We all grow in knowledge as we go along in any pursuit or endeavor, but when we start out I think we need to keep everything as simple as possible. This applies to seed savings and seed storage.
As complicated as it can be made — seed saving and storage is pretty simple. Think about this way: – gardeners and farmers have saved seed from one year to the next to grow their crops and feed their families for millennia. They didn’t have silica gel packets, plastic bags, electric freezers or refrigerators or the internet to help make it complicated.
We – as a society and nation — have gotten so far away from our “food” that it seems perfectly normal for us to buy seed from seed companies rather than to save our own. And I for one – would probably have habitually continued to buy all my seed had I not found out about Monsanto’s desire to control the world’s seed — and thus, the food supply.
Well – now that I’m “awake” – I realize that it’s foolishness to buy seed for next year if you’e growing the crop and can save the seed. (Fortunately for all of us — there are some great small and/or independent seed companies still around to back us up while we’re learning or if we’re not 100% successful in our efforts.)
How I Store my Seed
As with most things – there’s more than one way to be successful — but I’m going to give you “Theresa’s-easy-way” first and you can always make it more complicated if you so desire.
For almost 35 years I’ve been storing leftover seed in their original envelopes folded over and sometimes with a piece of tape to hold it closed. I then place the seed packages in a box and close it. Those boxes go out on my enclosed porch. Temperatures fluctuate between 60 and 70 depending on what time of the year it is. In summer it’s air-conditioned so has low humidity. (Where we lived prior to 15 years ago — we had no air-conditioning.)
I’ve kept seeds of vegetables that are “suppose to” be viable only 3 years — for 5 to 10 years and had them germinate. I planted some very old Masai green beans year before last in several out of the way places in the garden — thinking they wouldn’t germinate — but they all did.
When I save my own seed I put it in small paper bags or small envelopes. I do not keep seed in sealed plastic bags because I’m concerned about possible moisture. (I know people who store in plastic and have success. I don’t and won’t.) I will however store the paper bags that are filled with seed in an open plastic bag for convenience.
Freezer or Refrigerator?
A lot of folks I know — and know of — keep their seed in the freezer or refrigerator. They tell me they have good results, so I guess it works for them. I prefer not to even try it.
Some plants have to cold stratify (go through a period of cold temperature or freezing temperatures) in order to germinate. Unless I winter sow — I’ll put them in the freezer for a few weeks to serve as their needed period of cold. Some examples are anise hyssop, old english lavender, datura (moon flower) and tansy. I also find this helpful with snapdragons.
Freezing for these plants help break their hard outer shell. That’s what they need before they can germinate.
What’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander and freezing can damage some seed. If the moisture level in the seed was high enough to expand when frozen it will cause damage to cells of the seed. If freezing cracks the shell of seed not meant to crack — the seed won’t be good. An example would be seed of tomatoes, greens, peppers, eggplants.
I’ve read in various places that if the moisture level is 5 to 7% – the seed can be kept in the freezer indefinitely. Since I wouldn’t have any idea as to how I would go about determining that, I’ll stick to the way I’m doing it and keep it simple.
Basics to Remember
- Save your own seed fresh each year.
- Dry it on a fine screen or sheet of plastic or glass.
- Dry the seeds in a warm place out of direct sunlight for about two weeks.
- Moisture and storage temperatures are the most important factors in keeping seed. Key words for success are a cool, dry environment. Try to keep temperature levels even. Aim for a cool constant temperature.
If you decide to store your seed in air-tight jars and want to use a desicant to remove moisture — place your seed in their bags first. Place a desicant in the jar but outside of the bag containing your seed. You can use silica gels packets. Or placing one-half inch thickness of rice, charcoal, or powdered milk in the bottom of the jar will work as well.
Silica gels suitable for drying seeds can be purchased from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Silica gel is also available at most craft stores.
You learn by doing. So jump in and start saving your seed. Keep the basics in mind and I think you’ll be successful way beyond your expectations — not to mention more self-reliant and independent.
Organic Gardening it easy, efficient, effective and it’s a lot easier.
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Theresa, thanks for that description of how you save seed. So far I have done it the same way as you – at room temperature in an air conditioned house – and the germination rate has been good. As far as I know none of the vegetable seeds I save require being in the cold to germinate.
