Friday, February 19, 2010
Posted by Kate at 6:46 AM
During last week's big snow, I began a worthy but somewhat tedious chore. The seed orders for the year had all come in. Not only do I succumb every year to the lure of buying too many varieties of seed, but even the smallest packets provide too much seed for me to grow in a given year. I've always been lackadaisical about storing my seeds. And that has always given me the excuse to buy more seed - so that it's fresh and viable - the following year.
I decided this year would be different. I went through all the seed - both newly arrived and saved from previous years - and separated out the portions of seed that would be planted this year. Some was discarded. The rest of what was still viable would be saved for future gardens. This was somewhat tricky, because I plan to succession plant this year. So I'll need some beet, carrot, spinach, brassica (cabbage family), and lettuce seeds for early season planting, and some for late season planting as well. Because I removed seed from the original packaging I had to make properly labeled seed envelopes for each portion. And to make it even more involved, there are enough seeds in some packets that I could set seeds aside for next year, and still have plenty for years beyond 2011. I wanted those two groups separated into different containers. Oh, and some packets of seed I had agreed to split with other gardeners. A whole lot of repackaging and relabeling, in other words.
I used the cool seed envelope method that El wrote about last year. Hers is vastly superior to the envelope I'd been using previously. So check that out if you're interested. Once the seeds were all divided up into the appropriately labeled envelopes, and the envelopes assembled into groups by anticipated usage date, I typed up a list of all the seeds in each group and printed copies of them so I'd have a record of each group for my garden notebook. I had planned to vacuum seal the seeds in plastic bags, and then put them in canning jars. But I found that even using a wide mouth, half-gallon jar wouldn't give me enough maneuvering room with the larger packs of seeds. So I settled for just putting all the seed envelopes into jars with desiccant packs saved from bottles of vitamin pills, along with seed lists for each jar. I arranged the lists such that they were legible through the sides of the jars. The jars were then vacuum sealed. Finally, I wrote a reminder warning to myself on the canning jar lid and secured it tightly with a canning jar ring.
These jars are headed for my chest freezer. The warning is to remind me not to open the jars or the seed packages until they have warmed up to the ambient temperature of the room. Why? Because if I open up frozen packages of seeds in a warm room, moisture will condense on the seeds and hasten their deterioration. Twenty-four hours at room temperature will prevent this. Now I just need to excavate a spot in the freezer where the jars will remain safe from knocks from heavy frozen items.
Most garden seeds will keep well enough in cool, dark, and dry conditions for 2-3 years. A few will be viable only for one year in such conditions (onions, parsnips), while others may last as much as 5-10 (cucumber, tomato). But we have hot, humid summers where I live. There is no spot I can just leave the seeds and count on favorable conditions for preservation. The method I've just outlined provides nearly ideal conditions for seed storage. I expect to be able to use even the parsnip and onion seed purchased this year well into the future. By separating seed to be used next year from the remaining seed, I will avoid the need to bring all the stored seeds back into bright, warm, moist conditions until I'm ready to divide my remaining seed stores.
So: my own frozen seed bank from the work of a few afternoons. You might do something like what I've done because you're dedicated to saving money, or because you're serious about saving heirloom seeds, or seed you've produced yourself. You might (justly) fear that Monsanto is hellbent on converting the entire global food supply into genetically modified crops on which they own the patents. Or you could do it because you believe the collapse is nigh and that seeds are going to be worth more than their weight in gold.
If you don't have a vacuum sealer, ask around. You might be able to borrow one just for this project if you know someone who has one. Or you could work with ziploc bags and just seal the mason jars tightly with lids and rings. Of course, if you have any serious doomer creds, you know the deep freeze will only last as long as the electricity does. But dry, and dark, and in a vacuum is still a much better storage plan for seeds than a cardboard box sitting in the dining room.