Tag Archive for: Seed Saving

Stephen recently did an interview on seed saving with an emphasis on quality on The Survival Podcast with Jack Spirko. He does a different kind of podcast, what I call a “thinking persons preparedness” show. There is much more of the everyday, common sense preparedness approach; that of being ready for a severe weather event,  a loss of power for a short period of time or a traffic tie-up on the freeway and how to get through them with less drama and a higher level of comfort and security.

One major item for rational preparedness folks is gardening, as being able to provide food for yourself and your family or neighbors is a big thing. Not only in a disaster event, but if the power goes out or if there is some reason that the supermarket near you can’t be stocked for a few days, being able to enjoy good food is very powerful. Sure, a person can survive on MREs (officially known as Meals Ready to Eat, but we knew them as Meals, Rarely Edible in the Navy), but that is a very short term “survival” approach as you can’t grow them and they aren’t very healthy for extended periods of time. They were designed as combat rations where a person was getting maybe 1 – 2 hours of sleep a night, moving constantly with a lot of equipment on them and under the continual stress of combat. In these conditions, you really do need each and every one of those 3,750 calories that 3 MREs provide. Many of the folks I knew would eat 4 – 5 a day while in active combat conditions!

Seed saving is very popular today, but there are some gaping holes in much of the information and knowledge today. The techniques of seed saving are being addressed, with little attention given to the foundational quality of those seeds.  Saving seed is fairly simple to do, but the results from planting those seeds can be very mixed; without a basis of understanding of seed quality, people can be disappointed and confused as to why they got the results they did.

I show why there are no one-size-fits-all best solutions to the availability of quality seed. A resilient, robust and diverse seed and food economy requires home gardeners, regional and national seed exchange programs to participate alongside independent seed companies to contribute all of their unique advantages and skills. Only in this way can the full expression of the diversity and adaptability of open pollinated seeds be realized and utilized.

Listen to the Seed Saving for Quality Interview for the full story! Jack does an introduction that is about 14 minutes long, if you want to skip directly to the show. This was originally an article in Acres USA January 2014 edition, and has been developed into a presentation and will be taught as a class later this summer.


Mature Dill Seeds

Homegrown dill is delicious, easy to grow and easy to harvest. We’ll show you how! One thing to remember – you want to harvest almost mature dill seeds, not the green ones or the completely dry ones. The green ones won’t have the flavor you are looking for and the dry ones will have already dropped most of their seeds, giving you much less seed than you bargained for!

Dill Harvest Tools First you need a few simple tools:






Puppy in a Basket
Next, you might want to consider some accessories! Puppies make the job much more fun!





Mature Dill Seeds
Seriously, though, harvesting the dill seeds couldn’t be much simpler, even with puppy assistance. What you are looking for is almost-dry seeds like this:





Green Dill with Ladybugs This is what the green or immature seeds look like, along with some very welcome Ladybugs!





Dill Seed Stalk
Simply snip off the almost-mature seed stalk,





Dill Seeds in Box
and drop it into the box you’ve brought. Some of the more mature and dried seeds are on the bottom, having fallen off when the seed head or umbel hit the bottom of the box.





Dill Seeds Closeup
This is what the seeds and one of the smaller umbels look like:





Once you’ve collected all of the dill seed, store the box in a room where it can finish drying for a couple of weeks. Then bounce the seed heads on the bottom of the box a few times to get the rest of the seeds to drop, empty the box into a storage container and you have dill seed for the winter and next year!

“You have to live a life without fear; and to be fearless, you have to have a very clear conscience that guides you on a daily basis. If you are fully aware of doing the right thing everyday, there is no power on earth that can make you afraid.” ~ Vandana Shiva, Mt. Allison University, New Brunswick Feb. 26, 2012

“We live today where creating fear is the political governing style today. Cultivating fearlessness I think is one of the most important trainings of democracy and citizen freedom.”

We share this short video of Vandana Shiva telling her story of the struggle to preserve heirloom seeds in her native India from the wonderful folks at The Perennial Plate.

We do not own the seeds we sell; we are simply caretakers of the seedstock, maintaining genetic purity, quality and viability while they are in our care. These seeds – all of them – belong to humanity. They are what have kept us alive for the past 12,000 to 15,000 years once the human race transitioned from hunter-gatherers into a more agricultural society, growing and saving the seeds from year to year, putting aside the very best seeds for planting the next year.

