Starting A Personal Seed Bank
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There are several reasons to keep a personal seed bank. Many people often think of personal seed banks as something only entertained by those preparing for a global disaster. While many people do store seeds due to that concern, that is in no way the only reason to justify having your own seed stockpile. Reasons for keeping a seed bank can be as simple as a particular fondness of certain varieties of plants. Even if there is not a wide spread economic crisis, that does not mean that you will not ever fall on hard times yourself. Having seeds already on hand ensures that no matter the economic forecast, you still have a way to keep your homestead garden growing.
One of the most important steps in planning a personal seed bank is selecting the proper seeds for your area. Plant hardiness zones are established for the United States to aid in the process of selecting appropriate plants and seeds for your environment. These hardiness zones can be searched online via zip code, or looked up by the local County Extension Office.
Sometimes, selecting the appropriate seeds can go beyond simply knowing what plant hardiness zone you live in. Terrain, and land can vary greatly even in the same hardiness zone. Things like elevation, water sources, and many other factors come into play when choosing seeds. For example, a plant that will thrive in a certain zone in full sun, will not do well in the same zone, if it is in a shaded area. Through observation, and familiarity with your land, microclimates like this should be easily identified and planned for accordingly.
Seeds should always be labeled clearly with their common name, Latin name if possible, and the date collected or packaged. If seeds are purchased from a reputable seed company, this information should already be included on the seed packet. However, for those that collect seeds from their own plants, this step is vital to maintaining a quality seed bank.
Seeds are living things. As living things, they need to have access to oxygen. Due to this, ensure that the oxygen is never fully removed, and never utilize oxygen absorbers when packing your seeds up for storage. Also, for this reason, vacuum sealing your seeds is never recommended. When it comes to choosing proper packaging for your seeds there are numerous options. Some of the most common storage options are paper envelopes or small plastic bags.
Many people utilize glass jars or containers for their seeds. While this does have the benefit of being rodent proof, there are some drawbacks to this method. Glass jars are often clear which will allow extra light or sunlight in. This needs to be noted and remedied if this is chosen as your method used for storing seeds. Another potential problem that warrants noting is the risk of breaking a jar accidently. However, if special care is taken to keep the glass jar out of sunlight and in a location where it will not be dropped or broken, glass jars can be a top performer when it comes to seed storage. Generally, the highest regarded seed storage container is a glass jar with a rubber seal and clamping or latching lid. Similarly, small glass vials with screw top lids can also be utilized successfully for smaller seed varieties.
A good choice for storing your seeds, either for the small individual packets, or as the main container to hold many other small packets, is a Mylar bag. These bags will not allow light in, and are often more durable than other bags. Mylar bags can be purchased with sealing tops or needing to be heat sealed. In order to not cause any damage to the seeds, it is recommended to utilize the Mylar bags that have the built in zipper for sealing.
Humidity and heat are two of the greatest threats to your seed bank. Seeds should always be kept in cool, dark places. Seeds should never be stored in areas that get above 96 degrees. Not only can the heat damage the seeds, but this is also an environment that encourages humidity. For this reason, placing them in a cabinet above the stove range, by a heater, fireplace or wood stove, or on top of the refrigerator should be avoided.
There are several misnomers when it comes to storing seeds for a seed bank. Many people believe that putting their seeds in the freezer will prolong their viability. This can be true, but only if freezing is done correctly. Many more delicate seeds can be rendered useless from improper freezing. Due to this, freezing seeds is generally not recommended. The top two recommended locations to store seeds are in a basement or in the refrigerator as long as proper sealing measures are utilized. Both of these places will offer seeds a stable environment out of direct sunlight.
Another threat to stored seeds is from pests. No matter the chosen storage method, ensure that the seeds are protected from pests, be it rodents or bugs. One method that is commonly used is to scatter bay leaves around the container that holds your seeds. Many bugs and rodents are repelled by this smell, yet the leaves will not damage the stored seeds. If not opposed to chemicals, moth balls can also be utilized for this as well.
The shelf life of seeds varies greatly. Some seeds can be successfully stored for many years, while it is best to use others during the next season. Some particularly delicate seeds are often the smaller seed varieties like onion and lettuce. Generally, the larger seeds can remain viable for longer periods, but ideally, they should be used within a two to three year period. If stored properly, most seeds can easily maintain a two to three-year shelf life. If the goal of the seed bank is to store the seeds for a longer time, then steps need to be taken to reduce the moisture content to lower than 10% in the seeds. One method to do this is to put the seeds in an environment that maintains a steady 95 degrees for ten hours. However, accomplishing this can be hard. If you exceed the 95 degree temperature, you can damage the seeds. Likewise, if you do not maintain the 95 degrees, then there is a risk of not properly drying the seeds. One method for successfully accomplishing this is to utilize a dehydrator. Several different dehydrator units will allow for precise temperature control. Always remember to verify the temperature before putting seeds in the dehydrator.
Another key part of creating a seed bank that is key is to rotate through your seeds. The seeds that will have the highest rate of germination, and ultimately success, are those that are the freshest. It is important to rotate your seed stock and not leave older seeds unused to lose quality and degrade.
Also with this, part of rotating seeds to keep them fresh is learning how to collect seeds from your own plants. With some plants, especially those with larger seeds, this is an easy task and simply involves proper drying of the seeds. However, some plants can be harder to extract seeds from. For these plants, it is good to experiment with different seed collection methods and then test the germination rates. By testing the seeds that were collected, methods can be adjusted, hopefully before the season ends while there is still time left to collect more seeds from that particular plant or variety.
Regardless, seeds do not do any good if you do not know how to properly, plant, tend to, harvest and recollect them. Even if you have a seed bank, you need to be sure that you are working on gardening skills now. There is farm more to gardening than simply planting the seeds and reaping a successful harvest. Before you plant, be sure to check out the garden planting calculator to help ensure that you’re giving your seeds the best start. The preservation of seeds, and ultimately the plants that they come from is a vital aspect to homesteading. While the reasons that many people choose to create their own seed bank vary, the proper preparation and storage is vital and remains the same. Whether you find yourself preparing for lean times, or working to preserve a special variety of plant, a seed bank, no matter the size is a crucial element to any homestead.