Drying and Storing Seeds

Collecting seeds from your garden is the first step in having seeds to use for your next planting. This is a guide about drying and storing seeds.

Dry Seeds
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I love to collect flower seeds from my own flowers to plant the next season or to share with others. I also like to collect from other places, but often found myself using napkins, or scrap paper as an impromptu container. Then it hit me! I started saving prescription bottles and added labels to them to use as collection containers! I keep a few in my car, large purse, and of course at home. Now I'm ready when I'm out and about where I can collect seeds!

labeled bottles of seedsPrescription Bottles for Storing Flower Seeds
    Prescription Bottles for Storing Flower Seeds
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    How Long Can You Store Seeds?As our thrifty thoughts are turning to our veg plots and just how much we can produce to supplement our food bills, a word to those who have just found a stash of seed packets from last year or have seen seeds on sale at a knockdown price at the garden center and want to know whether they're likely to grow.

    The list below gives a very rough indication for the most common vegetables of potential seed life. Do be aware that the way in which seeds are stored will affect their life.

    The following times assume that the seeds have been stored somewhere cool, dry and dark. You can only rely on the top end of the seed life shown below if the seeds are really dry and kept somewhere in an airtight sealed packet (not paper) that stays at a steady cool temperature. So if the packets have been opened the seeds are less likely to germinate.

    Also, germination is not an on/off state, what will generally happen is that as seeds get older the percentage that germinate will start to drop off, and then at some point will fall to zero.

    Vegetable: Rough Estimate Of Seed Life:

    • Beans: 3 to 5 years +

    • Beetroot, Chard and Leaf Beet: 2 to 3 years

    • Brassicas (Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale, Brussels, Turnips, etc.): 3 to 7 years

    • Carrots: up to 3 years

    • Courgettes (Zucchini) and Squashes: 2 to 4 years

    • Cucumbers and melons: up to 10 years

    • Lettuces: 2 to 5 years

    • Onions/Leeks/Spring onions: up to 3 years max

    • Parsley: up to 3 years

    • Parsnips: 2 years max

    • Peas: 3 to 5 years +

    • Peppers and Aubergines (Eggplant): up to 5 years

    • Tomatoes: up to 8 years

    One final thought, if do you find an old packet of seeds, and wonder whether they are worth sowing, you can always test their germination yourself. Put a couple of layers of damp kitchen towel on a saucer, sprinkle a few seeds on it, and wrap it loosely in a plastic bag (so that it stays damp but is not airtight). Put the saucer somewhere warm and check after a few days. If your test seeds have germinated, then you are fine to go ahead and sow the rest, sowing more thickly if only a proportion of them grew. If nothing is happening, then you need new seeds .

    Source: my own photo and text adapted from the real seed company newsletter.

    By Ayesha from Slovenia, EU

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    Do you save your seeds? Ever year label them and put them in your freezer. It will be fresh and damp. Just thaw and you are ready to plant. They will come up sooner. You don't have to worry about insects getting on your seed and eating it up.

    By mamacrafter from TN

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    Egg shells make good seed saving pots. Simple make a hole in the bottom of half a shell, fill with potting soil, place you seed or seeds in the soil, and then place in an empty egg carton.

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    Don't throw away your empty spice jars or stock powder jars. I keep these to store seed that I have collected from my plants and flowers, The seeds stay nice and dry and easy to store and label.

    Recycled spice jars for storing garden seeds.

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    Line dinner plates with coffee filters to dry flower and garden seeds. When the seeds are dry, discard the coffee filters and store the seeds in a container lined with coffee filters.

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    Dry SeedsIt's true that garden seeds germinate best when they are fresh, but this doesn't mean that after 2 to 3 years you should toss out all of your leftover seeds. In reality, vegetable and flower seeds can remain viable for several years (sometimes even decades) if they are dried and stored properly. Here are some tips for keeping them fresh and viable for as long as possible.

    Drying Collected Seeds

    The seeds you collect from garden plants need to be completely dry before packing them for storage. Remember, if you're saving your own seeds, plant open-pollinated varieties (not hybrids) so they'll come back true to type.

    Air drying: To air dry seeds, scatter them across a sheet of newspaper or a paper grocery sack and place them in a dry location (one with plenty of air circulation) where they can remain undisturbed for one to two weeks. If you're drying more than one type of seed at a time, it's helpful to write down the name of each type of seed next to it on the newspaper.

    Try to resist the temptation to speed up the process by placing them near a heat source or warming them in the oven. It's much safer to dry your seeds slowly. Drying them too rapidly can result in cracking and damage to the seed coat.

    Adding silica: After your seeds have been air dried, they are ready for storage. Place them in an airtight container, along with a small amount of silica gel (packets can be found online or at craft stores). This will take care of any additional moisture introduced during storage. Some types of silica packs use color indicators to signal when they are absorbing moisture (packets turn pink), or when they are completely dry (packets turn blue).