It is impossible to our way of thinking for anyone to “own” or “patent” seeds, as they are the very lifeblood of our race.

This is our full-time job as well as our consuming passion, not just a passing fancy or whimsical interest. This, our life’s calling, demands every bit of education, experience, creativity, energy and enthusiasm that we have. Everyday. We see, looking back, that every single thing that we’ve done in our life has led us up to this point and has been a preparation for this work that has selected us.

We have come to realize that the more knowledge and experience that we gain, the more that have yet to gain. Our road ahead is full of learning and we welcome that. We are eternally grateful for the mentors that have most graciously taken us under their wing, educating us and showing us the best possible ways to move forward with moral and ethical integrity, as well as seed purity, vitality and quality. Thank you ever so much! We are in your debt.

There are those who want to put seed companies out of business, advocating for everyone to save their own seeds and maintain their own seed banks and seedstocks. This is a noble proposition, but we don’t believe it to be feasible. We have almost 20 years of growing and soil building knowledge and experience behind us, yet we feel in so many ways that we are just beginning our journey into deeper knowledge. This is our commitment, to bringing out the best varieties and maintaining the highest quality of seeds and it takes all of our time and then some. We don’t see everyone as being interested or able to make this commitment over the long term. This is one of the main reasons why viable, family owned and run seed companies are so critically important today. It is human scale agriculture in the purest form, at the very beginning of the cycle of food.

We see diversified, decentralized and local human scale agriculture as being the answer to how we are going to feed ourselves in the long term. It starts with the absolute best seeds possible, which is in turn made possible by individual seed companies that have a commitment and passion to constant, careful observation and maintenance of the highest quality seeds, correcting genetic drift, anomalies and other problems as they arise in partnerships with highly dedicated and experienced seed growers who are experts in their fields.

This doesn’t and can’t happen overnight or in a short time frame; it takes years and years. We are often looking 3 – 5 years into the future in order to introduce a new variety of seed from the time it arrives in our hands. We do the initial evaluation grow-out, and if we like it one of our growers will do another grow-out for observation of any variability, drift or evidence of possible cross breeding. The subsequent grow-outs ensure that each new generation is growing true to the previous one and the established standard for that variety. Each grow-out requires a full season. If there are problems, they are evaluated to see what is required to correct them, and if it is worth the time or if it would be better to start with another variety that looks more promising. After the evaluations the production grow-out begins taking place. This in itself may take 2 or more years, depending on how much seed we have to start with. Some seed production takes 3 or more years just to reach a genetically viable starting population. From there the seed production growing takes place, and we can offer that seed variety for sale.

This level of dedication is labor and resource intensive, one of the reasons that diverse family seed companies are needed to provide the quality of seed we need to grow our food. Individual gardeners can participate in saving and preserving seeds and diversity as well, learning to save a smaller number of particularly tasty varieties on a smaller scale. We strongly encourage everyone to try saving at least a small portion of their seeds. It is a wonderful education into the miracle that is seed, along with the irrepressible adaptability of the seed. The humble strength of life is clearly shown each spring when moist warm soil breaks the dormancy of a seed, giving it another chance to express its full genetic encoding and potential. As with gardening, saving seeds will make you a better observer, a better gardener and a better steward of your part of the earth.

We feel that it is through a collaborative effort between small family run seed companies, seed saving exchanges and dedicated individual gardeners that the strength of the seed future is the strongest. Independent, decentralized yet cooperative seed production and distribution is the most robust and resilient model that offers the best protection against the loss of seed varieties to a patent or consolidation effort.

Fall Garden Salad

Many of us have gotten used to eating the few select varieties of fruits and vegetables that are available in the grocery store. The  grocery store produce is pretty, but it doesn’t taste like much.

Incredible, exceptional taste is the single biggest reason so many people are turning to heirloom vegetables. Once you experience the sheer depth of the flavor that any heirloom variety has compared to the supermarket one, you will always want more. You will find heirloom produce to be more flavorful as well as much higher in nutrients. You can eat a salad with no dressing because all the greens and veggies just taste so good. Many heirloom vegetables have been saved and selected for decades and sometimes even centuries because they are have the best flavor and production in home and small market gardens. Flavor is once again the biggest concern for small growers, as they don’t ship their produce farther than the local Farmers Market.

