Tips From A Survivalist On Saving Seeds



Guest post by - Jerry Greenfield read more of his articles here.

There are no guarantees in this world we live in today. We can’t rest assured that the grocery store will always be there or that its shelves will always be stocked full of food. We can’t count on our local home supply store having rows and rows of different seed packets to choose from if we were to ever need to grow our own food. We need to face the reality that things may “go south”, and if they do, we’ll only be able to count on ourselves, and the skills and knowledge we have acquired, in order to survive.

In this, my first guest blog for TheSurvivalistBlog.net, I’d like to share with you a few tips on how to store your own seeds. These are tricks I’ve picked up from my mother and grandmother, other survivalist and organic gardeners I know or have known in my lifetime, or just simply by me learning the hard way and adapting my methods.

Well, to start with, I just need to say it, don’t use genetically modified seeds in your garden; use heirloom seeds. Humans have survived and flourished for thousands of years planting heirloom seeds, and why we decided to start messing with seeds 40 or 50 years ago is beyond me. If we are ever thrown into a world where we need to grow our own food to survive, trust me, you want plants that are grown naturally and contain the most nutrients. Hybrid seeds, and the plants they produce, have been shown to contain much less nutrition than organically grown plants, and often, they require much more maintenance to grow successfully.

In addition, hybrid seeds can’t be saved. The majority of them turn out to be duds, and when new plant life should be growing in your garden, you’ll be faced with a less than 20% growth rate. Yeah, you may survive that first year, but when year 2 comes along, you’ll be starving.

Now, after your harvest, be sure to save as many seeds as you can—it’s much better to have too many than not enough. Bring your seeds inside and lay them on paper bags in a cool, dry place to draw-out the moisture in the seeds. Okay, done. But here’s where people get stuck: What do you DO with all those seeds? How and where should you store them? How long will they keep?

How should you store them? The best way I’ve come up with is to store them in mason jars. I also have some old baby food jars I use, but those are difficult to find anymore. Either way, a water-tight jar with a secure lid will do the trick. You may even want to purchase some silica packets to throw in with the seeds to draw-out any extra moisture.

My best suggestion as the where to store them is a cool, dry place. Some people will store seeds in the refrigerator or freezer, some people have dry basements or cellars to store them in, and some people have sheds/garages they can store their seeds in. Regardless of where, cool and dry is key. If you choose to store them in your refrigerator or freezer, definitely use the silica packets.

And how long can you keep the seeds? How long will they be viable? It really just depends on the type of seed. What I do is date my seeds so that I know how long they’ve been in the jar. Then, each Spring I plant a handful of each kind from the oldest jars to see if they grow. What I’ve found is that most seeds will last 4-5 years but not much longer.

If you are not already saving seeds, I suggest you start. It does not take much time or energy, and these little seeds could save your life in the future, so it’s completely worth it. I would recommend researching your area to find out what kinds of plants grow best where you live and if the seeds of these plants require any special treatment. Knowledge is the best tool you can have when it comes to survival. Thanks for reading!

Comments

  1. Excellent article. If the SHTF heirloom seeds will be a valuable bartering item also.

  2. I really liked this post.

    I have been saving seeds for years. I usually lay them on paper towels on a shelf in the basement, which is dry and cool, until they’re completely dry. I grow several varieties of tomatoes and I’ll write the variety in pencil on the paper towel. Later, I put them in a zip freezer bag. I usually use most or all of my saved seeds every year. Your advice to save as many seeds as possible is well taken and I will start doing that. I suspect that if I do save more seeds, I’ll need to put them in a sealed jar with a silica pack. Really good post.

  3. I don’t think one can have enough heirloom seeds on hand. Know the size of the garden space you will need to sustain yourself and any others in your group. If you you have a bumper crop, you can always share. My Dad would dry various seeds on newspapers and then seal them in “fruit” jars with continued success. Great post. A garden is a very important part
    of “preppin” and surviving . Can anyone share any information about
    propagating fruit trees? Dubya(Tx Hill Country)

    • I’ve only been learning about propagating for a couple of years so I’m no expert. But I do know trees grow best by grafting. There are many examples on the net if you haven’t got anyone to learn from locally. Often people will use whats called ‘rootstock’ to get a new tree going. Rootstock is a hardy tree that grows well in your area of the same species as the tree you want to grow. Say, peach for example. You start with a peach sapling. That paticular variety may be very hardy to pests/diseases/climate but not very tasty. So you cut it off about a foot up the trunk and graft a peach variety that you like in its place. There really is alot of information out there so I won’t go any further but that is how most fruit trees get propagated.