Besides saving commercial seed and heirloom seed that a friend gave me, my only experience saving my own seed is from an heirloom cherry tomato that did extremely well last year. This very large vine was very productive and the flavor was fantastic. So in October/November after (I thought) all the other tomatoes had died this one was still producing. I let a few tomatoes get over-ripe and saved their seed. This year I have four plants from that seed and they are now bearing fruit. But this is the kicker – although all four bear cherry size fruit none are exactly like the mother plant which had fire engine red fruit. Some are pinkish red and some are red with a little green around the stem. They are all good so I suppose it doesn’t matter but now I’m curious to learn more about tomato genetics! The other interesting thing about the mother plant is that it derived from a packet of saved heirloom seed from the “Pink Ruffled”. It clearly wasn’t Pink Ruffled so obviously there is a mystery there as well. Seed saving makes life interesting.
Are all of your keepers heirloom? Have you ever tried to keep hybrids and if so what were the results?
Seed saving can get very interesting and puzzling, Steve
As you already know tomatoes are self-pollinating — but there is always the possibility that a bee or another insect carried pollen from another tomato and it cross-pollinated.
Still worth the effort I think. And who knows — save seed from your best cherry tomato — and maybe next year it’ll have more of the traits you want.
Thanks for sharing your experience. Very interesting.
Gary, I have saved seed from hybrids to try and develop a favorite. For example I saved seed last year from a tomato that just about exemplified perfection to me. It was a hybrid that I lost the tag for. With hybrids — seed does not produce identical to the parent because that parent (a hybrid) is a cross from two other varieties. Nonetheless — the seed that I saved from that tomato and grew this year — has given me the most perfect looking and some of the best tasting tomatoes that I have ever grown. I love it! And will continue to save seed from it and eventually it will be perfectly suited for my garden.
I did the same thing with a small delicious hybrid called Dafel. The tomatoes are small. Originally, I did not save seed, but let some volunteers from those plants grow up. The tomatoes were small still but I really like them and continue to grow them every year.
In my case, one possibility is that seeds that I got from my friend (or at least one of them)was the result of an inadvertant cross between Pink Ruffled and some other tomato. So the tomato plant I grew last year that I liked so much was actually a hybrid. That would explain why the offspring from that plant are exhibiting a wide variety of traits and is consistent with the pink color from one of them – possibly a trait derived from the original Pink Ruffled.
Last year was the first time I experimented with using seeds I had saved from the previous year. I had dried seeds from “heirloom tomatoes” on paper towels and since it was difficult to get the seeds off the towels, I ended up storing them paper and all. The following spring I sprouted all my seeds (I usually start everything indoors in vermiculite) because I wasn’t confident that they would germinate. I ended up with so many seedlings that I had to give away literally hundreds to grateful neighbors!
Good for you Laura! Thanks for sharing your experience because I think it will encourage a lot of folks.
A tip – a little piece of screen works so nicely for all kinds of seed — especially tomatoes.
Keep up the good work.
I’ve been enjoying your site today! Great information… Thank you!
This is my second year gardening in large containers on my porch. I guess there’s the argument that gardening in containers isn’t organic, but I am still choosing to use as much organic as possible and to avoid Monsanto seeds. Is it crazy to try to plant seeds indoors this late in the year to transplant in May (it’s been a cold year in northern virginia)? red peppers and tomatoes…
Welcome to TMG Brooke.
Container gardening CAN be organic if the grower chooses it. 🙂
And yes, don’t waste another minute – get those seeds growing! You’re a tad late, but not that much.
Thank you so much, Theresa! I am planting today! 🙂 I read that you put your seeds on top of your refrigerator for warmth. Do you keep the kitchen light on and then take outside during the days?
Brooke, I use to put my seeds on top of the refrigerator to germinate. I don’t have room there now, so I put them on my washing machine in my mudroom. The day they germinate is the day they go outside. BUT – to know how I do it first read my post https://tendingmygarden.com/wintersown-variables-a-readers-questions-natures-principles/ and then read all the Related Posts at the end of that posts.
When you finish even the first post, you will have a ton more of information than you have right now.
After you do all that, if you still have questions, let me know!
PS. And no I don’t keep lights on for plants because I’m not set up for all that. That’s why they have to go outside — for proper light.