I have stored my seeds in many ways—in jars, in plastic storage containers, in used bubble mailers, in cute “binder” gift books, in Ziploc bags. Keeping seeds organized can be a challenge, especially when you grow an extensive vegetable garden. There’s the question of how to organize and categorize. But did you know that your seed storage conditions can also affect the viability and germination rate of your seeds? In this article, I’m going to share some tips on how to keep seeds and container options for storing them.
Why is proper seed storage important?
Storing your seeds properly will help them last longer. There are two things to think about when using seeds from a previous year: their viability and their germination rate. Viability refers to whether your seed will produce a healthy, robust seedling. The germination rate is a percentage determined by how many seeds sprouted compared to how many were planted. These factors will differ among different herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
It may be surprising to learn that some seeds last longer than others. Lettuce, corn, onions, and parsley don’t last as long as cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, or eggplant, for example.
This article by Jessica provides some helpful information about how long various seeds will last, as well as how to test germination rates. The back of your seed packets will usually have some type of stamp that says “packed on,” so you can see how old your seeds are.
Where should you store seeds in your home?
Your storage conditions do not have to be on par with the Global Seed Vault, which currently holds 1.1 million seeds to safeguard the world’s crops. Those crops have been frozen in special lab conditions. The intent is to store them for years.
In a home environment, a few factors will help the viability of your seeds. Choose a cool, dark, dry location, where there aren’t any temperature fluctuations. Humidity, moisture, and direct sunlight can affect the longevity of the seeds. A cool, dark closet or cupboard is ideal. While a basement can be damp, if your packets are stored in an air-tight container, they should be okay.
Most home gardeners are only going to keep their seeds for a couple of years beyond the date of purchase, so storage in a cool area of the home will suffice. While a refrigerator can provide cool conditions for seeds, there could be too many temperature and moisture fluctuations for proper seed storage. Consistent temperatures are better. As well, freezing can kill some varieties of seeds. If you do store your seeds in a fridge or freezer, it’s recommended you bring them completely to room temperature before opening the air-tight container. This will prevent moisture from affecting them as they thaw.
What kind of containers should you consider for seed storage?
Something air-tight for seed storage containers is best. Some gardeners will use those little silica gel packets, which absorb moisture, to ensure their seed storage is absolutely dry. Many seed companies will recommend an area that is as cool as about 42°F (5.6°C). However those conditions are pretty unrealistic for the average home gardener. Stick to cool, dark, and dry for your storage location.
Organizing seed packets
Everyone’s brain works differently, so how you organize your seeds is completely up to you. When my seed collection was smaller my categories included root vegetables all together, then warm-weather veggies, flowers, etc.
What I do now is categorize everything by individual fruit, vegetable, or herb. But each season, from those I’ll pull out what I’m currently going to use. So I’ll have a group of seeds I’m going to start indoors in the order I’d like to sow them. To establish this order I’ll count backwards from my frost-free date and arrange accordingly. Then I’ll have another group of seeds I plan to direct-sow. This starts with my winter sowing, followed by early-spring planting, then late spring, then succession planting.
I’ll write down what I’ve planted, so I can file my seed packet away. But then it’s easy to find if I need to look up something, like days to maturity.
Storing seeds in bins
Currently, my seed collection is in a couple of containers. I have small, stackable storage bins with lids. Within these bins are Ziplock bags containing seed packets grouped by vegetable. I used to have more containers, but then I got to test out a galvanized seed box from Gardener’s Supply Company for an article. It’s such a good size, I was able to save some space by getting rid of a couple of containers.
Also available in a more compact size, both options come with glassine envelopes to hold any seeds you save yourself. There are other seed storage boxes in various sizes to be found online or in retail shops. You could use an old cake tin and either make your own dividers and paper envelopes, or purchase refills.
Photo storage boxes are also popular for seed saving. I’ve seen a few shown by gardeners on social media. The beauty of these is you have a main container. Then, within that container are photo-sized boxes where you could organize printed 4×6 photos. Each storage box is the perfect size for seed packets and are stored inside the main container.
Seed storage in binders
One of my first seed storage solutions was a little binder, which was great when I had a small urban garden. But the size was small (one packet per page) and the pages were limited. Gradually, my collection outgrew it—I could have a whole binder with just beets, carrots, or kale!
If you have any binders like the ones we used to take to school kicking around, they can work well as a seed organizer. All you need are some plastic photo sleeves or sheet protectors to organize your packets. This isn’t quite as practical for bigger garden seeds, like peas or beans, as the pages won’t remain as flat. You can also purchase binders that are meant for storing packets.
Storing seeds in jars
Any sealed glass jars can be used to hold seeds. I use old mason jars for the seeds I use in the kitchen, like coriander and dill. They are kept in a dark cupboard. But in this case, it’s not for seed viability, it’s for flavor. Depending on where you store your seeds, glass jars are a good option to protect them from hungry rodents.
Storing seeds in envelopes
Envelopes come in handy, especially when you are saving your own seeds. My sister and I used to split our seed order, so we’d often make our own little envelopes to transport and store some of the seeds. Once your seeds are safely packaged into envelopes, you can then use any of the options above to store them away.