the Mason Jar Style
Mason jars allow you to store seeds in smaller units. For example, you could store short-lived seeds in the freezer so you can ensure their viability until the next growing season, while longer-lived seeds may store okay under the bed or in a cupboard.
How you organize your Mason jars will depend on your storage needs and how many seeds you're storing. If you're a tomato lover, store all of your tomato varieties together in one Mason jar.
Or, try themed gardens in Mason jars (which make great gifts!). Seeds for a spring garden, a salad garden, or a salsa garden could store well together in one jar.
Storing Seeds for Long-Term Seed Saving: Here are some tips for successfully storing seeds for the garden and how to keep them in the best condition for long-term storage. All of my lettuce seed varieties fit into this gallon size mason jar.
However you organize your seeds, be sure to keep track of seed origination dates.
As seeds age, their germination rate naturally declines. All seeds will stay viable for at least a year, and storing seeds properly can allow many seeds to remain viable even longer. Here's an idea of how long different types of seeds can last with optimal storage conditions:
Short-lived Seeds (1 to 2 years):
Intermediate Seeds (3 to 4 years):
cabbage family (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, etc.)
Long-lived Seeds (5 to 6 years):
Getting Out Your Seeds in the Springtime
If you need some tips for getting your seeds started in the spring, check out my guide to starting seeds indoors.
TIP: Toss expired seeds into a wild section of the garden. Sometimes they produce a surprise crop! At our community garden, we had a “Seed Toss” each year at the season kick-off party. It was fun to see what would grow in the wild area! In my home garden, I'm getting a nice little surprise crop of butternut squash!
All in all, storing storing seeds properly will allow you to make the most out of your investment and have a successful garden season with high quality seeds.