    Once "used up" these packets can be re-charged (dried out again in the oven) and re-used. If you can't find silica gel packets at craft stores or online, consider sacrificing one from a bottle in your medicine cabinet. A small amount of powered milk wrapped in a paper towel can also be used as a drying agent, provided you replace it at least every 6 months.

    Making your own seed tape: Scatter your seeds an even distance apart on sheets of non-bleach paper towels. As the seeds air dry, they will stick to the paper towels. When completely dry, roll them up right in the towel and tuck them into air-tight plastic bags for storage. When you're ready to plant, just tear off bits of the towel, one seed at a time, and plant seed and towel right in the soil.

    Tips for Storing Seeds

    • When it comes to protecting the longevity of seeds in storage, cool and dry is the name of the game. Humidity and warmth will shorten the seeds' shelf life, either by causing them to germinate prematurely, or by encouraging the growth of mold. It's fine to keep unused seeds in their original packets until next season, as long as you protect them from extreme heat and high humidity.
    • For long-term storage, the freezer is a great place to store (non-tropical) vegetable and flower seeds. Place dry seeds in a labeled, airtight jar. When you need seed, remove the container from the freezer and let it warm up to room temperature before opening it up (this prevents condensation from forming). Once the contents reach room temperature, take out what you need and return the remaining seeds to the freezer.

    Expect Some Losses

    If some of your saved seeds fail to germinate, either the following year or after 2 to 3 in storage, don't be too disappointed. Some seeds are simply duds. Others are genetically programmed with a low germination rate to begin with.

    On the bright side, there is also a good chance that some of your seeds will remain viable a lot longer (years longer) than you would expect. If years later you happen to find a forgotten jar of seeds in the bottom corner of your freezer, go ahead and plant them. You may be surprised to find that they all germinate!

    Ideas for Storage Containers

    • mailing envelopes
    • photo albums/3-ring binders with clear, plastic sleeves
    • 35 mm film containers (these are becoming scarce)
    • baby food jars
    • photo storage boxes
    • CD cases
    • recipe boxes
    • pill bottles
    • spice jars
    • plastic sandwich bags

    CommentWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes

    What is the best way to save and store seeds from garden plants, when the harvest is finished?

    Hardiness Zone: 1

    By JanetM from Orlando, FL

    AnswerWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes

    You must store seeds in paper envelopes not plastic anything. It's also a good idea to freeze them for a couple of weeks and then transfer them to the very bottom of your refrigerator and keep them there till you are ready to use them.

    ReplyWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes
    Read More Answers...

    Put seeds in glass jars with tight fitting lids. Store in cool, dry place. Seeds will last 2-3 years

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    I want to plant some peach seeds that I recently acquired, but everyone says to plant them in the fall. So what do I do with the seeds right now?

    Hardiness Zone: 8b

    Nancy from Picayune, MS

    AnswerWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes

    You can store them in the freezer in a ziplock bag, but really it is not too early to plant them, I would plant them in something like a CoolWhip container or a cottage cheese container. Put a few drainage holes in the bottom and make sure they don't dry out, and they should be sprouted and growing by fall. Then transplant them into the ground. I don't know what area you are in, but here in Arkansas, I had a peach tree that I started from a seed, and unfortunately, the weather never allowed me to reap much of a harvest. One year it was so loaded I had to prop up the branches, but we had so much rain that the peaches molded on the tree before they ripened. However, they dropped to the ground, and the next year, I had peach tree seedlings for everyone in the county! I replace the peach tree with a strawberry bed, and still find seedlings. I have 5 of them potted now for a friend to transplant when the weather cools.

    Good luck with yours.

    Harlean from Arkansas

    ReplyWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes

    Seeds that you didn't get around to planting this year should be fine next year if stored properly. Most seeds can be stored for 3 to 4 years. The key will be storing the seeds in a cool, dry, and dark place. Keep the temperature between 40 and 50 degrees F. It's best to store them in a moisture-proof, sealed container.

    If you have any more tips about storing seeds, feel free to post them below.


    Storing Seeds

    I have trouble with grain weevels this time of the year. I solve the problem by putting my seed in the freezer for 24 hours. Works like a charm. Too bad it doesn't stop it from germinating and causing weeds. Oh, well. (07/27/2006)

    By Mollie2

    Storing Seeds

    I keep mine in a ziplock bag then in a plastic container. I also keep the packages that are empty until the end of the season to see what I liked about the seeds, maybe get that kind again, etc. Not all seed grow in each of our soils, some version of a vegie would be better than another, depending on your soil. (03/19/2010)

    By TandT Grandma

    CommentWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes
    Home and Garden Gardening SeedsFebruary 25, 2012
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