What Is A Survival Seed Bank & Why Do I Need One?
A survival seed bank is a collection of seeds stored in an airtight container as a survival aid in the event of a long term emergency. It’s a great way to prepare for an event that makes home food production necessary for the survival of your family.
Survival seed banks, or collections, are readily available through a number of companies. Purchasing a survival seed bank is a nice option if your time is limited and you just want the peace of mind that comes with a quick order. They quite often have a well rounded selection of vegetables, herbs, melons and other annual fruits.
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Survival Seed Bank Basics
You can also start your own survival seed bank, save money, customize it to your preferences, and grow the varieties that do well with your growing conditions.
The basic instructions are: place a selection of heirloom seeds in an airtight container and store it in a cool, dry place. But there are some extras that will make this process go a lot more smoothly!
Choose Your Seeds Wisely And Store Them Properly
Order heirloom seed varieties from a reliable company, such as Mary’s Heirloom Seeds. They sell only open pollinated varieties that may be saved from seed each year (or in the second year from sowing, for biennials) and still produce the same variety.
Hybrid varieties are the result of two or more varieties bred for certain characteristics. The seeds collected from hybrids at the end of the season may produce an edible crop, but results will vary. Stick with heirlooms for your survival seed bank. Be sure that your seeds are not genetically modified or genetically engineered because they won’t produce the same quality of plant when saved from seed at the end of the season.
Best and Worst Seeds for Long Term Storage
Seeds that don’t store well for long periods and are best used within a year or two of purchase or saving:
Seeds that keep well for several years and may be stored with a good chance of germination:
- Winter squash
- Green beans
Start With An Airtight Container
The container you use for your survival seed bank depends somewhat on your budget and needs. If you will use the seeds each year in your garden, a mason jar with an airtight lid will work just fine. If you are planning a ‘bug out bag’ and won’t be planting the seeds each year, use a plastic freezer bag, vaccum sealer bag (vacuum seal for best results), or a mylar bag. The mylar bag is the best option for long term storage.
Oxygen Absorbers & Silica Gel Packets
Using oxygen absorbers and silica gel packets in your storage containers increases the storage life of seeds. Seeds store best in a low oxygen, low humidity, and low temperature environment. Oxygen absorbers help remove oxygen from the container for a year, possibly longer. Once you open the container, it is a good idea to replace with a new oxygen absorber. Silica gel packets absorb moisture, preventing humidity inside your storage container. Used together with refrigeration or freezing, these products help increase the storage life of your survival seed bank.
Start by ordering, storing, and using your survival seed bank properly:
- Order heirloom seeds for vegetables, herbs, and fruits that you enjoy
- Keep seeds dry and out of sunlight
- Place packets of seeds in an airtight container
- Add an oxygen absorbing packet and/or silica gel packet to increase storage life
- Close container tightly to prevent moisture from seeping in
- Place survival seed bank in cool, dark place (refrigerator or freezer is best)
- Do not remove container from cold storage and open right away, see instructions below
When you are ready to use your survival seed bank, follow these instructions:
- Remove survival seed bank from refrigerator or freezer
- Set container on counter out of sunlight, until contents of jar have reached room temperature
- Open container and remove only the seeds that you will be using
- Place new oxygen absorbing packet and/or silica gel packet in container
- Close container tightly and return to cold storage
If you remove the container from cold storage and open it right away, condensation may form on the seeds. The moisture can initiate germination, which is bad. So allow the entire container and contents to warm up to room temperature, then remove only the seeds you will be using.
Using Survival Seed Bank and Practicing Survival Gardening Skills
Even under ideal storage conditions, seeds will deteriorate in quality over time. The best solution is to store seeds for shorter periods and use some each year. Growing a garden on a regular basis provides healthy food, substantial savings, and valuable practice for emergency preparedness and long term survival. Hopefully we will never need these skills, but having them is great for every day self reliance. And if you use half of the seeds from your survival seed bank (saving half in case of crop failure), replenish them as needed, and keep you gardening skills honed, you will get the best results when it really matters.
Testing Germination Rates
It is a good idea to test your germination rates each year before you place a new seed order. Here’s how:
- Place 10 seeds on a damp (not soaking wet) paper towel
- Fold damp paper towel over and place in a plastic baggie
- Mark date, variety, normal time to germination, and age of seed on baggie
- Place in a warm spot, a germinating mat works well
- Open baggie each day and check for gemination and replenish moisture if needed
- If seeds do not sprout within their required germination time, give them a few more days
- Seeds that do not germinate are most likely not viable
- Check temperature, moisture, and other conditions for problems with germination
- If 10 out of 10 seeds germinate, you have a 100% germination rate
- Varieties that have less than a 50% germination rate should be replaced
The ‘Just In Case’ Survival Seed Bank
But what if you don’t have anywhere to plant a garden? You may want to check for a community garden in your area, plant in pots, or read up on gardening skills if you really can’t put in a small garden now.
If you are putting together a survival seed bank for your emergency preparedness plans, but can’t use it right away, follow the directions for storage above, using the mylar bag option with a silica gel packet to absorb moisture and an oxygen absorber. If possible, put together a new survival seed bank every three to five years to ensure better germination rates. Donate the old seeds to someone who can use them.
Already A Gardener?
For those who have mad gardening skills, the survival seed bank tips we’ve shared might seem pretty basic. To increase your gardening and survival skills try saving heirloom seeds from your crops each year. Remember that some fruits and vegetables (such as pumpkins and squash) cross pollinate readily, creating hybrid seeds. To keep your seed supply pure, you will need to hand pollinate and prevent bees and other pollinators from introducing unwanted pollen to the flower. Read up on how to save heirloom seeds for best results. A good manual on saving heirloom seeds is indispensible as you learn this skill.
It is also advisable to try growing new crops and saving the seed each year. This increases the variety of vitamins and minerals available from your homegrown produce. You’ll have more flavors to choose from and more crops to fall back on if one fails. Try growing a small plot of grain for grinding to make bread or for feeding to chickens. Learn to identify wild edibles and even save their seeds for your survival garden. Start a nursery plot for overwintering biennial crops such as carrots, parsnip, beets, and salsify to save seeds in their second year.
Increasing your self reliant skills is always a good idea!
Overview of Collecting, Keeping, & Using Seeds For Your Survival Seed Bank
- Grow and save heirloom seeds
- Keep a ‘nursery plot’ for growing biennial crops to collect seeds in second year
- Save the best seeds from your garden each year
- Grow a variety of different crops to provide a safety net
- Learn to forage for wild food and collect seeds of wild edibles
- Test saved seeds for germination rates each year
- Swap out old seeds for new seeds when germination rates are poor
- Use half of saved seeds and store other half as a safety measure
- Provide ideal conditions for seed storage according to your needs
Before you know it, you’ll be an old pro at growing a garden and saving your own heirloom seeds each year! Remember that knowledge is important, but practice makes perfect!
This post is part of a series shared through a Self Reliance Challenge bloggers group. You can check out the other websites participating here.
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In addition to writing for her own websites, Lisa has contributed articles to The Prepper Project and Homestead.org.
The author lives outside of Chicago with her husband, son, 2 dogs, 1 cat, and a variety of poultry.