There are several reasons you might aim to store seeds long-term. Are you looking to replant from your own successful stock next season? Wish to share seeds with other gardeners at seed exchanges or to sell your prized kernels in the local farmer’s market?
Maybe you’re creating a survival reserve, one that will provide essential nutrients in an emergency situation. Some homesteaders simply desire to grow even more self-sufficient, while others are environmentally concerned with the preservation of plant diversity.
Why do I personally store seeds? Yes, I’m trying to be practical, but I’m also deeply sentimental.
We’ve stored seeds in my family for three generations. My grandfather passed on seeds to my mother, and my mother handed them down to me. The leafy relatives of my grandparents’ land continue to thrive, bringing both pleasure and sustenance today.
Whatever your reasons for storing seeds or wanting to get started, it’s certainly a worthwhile endeavor. As with anything worth doing or having, though, you have to work at it. Y
Our success largely depends on drying strategies, seed storage containers, climate control, and a little bit of luck.
An Overview of correct Seed Storage
The following steps serve as the basis for storing seeds long-term. Most of the time, this storage process takes place during autumn, but in some cases, you may be storing in different seasons.
Anyhow, we’ve used this system in my family for over half a century, so I stand by the routine and know that it’ll work for you, too. In the next couple of sections, we’ll dive deeper, noting variations and tips, but here’s the rundown:
- Dry your seeds.
- Label your seeds.
- Fill your seed storage containers.
- Go the extra mile to eliminate moisture.
- Store the seeds in a dark, dry, cool space.
Please understand that seeds won’t last indefinitely. But with tender love and care, they’ve got a good chance of going long-term (a few years).
One of the best things about planting your own seeds the next season is that you know they’ve been stored the right way and, therefore, will likely yield similar results. If you saw a stellar crop last year, you’re liable to again.
On the other hand, when you purchase seeds, you can’t guarantee they’ve been handled and protected properly.
Pro tip: Store heirloom instead of hybrid seeds. And that’s not my sentimentality talking!
Season after season, those heirloom seeds will bring you healthy, gorgeous produce. Stored hybrid seeds will let you down.
Plants may be weak and reluctant to yield. In fact, your harvest will probably be lacking in quantity, size, taste, and beauty because hybrids are inconsistent crossbreeds. (Whoa! That sounds mean and nasty, but it’s the truth.)
Most of the seed packets you see in stores are indeed hybrids, so watch out. Papa began our seed tradition by going to our local nursery, and we’ve carried on from there.
If you’re just beginning, or if you’ve strayed from the gardener’s straight and narrow, make a fresh, heirloom start.
What You’ll Need to Store Your Seeds
You have a few options when it comes to storing seeds. I imagine these techniques developed out of access to particular materials rather than out of strict preference.
I know my family still leans on the notion of being resourceful over the idea of running out in search of specific, must-have supplies.
All of these approaches are tried and true; they get the job done. In short, use what’s available to you.
Directly below is the list of options. Don't let the number of items overwhelm you. The variety actually tends to make one feel overly prepared.
1. To Dry Seeds
Again, you won’t need all of these items. Choose one, and roll with it.
- Paper sacks
- Paper towel
- Paper plates
- Coffee filters
- Cookie sheet/oven
- Food dehydrator
2. To Label Seeds
Stay organized, or this system can become confusing.
- Paper envelopes (homemade, saved, or store-bought)
- Permanent markers
3. To Store Seeds
If you enjoy reusing items, you will love this part. You can use a mixture of these items. We always do!
- Glass jars
- Cookie tins
- Paint cans
- 5-gallon buckets
4. To Go the Extra Mile
This will pay off because you can’t see moisture that may still be present. Pick one of these to use; it will give you peace of mind because you’re doing everything you can to keep your seeds from destructive and disgusting mold.
- Powdered milk and cheesecloth
- Rice and coffee filters
- Silica packets
5. To Keep Climate in Check
Storage is, of course, paramount in this process. Remember heat, light, and humidity are all terrible for seed-saving.
- Cool, dry interior closet or cabinet
This is rewarding work. It can even become quite an obsession: I keep a journal to document what’s in our freezer, how plants thrived in different seasons, etc.
You definitely don’t have to be as crazy about it as I am, but I enjoy writing. And I will say that making notes has proven to be useful on several occasions.
Depending on the number and type of seeds you’re storing, along with your schedule, this could take you anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks. Be sure to look up further guides regarding what to do for seeds before the storing even begins.
For instance, the ways you treat tomato and melon seeds prior to storage are different. Do your research.
Pro tip: Our rule has always been to look for the “stunner” each season. The stunner is the fruit or vegetable that is nearly perfect in every way. It’s thriving among other stunning plants, but it’s outstanding in size, health, and beauty. That’s the one from which we harvest our seeds, and the family tradition continues.
