Great Lakes Permaculture

How to Create Your Own Seed Bank

Blackberry seed heads

Blackberry seed heads


As you prepare for the fall season in Central Ohio, this is the time to start to collect seeds from your heirloom and open pollinated vegetable species along with your perennial herbs and flowers. So what exactly is a seed, a seed is a tiny living plant surrounded by a small but essential quantity of nutrients. Many gardeners are seed collectors whether they recognize it by another name or not. Look at the list below; see how many items can you relate to?

1. Have you any seeds left over from your spring planting?
2. Did you buy any packets at the end of the season during a discount sale?
3. Are you saving seeds from any heirloom produce you have grown?
4. Do you have any weeds on your soil, just waiting for the right conditions to sprout again?
5. Have you thrown any non-edible produce onto the compost pile that could sprout next year?

The partial list above just shows you that in many cases we are creating a seed bank without realizing what we are doing. Although we are saving seeds, you should realize that seeds have a distinct purpose and they should be managed accordingly.

One of the questions that I hear quite often is, why don’t I just buy fresh seed every year? With changes in the seed industry, consolidation of companies, and elimination of seed varieties that companies deem unprofitable, you cannot guarantee that your favorite varieties will be available in the years to come, that is why you should make it a practice to save your own seed to insure you have a sufficient supply of seeds that will produce well under your climate conditions and to insure healthier plants in the future years for your growing conditions.

Our goal for storage is to discourage germination, store your seed in a cool dry location without humidity. Bathrooms are too moist and most basements. A general rule of thumb to follow is the 100 rule. If the temperature of the storage area is 70 degrees, then the humidity of the storage area should be under 30% so when you add the 70 and the 30 together they are less than a total of 100. Storing your seed in a plastic storage bag is not a good idea as air and moisture will eventually penetrate the plastic bag, storing your seed in a glass jar is a better choice.

When storing seed, seeds must be dry and free from pests such as moths and weevils. The small silica gel packs that you acquire in vitamins and electronics can absorb up to 20% of their own weight in moisture. They can be used inside the glass jar to help keep your seeds safe from damage.

For freezer storage the moisture content must be low, commercial seed is dried to approximately 8% moisture. Dry seed will snap instead of bending when pressure is applied. Drying seed to 1-3% can extend the life of the seed 4-16 times. If you have a dehydrator, set the dehydrator on 100 degrees F. for six hours, this will bring your seed down to approximately 8% moisture level. No microwaves should be used in this procedure. Store your seed in a glass jar with a clasp lid and rubber seal for maximum effectiveness, canning jars with separate lids and rings will allow air and moisture to enter eventually. So depending on the length of time you plan to keep your seed, plan accordingly.

Label your seed with the scientific name whenever possible; place the label inside the jar as labels will fall off the jars over time. Include the name of the company you purchased the original seeds from, the year you purchased the seed or the year you gathered the seed along with any specific notes from your growing season (cool summer, hot and rainy season). If you save the same varieties over several years, remember to rotate your stock using the oldest first to keep all seed stock current.

Why would you save seed?
1. Good hobby or for fun
2. Profit, save your seeds and sell them on the internet or to friends
3. To insure you do not have a crop failure due to seed that will not grow in your area
4. Because it is the sustainable thing to do
5. Or because you believe that there will be a partial or total societal collapse

Whatever your reason, have fun with your new adventure. The reasons why you are saving seeds will dictate your methods. If you want to play it safe, collect self-pollinating seeds such as tomatoes, beans, lettuce, peas, chicory, and endive. If you are feeling a little bit braver, collect wind and insect pollinated varieties like corn, cucumber, radish, spinach, and squashes. Then move on to biennials which seed the second year of growth, biennials include onions, carrots, cabbages, beets, Swiss chard, turnips, celery, leeks. If you have specific questions or comments, please contact me at vince@greatlakespermaculture.com.

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