I just finished reading Joseph Lofthouse's excellent articles on Mother Earth News about survival seed banks and wondered if anyone has started there own? I know quite a few people save seeds, but I'm wondering how many save enough varieties, what quantities you save, what containers, etc?
"People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do."
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
posted 4 years ago
Todd: Thanks. I'm storing seeds from about 70 varieties of vegetables, in about 55 species. I'm also storing seeds from about 60 varieties of medicinals. The medicinals are mostly a breeding project this year, so we get to see how many of them can reproduce in my garden.
I have a 5 gallon bucket of sweet corn seed. A 5 gallon bucket of flour corn seed. 2 gallons of dried bean seed. I have between pints and cups of 7 other bean species. A pint of cucumber seeds. A pint of tobacco seed (more than my community would plant in a lifetime).
I have enough bok choi seed to plant 24 acres. It is really prolific at producing seeds. And the seed stays viable for a long time. I'm still going to attempt to grow more seed this summer. I don't need the seed, but I want to encourage local adaptation, and that only happens when I grow seeds.
I have a teaspoon of onion seeds. Oops. It won't be pretty if I have a crop failure on what has already been planted into the garden. So this year, I get to focus on taking really good care of the onions.
I'm down to a tablespoon of spinach seed. So that's another crop I need to pay close attention to this summer to avoid losing my landrace due to a crop failure.
I have a 1/4 cup of parsnip seed, but it is years old, and germination is very questionable. To make matters worse, a collaborator in my garden was using the parsnip row as a footpath, so most of the plants that did germinate died from trampling. Oh well. I get to replant, and hope for the best.
It's time for me to refresh the zucchini seed. I'm down to a couple hundred seeds.
I don't even know if I want to grow corn seed this year. I have enough to last for a very long time...
I adore Joseph's writing. He's a huge inspiration on the farm here.
I'm working towards creating a survival seed bank. I'm saving my own seeds, acclimatizing crops to grow in my conditions with minimum input, and even dabbling with landrace breeding. It's taking a while because I'm starting with such small amounts of seeds, that most of the time, I'm just bulking them up.
One of my big concerns is if I store all the seeds in one place (like my house) and something bad happens to that place (fire, earthquake, &c) then my seeds are lost. When I have enough seed, I'm hoping to stash a small supply at friend's homes, even if they don't garden, they could keep a little ammo box full of backup seeds in a dusty corner of their home. In the meantime, I'm donating a lot of seed to the local seed library in hopes of encouraging others to save seeds, and to keep the varieties alive and available if I ever need a backup source.
I've also given free gardening lessons to my friends and their kids, to encourage more people to grow and save seeds. I figure this is a good way to cultivate seeds. Their lesson involves growing, harvesting and saving seeds from successful crops, then they can keep some of the seeds and harvest for their dinner table.
This is my first year really saving any amount of seeds, so I am just trying to get a base amount built up now. My level of ignorance about plant breeding is staggering. I bought Carol Deppe's book and hopefully can spend some time with it soon.
I came to the "permaculture" world by way of preparedness. One of the first purchases I made was a survival seed bank, while knowing very little to nothing about gardening. Luckily I stumbled onto one of the seed banks that had a pretty good mix of useful seeds, but I definitely want to create my own from my own locally adapted plants. It's a learning curve for me, and I'm very grateful to have a place to come with questions about these things. Thank you all for being patient with me
"People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do."
This is something I'm very interested in. Off to read Joseph's articles.
Re storage if something happened to the house: long term storage is best in a freezer, and that would provide quite a bit of protection in a house fire or earthquake. You might have some trouble getting to the seeds, but they would likely be OK. Multiple locations also a good idea.
Just wanted to add perhaps the obvious that along with seed banks and the knowledge that goes with their propagation and maintenance is the 'rewilding' of your palate and knowledge of native foods in your own location. It would serve as an integrated or back-up base for your seed banks. Am curious as to what others think of the following deconstruction of eating dandelion leaves.....my own experience being the leaves are a good flavoring agent for salads, but too bitter for bulk eating in fresh form. The flowers make a good soup. Based on this article, do others feel the leaves even when they are very young to be too bitter for fresh, bulk eating? -- http://www.backwoodshome.com/making-dandelions-palatable/ (no problem if this gets bumped to a different thread.)
“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”― Albert Einstein
Be careful with any commercial "survival seed banks." They tend to figure that the seeds will never be opened, until "the big one" hits, if it ever does. So the seed can be low germination samples of whatever variety is cheapest at the time. Often the packets will not even be marked with a variety, just "pepper," for instance. And they stuff in lots of lettuce seeds to make up an impressive total without taking up much space, as Joseph pointed out.