      • Lorenzo Poe says:

        Or a closely related species. Almonds are grafted on to peach root stock. My dad has several pecan trees that were grafted on to some other type of nut tree. Can’t recall which one right now.

  4. Lint Picker (Northern California) says:

    This is a very useful article and I thank the author for it. I have often wondered how to save seeds, and now I know!

    The soil here is very rocky and there is far too much shade to grow most things in the ground. I will have to start practicing with container gardening this spring to see if I can grow anything at all. If not, then I’ll stock up on even more canned veggies and fruits, which don’t taste all that good but are better than nothing.

    Now to call the local nursery to see if they sell packets of heirloom seeds. If not, I guess I’ll be shopping online again. Thank goodness for the internet!

    • WyomingEvie says:

      Look at farm supply stores at the end of the season for seeds. Most of the ones I find are heritage varieties …and TEN CENTS a pack, at the end of the season. Of course they may not have great variety, but MOST seeds will keep for many years if kept cool and dry. Tomatos and peppers I have saved are still viable eight or ten years later. Onions, and several root crops lose thier viability in a short time…one or two years. It’s always a good idea to save more than you will need since seeds will be high on the list of barter-able items.

    • Hydroponics. If you have the cash you can grow just about anything. You can set up a hydroponics system inside your (insert wherever you’re going post SHTF) There goes the treat of moochers and theives takeing your crop. Downside is you need alot of money to get started, THOUSANDS, and most people don’t have that kind of cash to throw around. Just figured I’d share what I know, cause that’s what we do here.

      • WyomingEvie says:

        It doesn’t cost thousands to get started in hydroponics, if you are a bit handy. I have a hydro unit that I built and set up in a sunny south window every fall and run till spring (outdoor gardening begins). I built it out of PVC pipe, soda bottles, an old aquarium pump and a wooden box lined with a shower curtain. (Any container to hold the water/nutrient mix will do). The most expensive part of the deal was the initial investment in hydroponic nutrients. I bought gallon sizes and these are almost gone, on the 4th season. Me and my daughter have been eating greens (lettuce, mustard, spinach) and dill out of it for a couple months, and there are about 20 little baby tomatos coming on. In previous years I have grown summer squash, cukes, peppers etc. I do have to supplement light with two hanging florescent shop fixtures. If anyone is interested I can provide pictures and basic building instructions.

        • Hello,
          I read your post about hydrophonics and your set up. I would love to see your set up and pictures. I am interested in learning how to do my own. Any help you can give me would be a great help. Thank you.

      • Hydroponics are that expensive to set up. If you have worked some with any soiless garden you should know with a few 5 gal buckets, a small amount of pvc pipe and glue, and a swamp cooler pump you can start it up for under $50.00 . Further more if you want to really get those plants growing visit you hardware store and pick up a H.P.S. yard light. for $40.00 and some small swamp cooler hose and there you have a simple hyorplonics set up.

        Stay safe people.

        P.S. watch what you grow in your new garden..lol

  5. michaelangelo says:

    If putting the seeds in a jar keeps the air away, would vacuum sealing the seeds perhaps with a gel pack also work

    • Sgt. Psycho says:

      Seeds are still “alive” and need to be stored with some air (oxygen). They die from long-term storage in a vacuum.

  6. Omegamann says:

    I toss this out for consideration only, as I am no expert.

    My prior efforts at gardening were abysmal. At present, I have little usable space that would produce a significant harvest, so I am not really likely to improve my record. I am lucky to harvest a reasonable number of tomatoes.

    That being said, I think that one should consider purchasing modern hybrid seeds for a limited purpose. I have found a cheap source for them at at dollar store. Currently, they are 9 packets for $.99. Yes, the number of seeds in them is reduced from, say, a Burpee’s packet, but at that price, the amount of seeds contained is a great buy.

