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Survival seed banks

 
Todd Parr
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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?
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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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...

 
R Ranson
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For those who haven't read them yet.

Survival Seed Banks, Part 1: What Seeds Are Available?

Survival Seed Banks, Part 2: Types and Qualities of Seeds to Include

Survival Seed Banks, Part 3: Seed Storage Common Problems

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.
 
Todd Parr
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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
 
Kevin Wilson
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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.
 
John Weiland
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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.)
 
Gilbert Fritz
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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.
 
Anne Miller
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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.

Growing Open Pollinated Landrace Potatoes From True Seeds

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.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Anne Miller wrote:

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.

https://www.bountifulgardens.org/products/BEA-0370

I think Carol Deppe's "The Resilient Gardener" also describes how to grow a survival diet, but I haven't read it yet.

I agree with John about knowing which weeds to eat for nutrition. I wish I had dandelions - I love them, but I like bitter foods.

http://www.eattheweeds.com/
 
Gilbert Fritz
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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.
 
R Ranson
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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.
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    Tyler Ludens
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    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.

     
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