Recent studies have shown that the newer hybrid varieties that are developed to optimize production don’t have as much nutrition as their heirloom counterparts. So now, not only do the supermarket veggies have less taste, but they don’t nourish us as well.  Heirlooms tend to be hardier so it is easier to grow organically without all the chemicals that the popular commercial produce has. So it is also cheaper in the long run to grow plants from heirloom seeds. Heirlooms tend to ripen at different rates, which spreads the production out, unlike hybrids that have been specifically developed to ripen all at once. This means that you have a longer season to enjoy the produce, instead of getting hammered with all of the crop at once.

Another benefit of heirlooms is they don’t have all of the development costs and research associated with hybrids, so the seeds themselves are usually less expensive. Some seed companies try to counter this cost basis by selling seed packets at a smaller charge, but you wind up getting a lot fewer seed- sometimes as few as 10-15! You can save seeds from heirlooms, replant them and they will adapt to your specific garden climate, becoming even more flavorful, nutritious and productive. This is a huge benefit, one that ties directly to how we have fed ourselves for the past 12,000- 15,000 years. Seeds saved from hybrids won’t grow the same plant, and genetically modified seeds either won’t regrow at all or you will face serious lawsuits for saving and replanting their seeds. Heirloom seeds offer many advantages over hybrid and genetically modified seeds.

Oaxan Green Dent Corn

Many people are attracted to heirloom seeds and gardening for the variety and flavor. Once they realize that heirlooms are open pollinated seeds that can be saved and replanted year after year, they often ask how to start saving their own seeds.

This is not hard, but there are some basics to understand first. With a little knowledge you will be able to make the choice to save seeds, or realize it’s not something you want to pursue at this point. Please realize that this is an only in introduction, as there are several excellent seed saving books on the subject if you want to learn more.

Short term storage is the largest concern for most home gardeners and even most market growers, as they are looking for a way to have viable seeds for next year, not 10 years from now.

This is the same concern that humans have had since we started planting seeds some 10,000 – 12,000 years ago. There is some confusion as to how to keep seeds viable for a couple of years, as the news about seed banks and the high tech methods have created a false sense of need.

You don’t need high-tech, expensive equipment! You already have everything in your house that you need.

Temperature and humidity are the two main concerns in any seed storage setup. A place that is consistently cool and low humidity are what’s needed, as temperature fluctuations will shorten the life and viability of your seeds.

Your refrigerator or freezer is ideal;  you won’t need a lot of room as seeds are usually small.

Short Term Storage

There are environmental concerns to be aware of such as ambient humidity and temperature. If you live in a high humidity environment you will need to take certain precautions, just as if you live in a high temperature area.

In many areas the refrigerator is fine, as long as you put the seeds towards the back and in an area that isn’t exposed to the temperature fluctuations of the door opening. The freezer answers the temperature fluctuations, as it is opened a lot less than the fridge door.

Freezing seeds does not harm them, and can greatly extend their lifespan if done properly.

All seed banks freeze their seeds intended for long term storage! Humidity is a greater concern with freezing, as a blast of warm humid air on frozen seeds can damage them. If you live in a high humidity area, smaller packets of seeds for one years planting will be ideal, as the packet can be pulled from the larger seed storage without exposing the rest of the seeds to temperature/humidity fluctuations.

If you are saving seeds from a seed packet where you didn’t use all of the seeds, keep the packet and put it into a Ziploc baggie. Date the baggie and put it into a gallon sized Ziploc that has the date on it as well.

If you don’t date everything, you will wonder how long the seed has been in storage…

If you are saving seeds from harvest, put all of the info on the baggie- common name, scientific name, date, and any notes you want to remember next year when you pull it out.

This is the time to start a garden/seed journal as well, to document what you planted, what grew well, what challenges you had, bugs, disease, weather, etc. that you will forget in 3 or 4 years.

As with anything you will need to experiment and learn what works best for you and in your specific, unique situation. Some high humidity areas need to store their seeds in smaller quantities and pull the individual packets out of the storage container that are needed for that years planting, put them into another container in the back of the fridge to thaw out for a couple of days, then finally bring them out into the room to finish warming up.

Most areas aren’t nearly as exacting, with the seeds going from the freezer to a covered container on the counter for a couple of days to thaw and stabilize before being planted. One side note, some seeds will germinate better after freezing/refrigerating, as this imitates the natural winter season in the ground.

Longer Term Storage

Long term storage is similar to short term, but the freezer is almost always used, with chest freezers purchased specifically for seeds acting as miniature seed banks.