    In a true SHTF, grid-down situation, I would plant the hybrids first. It is the period after the first and second years of a disaster that would probably be the most critical for food production–the period after most of my food storage would have been consumed by me and others. (Sure, I could rent a storage space for more food, I suppose, but that just isn’t going to happen.) Given the probable germination rate, the various packets of hybrid seeds I have stored might be planted for even a third year and longer. (After all, I agree with you about the 4-5 year probable germination rate, and also consider how often you are advised on seed packets to thin the seedlings once they sprout). It is the hybrids’ greater productivity during the critical “post-balloon up” period that makes this idea attractive.

    And, if one had shoeboxes full of hybrid seeds to trade after a grid-down situation, they would quite possibly be worth their weight in gold, regardless of their worth to me.

    Along the way, one could also grow the heirloom seeds for the eventual transition, and harvest the new heirloom seeds for the future.

    Just some thoughts.

    • Luddite Jean says:

      I’m with Omegamann on this one. Heirloom seeds are great, but as anyone who has tried these will tell you, they can be temperamental.

      Also, collecting seed from F1 hybrids will not necessarily produce ‘duds’. Some will be like the parent plant (the F1 variety), some will be like the grandparents. Admittedly, you won’t know until you grow them, but you will still get produce.

      It’s worth knowing that if you grow two different heirloom varieties of the same plant, the resultant seeds will be your own unique F1 variety because the two heirlooms will cross. So, if you want to keep the strains as they are, only plant one variety. On the other side of the coin, if you do only plant one variety, you may find yourself without any crop at all if that variety has a weakness to the weather or pests encountered in a particular year.

      Even sticking to single heirlooms may produce a throwback once in a while.

    • Im with you on this one. Unless you are currently growing food crops (and you should), you will be disappointed with most heirloom seeds. Hybrids were modified to resist diseases and bugs that decimate heirloom seeds. If your family survival does not depend on the crops coming in, as is the case today for most of us, crop loss is a disappointment. If you do, it could mean death.
      So, lets think for a second at the cost/benefit of heirlooms seeds for a grid down situation. If you believe that what could happen is a multi generational “Zombieland” scenario, by all means, store heirloom seeds first. Better yet, start planting perennial crops that are native or at least adapted to your area. Peaches, nuts, pears, apples and citrus are some examples. These food stuffs are there to supplement your preps and for barter/trade and to keep your family alive. Heirlooms do allow you to store from year to year. Understand that you will have to plant several times more plants than with hybrid. Why? Heirlooms are disease and bug prone. That is the reason why hybrids came along. True, you could limit yourself to growing crops that are native and can handle the local bugs, soil, weather and other conditions. But you are talking about subsistence farming only!

      Hybrids, on the other hand, have a higher rate of production, are bug resistant and can be purchased to meet your local conditions. And they are CHEAP!!!

      If you believe that the coming storm will be a temporary (less than a decade to the new normalcy) period, then consider a different way.

      My suggestions?
      1. Store 4-5 years worth of hybrid seeds for crops your family currently eats. If they don’t eat natural foods, start changing their diet (no, McNuggets and cheerios don’t grow on trees). Then double the size your seed bank.
      2. Have your soil tested. You need to improve your soil now. It might take a couple of seasons before you get your soil properly balanced.
      2. Start growing crops from those seeds. That way you will learn your micro climate and soil conditions now instead than learning them when you could die when the crops fail.
      3. Stock pile basic fertilizers. Yes, I know that I will get flamed for this one. But, until your soil can produce consistently, you are not going to survive by applying exotic organic bat guano to your soil. It will take every inch of available soil to keep your family alive and you want every plant to be as healthy and produce as much as possible. We are not talking Gaia/Mother Earth/sustainable politics here. We are talking life or death. Your kids starving to death because you refused to use and store miracle grow.
      4. Start a compost pile. It is going to take a couple of years to have a productive pile that can be used to improve your soil. That time does not include mistakes that you will make and accidents that will happen.
      5. Start planting heirloom seed crops in addition to your hybrids and experimenting with locations and soil health. This way you will know if the “super survival seed” packet that you bought online will actually produce for you and how much food you can actually expect from it .
      6. Don’t buy the “super survival artic vault storage seed” packets. They are an expensive marketing ploy. You can get several times more packet seeds for the same money. Buy your hybrids from the local feed store/co-op and buy your heirlooms from seed exchanges. Experiment with them now.
      7. Talk to your neighbors and local feed stores. They can give you a good idea of what will and will not grow in your area. But beware that most farming today is mass regional farming. Cotton areas grow cotton, corn areas grow corn, etc. It does not mean that other crops may not grow, it justs means that the cash crop in your area is what local farmers know the most about.
      8. Start growing crops NOW. Having heirloom seeds in a mason jar will not guarantee you will have food latter. Your first two years will be abysmal failures.

