The practice of saving seeds is as old as agriculture itself, and dates back to over 10,000 years ago. Early human civilizations harvested seeds and selectively bred crop plants to create domesticated varieties which displayed specific desirable traits.
Saving seeds has many benefits in the present day too, it’s a very cost effective way to grow herbs and vegetables, it allows gardeners to develop better varieties which do best in their location and climate, it helps preserve heritage varieties and it’s a great way to increase self-reliance.
When saving seeds, it’s very important for gardeners and farmers to maintain a stock of seeds which is fresh and viable, that will germinate and grow into healthy plants when sown.
Seeds need to be kept in a cool dry place for maximum storage life. When saving many varieties of seeds, it’s best to have some means of organising them, such as in envelopes, with the name of the plant, and the date collected marked clearly. Envelopes ideally should be arranged in alphabetical order too!
The problem with seeds is that they can’t be stored indefinitely, and to complicate the matter further, different seeds can be kept for different periods of time. Knowing how long to keep seeds can get confusing, so to make it easier, we can classify seeds into three categories:
Short storage time periods – store for less than one season (< 1 year)
Medium storage time periods – store for up to or at least 3 years (1-3 years)
Long storage time periods – store for five years or longer (>5 years)
The seed storage list below lists all the plants in each category. Using this system, we can look at the ‘MM/YY collected’ date on the envelope, look up the plant in the list and then work out the ‘Use By’ date, which will either be 1 year, 3 years or 5 years after the collection date. Write the calculated ‘Use By’ date on the envelope too!
Here’s an example of an envelope used by a community seed bank project I jointly set up many years ago:
Seed Storage List
Seeds not to be kept longer than one season (short time periods)
Seeds can be stored up to at least three years (medium time periods)
Seeds can be kept five years or longer (long time periods)
All Brassicas (Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Collards, Kohlrabi)
Chicory (Endive, Escarole, Radicchio)
Using this system, it’s easy to tell when collected seeds are no longer viable, and need to be replaced with fresh ones!