After you’ve researched your seeds and discovered if they should be rinsed, treated in some way, or simply dried immediately, you’re ready to take the first step in the storage regimen. Spread your seeds out across the newspaper.
I usually cover our large dining table with thin paper and label sections. We write directly on the newspaper so we don’t get confused when working with our many seeds.
Check out this video for more ideas and instruction.
When you’ve covered your table with newspaper, paper bags, or any of those items listed, you’ll then spread the seeds out. I usually wait until the sun goes behind the house because our cabin is basically an all-glass front. From the beginning, keep seeds dry, cool, and away from strong light.
Walk by and stir the seeds with a spoon every half-hour or so. This flips the seeds around and helps them dry quickly. To speed up the process even more, we’ve often set up a box fan or small oscillating desk fan.
You don’t want the fan pointed directly at the seeds, but place it on the floor or countertop close by. Seeds are obviously pretty light, and they will blow away if you aren’t careful. This keeps the air in the room moving and on task.
Eventually, you’ll let your seeds rest as you rest overnight; there’s no need to keep stirring after bedtime.
I can’t give you an exact timeframe for this process. If you haven’t decided to use a dehydrator or oven on a low setting and instead have committed to the old-fashioned method, you’ll know the seeds are ready when they don’t pull away from the paper product easily.
They’ll be a touch sticky and won’t turn loose of the newspaper when you try to pick them up. You then know that it’s time for labeling envelopes and storing them.
Pro tip: If using an oven or dehydrator, refer to your manual for instruction. Though my family doesn’t use this method, friends tell me that they place their ovens on 100 and leave the door slightly cracked.
With an oven or dehydrator, you’re looking at about 3-4 hours of drying time. We’ve always preferred to air-dry our seeds from late afternoon until the next morning or afternoon.
Labeling your seeds is a pretty simple step. We make homemade envelopes from scrap paper we save throughout the year, but you can also pull from your desk or purchase envelopes.
My grandfather used bank envelopes, and they worked perfectly. My cousin uses Pinterest for printable templates like these.
Label each envelope as you go, and I suggest doing this before you place seeds inside. Write with a permanent marker, noting the name of your crop, the date on which you stored its seeds, and any other notes or useful information about the plant.
Over time, you might enjoy tracking patterns, and the knowledge might even prove helpful down the road.
Pro tip: Don't reuse envelopes year to year. Recycle the old and start afresh.
For your seed storage containers, it’s important to have something with a tight seal. You can use glass Mason, pickle, spaghetti sauce, or instant tea jars. You might also save all those holiday butter cookie tins and use them.
Finally, if you’re storing in bulk, for corn seeds perhaps, you might try a paint can or a 5-gallon bucket with a lid.
You’re almost ready to pack your seeds away for the long haul! You don’t have to take this next step, but it honestly helps us sleep at night.
Because of the undetectable moisture that could still be lurking within your seeds, you can make this additional move to help regulate stray traces of water. Include a “milk bomb.” My grandfather’s milk bombs are constructed from cheesecloth and powdered milk.
This is an old trick: place some dry milk into the cheesecloth; create a small ball; and tie it all up with yarn, string, thin rope, or a twist tie.
The bombs don’t have to be a certain size–simply whatever you have room for in your jar, tin, etc. Trim off excess cheesecloth. Here’s an example of milk bombs:
Some of you won’t have cheesecloth or powdered milk lying around, and that’s fine. You can reach for coffee filters and dry rice. Make a rice bomb instead, using the coffee filter as you would cheesecloth and tying it off in the same fashion.
And if you happen to have access to or prefer silica packets, those are effective as well. I know people who purchase these because the packs are small and fit easily and neatly into seed storage containers. In the end, moisture is a saved seed’s worst nightmare.
Do all that you can to ensure your hard work doesn't result in mold.
5. Packing Away
The final step is to seal up the containers and place your seeds in either the freezer or refrigerator. Some say you can store in a dry, cool, rarely-used interior closet or basement cabinet, but we’ve never tried it.
There’s a huge freezer in Dad’s carpentry shop that we rely on. It’s rarely opened and the temperature doesn’t fluctuate, so that’s perfect. Your home’s fridge is fine for storage, however.
I do recommend pushing the containers to the back of the fridge. There they will remain undisturbed and less affected by the more frequent opening and closing of the fridge doors.
This video provides further information regarding the importance of storage space.
Did you enjoy this ‘how to store seeds' article? I hope you feel like a seed-saving semi-sage and will not only complete these steps but also find joy in the work. Whether you’re growing as a homesteader, helping with environmental efforts, or continuing timeless traditions, I wish you the best in your storage endeavors. It’s really the best way to keep lovely, consistent crops each year. Please comment below, and share this article with others. Best to you and your seeds!