      • Oh yeah, I forgot couple of things:

        9. Buy the tools you need now. Both powered tools (tiller) and hand tools (spades, hoes, rakes) may not be readily available when everyone needs them at the same time.

        10. Learn to can and can excess produce. Makes no sense to bring in a great crop and then have it rot because you could not can correctly. This will also supplement your current preps and allow your family to eat in the winter from the fruits of your labor.

        • Wow! Good info but very intense. Slow down and enjoy the ride. Growing a garden is peaceful and gratifing. Yes there is a learning curve to a garden. But it is fun not scary!
          Compost is really very fast, soil upgrades are not so hard and can be done in a few weeks. Hybreds and Heirlooms should not be grown in the same plot. And helping others will suppliment your growing. I grow great garlic, kale, onions, and squash and fantastic potatos. My tomatoes are just so so. But my neighbor has great tomatos so we trade! Peace and helping others will ensure your family survives not stress and fear. Have a great day.

  7. Great article, Thanks!

    I made the mistake of purchasing expensive heirloom seeds through dealers who sell “survival gardens”, “survival buckets” and other such cool-sounding marketing ploys. Spent lots of money and got few seeds. Then, I discovered a much better option that 1] Offers a free and recurring catalog 2] Has terrific customer service 3] Delivers on time with correct orders and most importantly…. 4] is much more cost-efficient (waaaay cheaper).

    There is a slight membership charge, but the product quality is well worth the nominal fee. I only order from them now. Check out: http://www.seedsavers.org

    (I am not associated in any way with these folks except as a very satisfied customer of two years.)

    Check out

  8. That last “check out” was a typo. Sorry.

  9. Dean in Michigan says:

    I too liked this post. This topic has been on mind lately, as far as planning for the upcoming season. I have already decided that some of my tax return will buy me two more raised beds, as well as a seed bank order.

    This past season was only my second as a gardener, and not bad. However, I have no experience with seeds, as I have always bought flats at the farmers market. I realized last year that I better get my butt in gear and learn how to start from seed.

    So thank you Jerry for the tips. I will definitely be dealing with seeds this year, but will still get stuff from the farmers market, in case my rookie seed planting is a disaster.

  10. OhioPrepper says:

    If you happen to live in Amish country, they can be a good source for seeds. All of them that I’ve known have large gardens and save seeds. Even the corn they plant as a cash crop is inspected and hand selected for the next years seed grain.

  11. Sarah Afanador says:

    I have been gardening for a few years and am an avid seed-saver. The best source I have found for heirloom seeds is Seed Saver’s Exchange– they have an EXTENSIVE inventory of heirloom seeds and fantastic customer service. I use paper plates to dry my seeds (sturdier than paper towels, and more easily reusable) and write the plant variety on the plate. Once they are dry, I transfer the seeds to paper mailing envelopes. They are cheaper than jars, and also help keep the moisture content down, without having to buy silica packets. I label each envelope and put an entire year’s worth of envelopes into a sealed plastic tub, which I store in my freezer until they are needed the next year. I harvest far more seeds each year than I can actually use, but then I have plenty of extra to give away to family & friends or to swap with other gardeners. Anyone looking for a fantastic book on the subject should check out “Seed to Seed” by Suzanne Ashworth.

  12. One thing to be aware of is where you buy your seeds. I am in Florida where humidity is a major issue and many of the seed packets in stores are outside in the garden center or just inside a huge door that is open to the outside. The seeds that are exposed to the excessive humidity are not always viable, or are only viable for one season. If you are storing seeds, make sure you are getting them from a source that protects the seeds from the excessive humidity.

