Best Practices For Wintertime Seed Storage

Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners

By Lee Flynn (Freelance writer and expert in emergency food preparedness and food storage)

As the gardener savors the last of the autumn harvest, collecting seeds for next year’s garden should be a priority as well. Seeds can typically be collected and stored for one year while maintaining high levels of germination. Under ideal conditions, many seeds can be stored for much longer. Moisture, light and temperature are all important factors to consider when storing seeds.

Choose open-pollinated seeds

Seeds from hybridized plants will typically not develop into plants that are true to form. When a plant is cross-pollinated, it may take on characteristics from both parent plants, and desirable aspects of the hybridized plant may be lost. The gardener should save only open-pollinated varieties of seed, which are also known as heirloom varieties. Open-pollinated varieties of seed will stay true to form, despite different types of pollination.

Choose best-quality seeds

The gardener should only choose the best-quality seeds to save. Never choose to save seeds from plants that did not thrive, show signs of disease or have poor fruit, vegetable or flower production. The goal is to have a vigorous garden next year, and careful selection of the best seeds will ensure a beautiful harvest. Different types of seeds will store better than others; some seeds don’t store very well at all, others are capable of lasting many years. Peppers, tomatoes, melons, squash and annual flower seeds are good choices for beginners.

Moisture-proof storage containers and cold storage

For seed storage, choose jars or other types of containers that will seal tightly and remain waterproof if placed underwater. Canning jars are a good choice as are other types of glass food jars. The seeds should be stored in a cold, dark place. Keep in mind that the storage of seeds is the opposite of growing them; lack of light, cool temperatures and no moisture will ensure good seed storage. Ideal environments include:

  • Refrigerator: Temperature controlled, cold and dark
  • Unheated basement: Cool, stable temperatures
  • Root cellar: Ideal for long-term storage

Collect and prepare seeds

The gardener should only collect seeds that are completely mature and ready for harvest. The harvest is similar to selecting fruits and vegetables for winter food storage; choose the best seeds with no signs of disease or damage. After selection of the seeds, dry them in a warm place. This can be done rather quickly on a hot day or in a warm oven – the seeds will be dry in just a few hours. However, it is important to never dry seeds at temperatures over 100 degrees. If too much moisture is removed from the seeds, they will not germinate well, and may even die. Another option to dry seeds is to spread them out on newspapers or paper towels for a week at average room temperatures.

Store the seeds

The seeds can then be prepared for storage. Paper envelopes work well to gather seeds together. Label the envelope and fold it to place in the storage jar or container. If the seeds have been dried on paper towels, the paper towels can be labeled, rolled up and placed in the storage jar or container. The seed containers are now ready to be moved to the storage environment.

Test germination

In the spring, remove the seeds from storage and let them warm to room temperature while still in the closed container to prevent condensation. Count seeds into a pot filled with soil, water well and provide warmth and light. After a few days, count how many of the seeds have sprouted. If the number is more than half, the seeds are viable and can be used in the garden.

Despite best efforts, sometimes seeds don’t survive wintertime storage. Any small amount of disease, moisture, or other factors can cause storage efforts to fail. It is always worth the effort to try again – using these best practices – and hope for a better outcome.

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