Before we look at seeds, let’s answer an obvious question: “I don’t have space for a garden, so why should I be interested in seeds?” We’ll answer that with another question: “Do you live near a golf course, near a park or a ball field, near any open fields?” If the answer is “yes” – and nearly everyone can answer “yes” on that one – then you live near a potential food supply. It’s a food supply IF you have seeds and know how to use them.
Another question: “Does that mean that being prepared means that I need to spend my money on specialized seed planters and other tools?” The answer to that is “No, but you should have the basic knowledge of seeds and how to use them and work with them. On the other hand, if you have those specialized tools – and others don’t, your services would be in great demand during a food shortage.”
Seed Saving and Storage
Always remember that seeds are a living organism. They are in a type of suspended animation, and their useful lifespan can vary greatly depending on how they are stored. There are three key factors in seed storage: Time, Temperature, and Moisture.
Seed To Seed, by Suzanne Ashworth, should be on any seed saver’s bookshelf. In addition to providing detailed information about seed saving, it includes important information about 160 different vegetables. Highly recommended.
- Some seeds – onions, for example – have a very short lifespan (typically, one year), while others can last much longer under the right conditions.
- All seeds will degrade in their germination rate over time, no matter how well they are stored; however, under the right conditions, some seeds (such as wheat) can germinate after hundreds of years – and perhaps longer.
- A Seed Bank program should include regular rotation so that seeds are always as fresh as possible.
- Even if an old seed sprouts, some sources say that the plants from those old seeds are not going to be as strong and healthy as those from fresh seeds.
- With all that said, don’t throw away old seeds until you have replaced them with fresher ones. Though germination rate degrades over time, some seeds will still sprout long after their stated expire date.
- As with food storage, heat degrades the viability, while cold extends the viability.
- The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located on an island in Norway, keeps their seeds stored at -18° C.
- Keeping seeds stored in your refrigerator or freezer will prolong their viability.
- When taking them out of the refrigerator or freezer, give them plenty of time to go to room temperature before opening to prevent condensation on the seeds.
- This is right at the top of the list when it comes to seed viability factors. Drier is better.
- One study concluded that a moisture content of 19%-27% is best, while another concluded that 10%-11% is best.
- Without the equipment and scientific instruments being available to us, our best bet is to just go with as dry as we can get them.
- When drying seeds, do not add excessive heat. Setting them out in the sun on a low-humidity day is fine – drying them in an oven is not.
Preparing Seeds for Saving
There are two basic types of seeds and how they are prepared: Wet and Dry.
- Plants such as tomatoes, pumpkins, have “wet seeds”.
- For photos of the process click here.
- Select the best quality fruit or vegetables, and let them fully ripen. Some varieties are best when allowed to rot.
- Scoop seeds into a bucket of water, and stir to separate the seeds from the slurry as much as possible.
- Set it aside for a few days to allow the mixture to begin to ferment. This breaks down the material surrounding the seeds.
- When you can easily separate the seed from the coating with your fingers, it is ready for the next step.
- Pour off what is floating on the surface. The viable seeds will sink to the bottom.
- Pour off as much remaining water as possible, while stirring it up enough to pour off the vegetable matter at the same time.
- Add more water and repeat until you have clean water with clean seeds at the bottom.
- Pour off all water, lay the seeds out on a paper towel or smooth cloth to dry.
- During the drying process, shuffle the seeds around so they can dry on both sides of the seed.
- Plants that have seeds in a pod (beans, peas, okra, etc.) and seeds that are exposed (most flowers), have “dry seeds”.
- Leave the seed pods on the plant until they are fully mature. Allow them to dry on the plant, if possible.
- Remove the seeds from the pods and set them on a screen or smooth cloth to fully dry.
- Note: If seeds are going to be used fairly soon, the following steps are probably over-kill.
- Store seeds in an air-tight container. For larger quantities, a quart or gallon paint can (new and unused, of course!) works well.
- If available, and if the container size allows, include a desiccant packet to keep the seeds as dry as possible.
- If possible, store the seed container in a refrigerator or freezer.
- Always remember to label your seed containers with both the type and variety of seeds and the date.
- Larger seeds, such as beans, corn, and pumpkin, can be handled with no tools needed.
- Small seeds, such as tomato and pepper, need specialized tools to make sure that one seed goes where it is supposed to go.
- The hand vacuum seeder (Amazon link) is designed for picking up the smallest of seeds, one at a time. It can be a bit tedious, but it is a very effective way to pick up and dispense one tiny seed at a time. Mainly used with seedling trays.
- Shake Seed Dispenser (Amazon link) has a dial to set for different seed sizes. Very affordable, and works reasonably well, but takes practice.
- There are other types of small seed dispensers – some work well, some not so well, but all do the job when used for what they are designed for.
- The larger the number of seeds to be planted, the more important it is to have the right tools.
- Any seed can be planted by hand without any tools, but if you are planting in large enough quantities to be a realistic food supply, then efficiency becomes a major issue.
- When we plant to provide a significant part of our food supply, it’s all about quantity. A tomato plant in a pot on your patio doesn’t count.
- There are three main types of walk-behind seed planters:
- Earthway Seeder (Amazon Link)
- least expensive (about $133)
- light-weight (easy to push, but harder to maintain straight rows)
- uses a vertical seed plate that cannot be modified or custom-made
- Works very well when using seeds of a uniform size and shape that exactly fit the seed plate
- When seed and seed plate are not a fairly exact match, a row can have many seeds dumped together or skipped areas.
- Hoss Seeder (Hoss Tools link)
- Mid-range price (about $390)
- Uses a horizontal rotating seed plate
- Seed plates are easily customized. Blank seed plates and drill template available.
- Fairly heavy (38 pounds) and long frame make it easy to maintain straight rows.
- The ability to customize the seed plates to the seeds you are using is a huge advantage, and can make it very accurate and reliable.
- The Hoss is widely used by market garden operations
- Jang JP-1 Push Seeder (Johnny’s Selected Seed link)
- High-end price (about $525)
- Uses a roller rather than a seed plate
- Very accurate seeding when using a roller carefully matched to the seed
- Seed spacing is set independent of the roller, making it easy to adjust seed spacing
- Able to plant double, triple, or more wide rows
- Rollers can be customized, but require machine tools
- The Jang is the standard for commercial operations
- Earthway Seeder (Amazon Link)
- The “Jab” planter is a type of one-seed-at-a-time planter
- There are a number of different Jab Planter designs.
- Some Jab planters are entirely manual, while others have some mechanical seed handling.
- Primary benefit is being able to plant while standing straight up.
- The simple designs handle the widest variety of seeds with nothing to adjust or change.
- Excellent choice for filling in empty spaces for less than 100% germination
- Widely used in third-world countries
- An improvised Jab planter can be made with a piece of PVC pipe. Seeds are dropped through the pipe right to where you want it without having to bend over. Much faster and easier if you have no other planter.
NOTE: Instructions and dimensions for making this seeder will be in an upcoming post. Stay tuned.