Somebody gave me a survival bank that they had bought a few years back; and most of the stuff did not germinate at all. (Which I was prepared for.) And yes, it was mostly lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and other rather useless things from the point of survival.
I have been reading and rereading this thread for several days. I very much appreciate Joseph's articles and I agree with Gilbert's comments and others. I keep looking at the Survival seed banks packages and they have 1000's of seeds for lettuce or food my family does not eat. This year we will be saving all our own seeds and starting our own seed bank. I have done this in the past with watermelon, pinto beans and purple hull peas. I had a question about "pollinated potato seeds" but found this article by Joseph which help me understand.
Has anyone considered putting the seeds in Mylar in a water tight container and burying them like a root cellar to guard against a house fire? This seems better than storing at someone else's house.
That seems like it would work great if you can make sure to keep them dry and not in a flood plain. They would be safe from fire and the earth would help preserve them at a constant temperature.
The "Survival Seeds" available from prepper sites seem pretty dopey to me. If you're trying to survive you sure as heck don't need lettuce, etc. For people trying to work out what seeds they might want to preserve for survival, the book "One Circle" discusses which vegetables produce the most calories in the least space. Unfortunately, one of the plants, parsnip, does not have seeds which store for more than a year or so. The book also discusses which vegetables are the most nutritious as to vitamins and minerals, so one can grow a nearly complete diet in a tiny space (as small as 1000 square feet for a woman under good conditions). As you might guess, the vegetable diet is very low in calories, so in a true survival situation would likely not keep a person alive for long, and is lacking in sufficient B12 and iodine.
Carol Deppe's book is great; it covers a range of topics, though it does not have any defined "diet" as such. Any survival seed bank should include a copy of this book, especially in the Pacific Northwest.
Oh yes, The Resilient Gardner goes into some detail about seed saving for hard times. I really like her bit about "Hoarding and Saving Seeds"
One of the things I think Deppe brings up, which was also a concern of mine, is that it's better to have food in the ground, already grown, if we're going to have an emergency. Waiting X-weeks for hundreds of heads of lettuce to grow, doesn't make much sense. This is especially true if the person has no gardening experience, has to prepare a plot of land to grow the things... I wouldn't want to do all that while dealing with an emergency and the more basic requirements (shelter, safety, water, &c.). A far better solution is to already be growing your own food and saving seeds. The food is right there when you need it, your seeds are locally adapted to produce good yields (which bought seedbanks probably are not), your land is in use and soil (I'm assuming) healthy, and most importantly, the gardener has the skill to produce nourishing food. Even if it's just a tiny city allotment and a big seed bank bucket at home.
This year, I'm growing peas I saved seeds from, next to commercial pea seeds. These three types (two commercial, one local) are planted at the same time, in the same soil. The commercial pea seeds have just reached the two-inch mark and grabbed hold of the trellis. The seeds I saved from last year, are originally grown on the next island over from me. They did fantastically well last year. This year, they are about waist high... while the commercial seeds are 2 inches high...um... hmmm... The ones I grew have leaves that can be eaten at any age as a salad green. The commercial peas do not.
The way I view it, a survival seed bank has two parts
a massive hoard of seeds, enough for two years plus a bit left over. If a longterm survival situation crops up, it's probably going to include things that might will reduce crop yields. I would prefer 3 years plus a little bit, when it comes to staple crops, but I'm still bulking up my seeds (growing and stashing). I would also want locally adapted seeds.
an active garden/feild/place, where the soil is fertile, the plants are already growing, and the gardener knows what to do.
100% agree, Ranson, and it helps to be used to eating that way. Back when we were living in Los Angeles, after the Northridge earthquake, we mostly ate out of the garden for a few days, cooking on a tiny backpacking stove. Aside from trying not to worry about the city collapsing into chaos (which it didn't, thank goodness) we were perfectly happy and didn't have to try to brave the streets.
I have been saving seed for over 50 years as well as growing and using medicinals I have planted many nut trees and medicinal trees and perennials here and they are now naturalized This has been my interest for many years not really about survival but to stay healthy and to save money too. I love eating dandelion leaves and eat them all year round The bitter is good for you. I also sell the seed for those who want to grow them. Different kinds of seed has different shelf life . It is best to plant and use them regularly. My problem is finding others to eat the foods and help with the work .my listing for my seed and plants is www.sharonsnaturalgardens.com
For several years now I've been involved with a local seed saving group. We meet three times each year at the property of someone in the group. These range from farms to lifestyle blocks to suburban backyards. Between us we grow a great range of seeds which are constantly being renewed. The saved seeds are housed in several different locations around the province, eg libraries and shops, so that they are always accessible for people to obtain seed in return for a gold coin donation. There are at least two school gardens which use seed from the seedbank and contribute seed back each year. I hardly buy any seed now, thanks to our combined efforts and we have accumulated enough money to buy a set of seed sieves for use by members of the group.