  13. Maybe a dumb question, but would some of you be willing to share some good resources (book titles, websites) on basic vegetable gardening (heirloom or not). When to start seeds, put in plants, zones, soil info., tricks and tips, greenhouses, pest control, saving seeds – all of it. I have found a lot of articles on line and see books with pieces of the picture – stuff here and there, but I want a womb-to-tomb handbook type resource if I can find it. Thanks.. By the way I bought a can of seeds from http://sustainableseedco.com/Safety-Seed-Packages/. They looked to me like a real seed outfit that had an emergency seed stash options as opposed to a company that just sells the emergency stuff. I plan to try them out this Spring and maybe take photos and keep a log- argh another project !

    Thanks .

    • If I were only going to buy one book, it would be “The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food” by Tanya L.K. Denckla (published by Storey and available on Amazon). It covers everything you could possibly want to know about growing annual and perennial vegetables and fruits, as well as herbs and fruit/nut trees. Each type of plant has its’ own entry, with details about soil and light needs, planting and harvest instructions, propagation, pest problems and solutions, and what types of plants to grow with it as companions. It is easy to understand and is in a format that makes it easy to reference.
      Another resource I have found REALLY useful is a magazine called Mother Earth News– I know it sounds like a “tree-hugger” publication, but it covers everything related to homesteading…. gardening and soil improvement, raising chickens and livestock, DIY projects, alternative energy, and all things that fall under the category of “self-sufficiency.”
      Hope this helps! :-)

      • Thanks Sarah. I will check it out. I used to garden years ago with hybrids, but did not get really good at it and it got away from me. My wife would not get into it either, so I quit. I like gardening – but not as much as hunting or fishing. They all make me feel close to the land and nature. I am determined to go at it again this Spring (with heirlooms even).

  14. Teenageprepper says:

    I think that my last comment had a link to a website… I have no idea what site I might be sending people to, because it was a typo. Sorry. Seeds are interesting to me, I think that it’s like telling yourself that you can survive. You might not. However I have NO experiance gardening so I’m just talking out of my…

    But I HAVE seen plenty of pioneer movies where the kid always crys, “The crop’s lost pa! what’ll we do now!!?” Just have an answer ready when your post SHTF offspring are begging the same info out of you. Again NO gardening experiance but I’m looking to change that, so any advice it appreciated. For a science project a couple years ago I tried giveing a house plant some Johnny Cash to listen to, and that seemed to make it grow faster.

    Coincidence, or science :D

  15. SrvivlSally says:

    You wrote a good article and did not leave much to question. It is so nice to let a few plants go to seed and then be able to collect, dry and package them for the following year and not have to worry about whether or not they will grow and I save money by doing so. I also like to grow foods that are prolific such as Jerusalem Artichokes which are very delicious when sliced up and cooked in a little butter and then lightly salted. They are pretty similar to a potato and they are easy to harvest, prepare and eat right from the garden after the growing season is over. A few of the artichokes with some greens from walking onions and what a tasty and nutritious dish you will have.

  16. WOW! Thanks to everyone who read and commented on my first guest blog! The feedback and conversations are phenomenal! I appreciate everyone’s input and I look forward to writing my next guest blog!

  17. Does anyone have any suggestions on short season gardening? I live in the mtns and the past two years I’ve gardened with homemade cold frames. The season is so short, I’m not doing terribly well (the truth is, I’m a pretty worthless gardener.) This year (hopefully) will be better. Summer squash were the most prolific that I’ve found. I also started some berries last year – hope for a few strawberries. Of course, rhubarb does pretty well and I divided the one plant last summer. Onions are okay, but not very large, they got a bit moldy, but most of them lasted through Jan. I got a very few tiny tomatoes and tiny melons, had to leave them in the sun and in a paperbag at night for weeks to ripen, but very, very tasty when ripe (knocks your socks off tasty). The carrots grow fairly well, but not big or bright.

    I didn’t save any seeds, because of the ripening thing. I do buy when seeds are on sale – so I think I’m ready for this summer. Last fall I found out that sedum is edible, so I’ll try to propagate to the food garden – it tastes a bit like lettuce, so I’m thinking it doesn’t have a great deal of caloric value. I got some tiny corn ears to produce a few years ago, trying that again.

    I’ve also done a tiny solar collector (made with junque) which promptly blew apart, I’m thinking of getting a little propane wall heater for next winter. Any input on short season veggies that might grow in mtns or homemade solar heat, would be great! (I haven’t used pesticides, but I don’t know what that means).

    Thanks, Jerry Greenfield. Great website! Great comments!