Only seeds are stored in the freezer and it is opened only a couple of times a year, so temperature swings are minimized. The freezer is usually run at about -15F. Most seeds will last a minimum of 5 years with certain hardy varieties lasting 20+ years!

This is obviously the domain of the serious seed saver. There are a lot of individuals that fall into this category, which surprises many people, who think that serious seed saving and seed banks are reserved for seed companies or government agencies.

Individual seed banks were common until the 1920’s, and are on the rise again. It makes a lot of sense to have a local or community seed bank, as the varieties saved are locally adapted and proven producers; poor performers simply aren’t saved. Local knowledge on what grows well is indispensable and is not possible to have at a company or government level except for possibly at the local level, as the time and interest is just not there.

To start saving seeds, they must be clean and dry, free of vegetable matter or mold/mildew.

Most seeds are intuitive to save, just let them dry on the vine/cob/pod and shell or separate the seeds from the husk/cob/pod and you’re done! Some, like tomatoes need a little more work, such as fermenting the gel coat off of the seeds, washing and then drying them.

Start with an easily processed seed to get the feel and see if this is something you want to do. Also, start with saving something that you like and are interested in eating again.

Be warned though, once you start it becomes a bit of an obsession as you realize that you are starting to take control of your food and the future of what you eat! It is a powerful and liberating feeling. You might even become a food rebel!

Cleaning Pumpkin Seeds

We get a lot of questions on how to save seeds. Most of them are general seed saving questions, but most boil down to how to save seeds for the next year. Most of the seed packets have more seeds than will be used in one year, and most seeds are good for several years in proper storage conditions.

Please realize that seeds are meant to be planted, not stored!

We get a chuckle from the e-bay seed sellers and survivalist stores that proclaim their seeds are nitrogen flushed, vacuum packed in tin cans or aluminum foil pouches, and are good for 5 or 10 years.

That’s great, but if the seeds are tossed out in the unheated/uncooled garage for 3+ years- guess what?

They’re DEAD!

The temperature/humidity fluctuations shortens the life of the stored seeds drastically. Seeds are the plant’s mechanism for propagation and survival. They have evolved to survive for a short time- e.g. a winter or two- in the ground until the optimum conditions arrive to sprout.

For almost all domesticated varieties that are used for food, the optimum conditions  mean next spring. There definitely are seeds that will last longer, but most are non-food plants. Throughout history people would collect and save seeds for the next year or two and have kept plant varieties alive for thousands of years.

Today we have methods to stabilize temperature and humidity; we have advantages in prolonging the life of the stored seed.

The best way to save seeds for future plantings are to keep the seeds in the original seed packets; that way you know where they came from, the name, planting instructions, etc. Then put them in clear Ziplock sandwich baggies with the date on the baggie.

This way you know when you started storing them.

Put all of the baggies in a gallon Ziplock and put it into the freezer.

“But won’t that hurt the seeds?”, people ask. Not at all!

This is why the Vavilov Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia uses liquid nitrogen to freeze seeds for a long time. This is also why the “Doomsday Vault” in Svalbard, Norway is located above the Arctic Circle and dug into the side of a mountain and several hundred feet down, to keep the vault below zero if the cooling system fails.

Your freezer is cold and has low humidity. You probably don’t go into the freezer several times a day like the refrigerator. Each time you open/shut the door, the outside air comes in, raising the temperature and humidity.

This isn’t good for your seeds if they are in the fridge. The freezer is more stable. Please understand the fridge is better than the garage or basement, but the freezer is even better, and you probably have space!

When time comes for planting next spring, take out the packets you will use, take out the seeds you will plant if there are a lot left, and put the bag back into the Ziplock and into the freezer. Let the seed to be planted come to room temperature before planting into the soil.

Most varieties will keep for 3+ years with no loss of germination.

There are exceptions, of course. Onion seeds are good for 1 year, no more, no matter the method of keeping. Garlic only grows from the bulb or clove, freezing kills it.

There are some other varieties that have a short life in storage, but don’t get too caught up in that. If you plant each year, you will be fine.

When you start to save your own seed, the same procedure applies- just be sure the seed is DRY, or else the freeze will expand any moisture in the seed and destroy it.

Label the bag with the name, date harvested, date stored and freeze it.

If you get into seed saving, or want a lot more information on the methods and details for each variety of vegetable, Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth is a wonderful book. It is not light reading, but if treated like a reference book or text book, you’ll do just fine.