I read these three articles of Joseph's with great interest and even printed out some of the info. I made some notes on my personal preferences and my own seed stash. I have plenty of corn and squash. I realized from the article that if I wanted to do a good job of growing all my own food I would need larger quantities of a few things. I think I will take that into account this year and try to increase those items for which it would make sense to have a larger seed stash.
Just a side note, I work as a botanist and sometimes that has led me to leave my garden unattended for years. I grew gardens in 2011 and 2012 and didn't return till 2016. Parsnips, Turnips, Daikon Radish, and Siberian Kale survived without me even while the garden got increasingly grassed in. I of course saved their seeds but am intrigued. I've always loved volunteer vegetables, it seems to me that it might be worth a gardening section specifically for the volunteers where they get a little help with weeds but not much else. You can't loose a seed stash if it never leaves your garden.
Western Montana gardener and botanist in zone 6a according to 2012 zone update.
Gardening on lakebed sediments with 7 inch silty clay loam topsoil, 7 inch clay accumulation layer underneath, have added sand in places.
I'm saving seeds to try and acclimate them to Wisconsin zone 4, but my production is too small to rival what I've read on this blog. I do have one thing to add, however. It is about garlic scapes:
We think of garlic scapes as these curly things that will make flowers and sap the bulb's energy. I had the surprise as I watered a bouquet of scapes, when the flower aborted and out came some bulbils. Apparently, garlic has the ability to switch from flower making to bulb making. I was intrigued, and as I looked further into it, it was confirmed. yes, all these little bulbils can be planted and make garlic bulbs. They will take one more year than starting from a clove because they are quite small: the biggest are about the size of a pea.
If you like the garlic you have, you might want to reproduce it in large quantities vegetatively. They will take longer to produce, but if you want a large quantity at a good price [like free], that is the way to go. Essentially, they are clones of the parent plant, so if you like the taste and characteristics of what you have, that is the way to go. also, because the bulbils were not pulled from the ground but from the umbel, they are disease-free. Here is a link to make your mouth water
$10.00 is a donation. $1,000 is an investment, $1,000,000 is a purchase.
I probably started saving seeds with my first tomato harvested. Not specifically for a survival seed bank or land race purposes but that is what it ultimately has turned into many years later. Seeds from several states with completely different climates. The staples & the weirdo stuff. Every year I try to grow a few unusual or new things. Sometimes I purchase bulk commercial seeds at the end of the season for very cheap prices. I have a few hugel-guerilla gardens too. That definitely needs more work since moving to TN. Mostly I just want good food that will thrive, that I actually can grow, and that is already growing everywhere I might need to be... no matter what. I use the storage methods Joseph mentioned in his Mother Earth articles. Sometimes I use vacuum sealed bags too. I have some spread around with friends & some hidden in the woods on the way to grandma's house. Dandelion is not my favorite but I always try to learn & eat wild edibles too. (btw Joseph ... I've never seen a bug in an ammo can if the gasket is in good shape) I consider saving seeds a must. For gardening cheaper, for improving what works in your specific location, & for reviving old favorites year after year. Plus you never know when the perfect storm will hit. Or zombies. In my opinion, if there's plenty of food for all there will be no massive hordes of zombies. No food = zombies every time. How often does one hear of a well fed zombie? Almost never.
A local seed bank. That sounds like a very worthwhile project I need to pursue.
Think about this ... back in the 60's when Russia suddenly departed Cuba after the missle crisis was over ... there was no fuel or parts for the Cuban tractors. No chemical based fertilizer. No commercial seeds. Little food on the store shelves. Organic growers with seeds & the skills to use them were treated like royalty for many years. (first grade ... ducking under my school desk for nuc drills ... even then I knew a wimpy desk wasn't likely to help anything)
I have a fairly large assortment of almost everything I can collect seeds from. Seminole pumpkin is very high on my list for survival seeds if for no other reason than it makes a lot of food with almost zero effort. Assuming it is actually capable of growing in the given locale.
Those commercial survival seed banks? Better than nothing but that's all the praise they deserve.
Argue for your limitations and they are yours forever.