By Michael Jenkins
Seeds are part of the foundation of garden success, and we’ve talked a bit about their importance before. Now let’s move on the the second part of that blog about seeds and talk about how to save, store, and organize seeds for future use. Saving your own seeds is rewarding: it saves you money, allows you to collect heirloom and rare varieties of plants, and gives you something special to trade with other gardeners should the opportunity arise. Saving seeds enhances our understanding and appreciation of their magic and of gardening as a whole, so let’s dig in!
The first step is making sure your seeds are ready to save. In our first blog on the subject we went over how to determine when seeds were ready to save. Before saving seeds, it’s vital to ensure that they’re separated from the flesh of the fruit and fully dried out. This prevents mold from setting in and ruining your precious seeds, so don’t skip or skimp on this step! For fleshy fruits like tomatoes, peppers and the like, this can mean manually separating seeds from the fully ripe flesh, carefully rising them in a tight sieve, and then laying them out on paper towels for a while until they are completely dry. Again, we can’t stress this enough—do not skip this step!
Once your seeds are dried and ready, it’s time to consider how you’re going to organize and store them for next season’s garden. There are a number of approaches that work well, so the trick is finding the one that works best to you and that you’ll use consonantly and effectively. Keeping your seeds organized isn’t a huge chore, but it is an ongoing effort as new seeds come in and you use up old ones. There are a couple of ways to go about this, including:
- Storing seeds in their original packets is probably best for purchased seeds, and you can reuse that packet for saved seeds from your garden.
- If you don’t have the seed packet, a small envelope can take its place. They’re cheap, readily available, and can last for years.
- Likewise, a small plastic resealable bag is a great place to store seeds. You can add a piece of paper or cardboard cut to fit which will give the bag some structure and give you a place to label your seeds.
- If you don’t have the original seed packets, or just fancy a bit of DIY, you can make your own seeds envelopes using the instructions found here.
- When you’ve selected a seed storage method, keep it organized by putting your seed packets/bags/envelopes into a larger container. A sturdy cardboard box with a lid, a plastic tote of appropriate size, or just a large freezer bag can all work well. You can use dividers to group your seeds by type—eg, all tomatoes together.
- Whatever method you choose, please do your future self a favor and label your seed packets! Your label should include the kind of seeds inside, the date of harvest, and any other notes you’d like to include about that variety and how it performed for you.
- Your seeds should be stored in a cool, dry place, well away from sunlight. To address a popular gardening myth: storing your seeds in the refrigerator or freezer doesn’t help prologue the life or viability of your seeds and can actually cause problems for them later on. That kind of cold isn’t necessary—again, just find a room temperature, dry place out of the light and your seeds will be fine.
That leaves us with one final question: how long do stored seeds last? There’s no hard and fast answer here—we’ve started seeds that were up to a decade old and gotten decent results. While germination rates will drop over time, a packet of seeds will stay viable for at least a few years. So you shouldn’t rely on old seeds, but if you have some there’s no reason not to give them a try!
We hope this gets you started on the wonderful and rewarding journey of saving your own seeds. If you have any tips, pointers, or questions about saving seeds, get in touch with us! Gardzen is a community and we love to hear from you!