This isn’t about nylon stockings… Seed Storage and You

Did you know that nylon stockings make the ultimate, multipurpose tool?  They keep legs warm and physical imperfections under wraps; they are maggot barriers for emerging apples; and, in a pinch, they’re nice material for that last minute bungee cord. But we at Seed Savers have been privy to a very unsung use for the common pantyhose: they make a darned safe way to mail your prized heirloom seeds. According to one individual, that is, who sent her favorite beans to the organization snug in a box of tights.

And the buck doesn’t stop there… old coffee cans, wrinkled brown paper bags, pill bottles and ziplocks tied with string demonstrate creative ways people donate to SSE’s Collection. Collection Technician, Aaron Burmeister, receives an average of 5 seed donations per month. These donations range the varietal gamut, but the bulk  submitted tend to be tomatoes and beans, packaged in a wide variety of vessels:

How to Properly Store Seeds at Home

Appropriate containers for seed storage are similar to the donations we receive: glass containers, envelopes, ziplock bags and even clay vessels, although air-tight containers are recommended for long-term storage. The most important part is keeping seeds cool, dry, and dark – the big three rules to remember in proper seed storage. Seeds are embryos encased in a womb shell, or, as the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center explains, “A seed is a plant in a box with its lunch.” Because seeds are alive, they’ll inevitably lose viability as environmental factors are wont to encroach. Leaving seeds in the sun on your car dash, lying around the kitchen sink, or left outside exposed to the elements are all liable to negatively impact your seed’s viability.

By keeping seeds in a steady-state environment, you reduce the chance of them going through environmental peer pressure; they’ll continue to remain viable and well-adjusted. Still, while it’s important to properly store your treasured seeds, it’s worth noting that seeds in general have evolved to be quite resilient. Some seeds prefer to self-seed (the parent plant is allowed to grow seeds and shed them in-place), like cilantro, but others can be harvested and live in storage longer than expected. A farmer we met in California claims he had forgotten a large grain sack filled with Swiss chard in the back corner of his barn dated from 1995 – he planted the seeds last year, and wouldn’t you know? Near every seed germinated.

One of the best places for short-term (<5 years) seed storage—a practice tried and true—is on a shelf in your bedroom closet (Cool, Dry, Dark). Or, if you really want to hedge your bets, properly storing seeds in the freezer may keep them alive and waiting for years and years. Just remember to let the entire container of frozen seeds acclimate to warmer temperatures before opening the package. Also, always label your seeds properly!

Do you have a favorite place for keeping seeds? Know of any interesting germination stories? Let us know by posting a comment below!

For more information about seed storage, view our seed storage webinar here.

Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving and promoting America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.

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  1. Great article with excellent advice. Seed saving is very simple to do and doesn’t need complicated or expensive containers. I’ll add that the drawer or closet you choose to stash your seeds should not be near a heating vent or have hours of streaming direct sunlight which could heat the contents of a closed drawer or closet.

  2. I have a 19th century wooden cabinet with shelves inside and an outer door. I store seeds in marked paper seed envelopes, sorted by type (herbs, flowers, tomatoes, curcurbits, legumes, etc) in cardboard boxes. The boxes fit just right in the wooden cabinet. The cabinet spends the winter in a minimally heated room in my house, not at Thoreau Farm, birthplace of Henry Thoreau about 1 mile away, where we use many of those seeds.

  3. I use an old, insulated, heavy plastic lunch box with a tight fitting lid. This is kept in a storage closet in the house.

  4. Medicine bottles are small water tight and clear. Most vitamin containers are opaque to light. Both make for
    excellent long term storage.

  5. I find that ziploc bags work well for me. I store them in the hydrator drawers of my spare beer and melon storage refrigerator. I remove them briefly for planting and then back they go. I have had successful germination of 20+ year old melon and tomato seeds. Keeping them cool is good.

    • Lee: a fridge devoted to straight up melons and beer? We’d love to see what that looks like (and replicate one in the farmhouse)…!

  6. The French Hermetic Glass Terrines jars work well, they have a rubber ring and hinge, they should be air tight if the edge is clean. Throw in a silica gel from one of your vitamins to keep the moisture down. Store in a safe place in a basement or cool spot.

  7. I never thought to add silica gel packets – that’s a good one! Thanks for commenting!

  8. I am concerned about using plastic, in any form, to store seeds. ( Or anything else really). thats must me.
    though not a seed I saved intentionally, here is a Germination story. My husband and I enjoy soaked almonds as a snack. He takes a container to work for the week, and on the rare occasion there are any left, they are usually getting a bit slimy so I toss them in the compost bin.
    You guessed it. While digging out some compost, I noticed a small unfamiliar plant, about 3 inches tall, growing. When I uncovered it, i was amazed to find an almond as the source. Almonds are notoriously difficult to sprout, and most have been steam treated and arent viable. Further digging revealed a total of three sprouted almonds. Two of these tiny trees have survived, and are now about 12 inches and growing nicely. These were soaked, then stored in a frig for a week, tossed on the compost in winter weather, and sprouted sometime in May. I am still amazed.

  9. Mary Farrell says:

    Are there any types of seed that should NOT be stored in the freezer?

    • Hi Mary,

      Sorry for the delay! Within the scope of SSE’s on-site Collection, there aren’t any garden vegetable or flower seeds that couldn’t be properly stored in a freezer.

      If you’re only planning to store your seeds for one to two years, it doesn’t make sense to keep them in such long-term storage. If you do intend to preserve varieties for ten years or more, keeping them frozen would be your best bet.

      Thank you for your question!

  10. A recent experience of mine: bought capsicum (bell pepper) seeds from a mail order company that I trust, and had a strike rate of about 5%. Two small trays of about a dozen seed sown each and I have 1 plant to show for it!… THEN… I found some capsicum seeds saved from a fruit off our last years plants, put in a plastic shotglass that I had left on a sunny windowsill for the whole of winter, well over 100 seeds I would guess. Hoping to get a couple more plants, I mixed them into the surface of the tray of failed capsicum seeds, watered them and then sat them on the same heat bed that the first bought batch failed on, and then went out of town for 4 days. I returned to find the whole tray thick with germinating capsicum seeds, it seriously looked like grass! EITHER the solarisation assisted the germination, or the hormones released by each seed compounded and mutually supported germination of the whole tray! I might try an experiment next year to see if I can figure out exactly why it happened.

  11. Hi Mark,

    Very interesting! Here’s another theory: People think they’re gardening failures when often, poor quality seed is to blame. I don’t doubt the company you order from is reputable, and maybe solarisation helped, but seed quality can vary dramatically, even from the same company.

    Yet another virtue of seed saving: seed saved from your home garden, in well cared for soil, will produce heartier, healthier offspring. Could explain why YOUR bell pepper seed did the best. Just sayin’.

    Thanks for sharing! I look forward to hearing how next year’s experiment progresses…