How To Make A Survival Seed Bank

Mary's Heirloom Seeds
How to Make a Survival Seed Bank

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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Are you interested in reading other articles about self-reliance? Check out 10 Best Broody Hen Breeds For A Self-Reliant Chicken Flock

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!

Mary's Heirloom Seeds Sale
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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.

Carrot seeds don’t keep well long term.

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:

  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Leeks
  • Onions
pumpkins and squash
Pumpkins and winter squash seeds remain viable for several years.

Seeds that keep well for several years and may be stored with good germination rates:

  • Winter squash
  • Pumpkins
  • Green beans
  • Peas
  • Wheat
  • Oats
My homemade survival seed bank stocked with seeds from Mary’s Heirloom Seeds.

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, vacuum 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 low oxygen, low humidity, and low-temperature environments. 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 a cool, dark place (refrigerator or freezer is best)
  • Do not remove the container from cold storage and open right away, see instructions below
arugula seedlings

When you are ready to use your survival seed bank, follow these instructions:

  • Remove survival seed bank from refrigerator or freezer
  • Set the container on a 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.

sowing seeds

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 everyday 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.

Check germination rates every year!

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 the damp paper towel over and place in a plastic baggie
  • Mark date, variety, the normal time to germination, and age of seed on the baggie
  • Place in a warm spot, a germinating mat works well
  • Open baggie each day and check for germination 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
Pepper Plant - The New Homesteader's Almanac
Try growing in pots to practice gardening skills

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 indispensable 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!

Make Your Own Seed Bank

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 the 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 the saved seeds and store the 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!

What is the most interesting or helpful tip you read in this article? Do you save heirloom seeds for your garden? Share your tips in the comments!

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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How to Make a Survival Seed Bank
The New Homesteader's Almanac
There are seeds banks available to purchase, but you can make your own! Check out the best containers and storage methods, choose the best seeds, test germination rates, and many more ideas to help you store seeds Just in Case!

Shared on The Simple Homestead Hop, Farm Fresh Tuesdays, and Off Grid Hop

63 comments on “How To Make A Survival Seed Bank

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  7. Christina Almond

    Heirloom seeds are, sadly, a bit of a “dying breed” so I think it’s really important to secure and save them for the future!

    1. Lisa Lombardo Post author

      That’s wonderful, Michelle! I like supporting heirloom seeds companies, saving money and keeping our seed supply more diverse and sustainable.

  8. Nikki K.

    I nearly always forget to let refrigerated containers of seeds come to room temp before opening. Good reminders in this post!

  9. Karen D

    I really enjoy saving the seeds that I can. I don’t with squash, though. Too difficult given my physical difficulties.

  10. Terri Shortell

    This was great. I’ve been wanting to know more about saving seeds. I appreciate you sharing this with us.

  11. David S.

    Last year I saved some black cherry tomato seeds and some ground cherry seeds. I have them stored in the freezer for now. Thanks for the article.

  12. Faith Y

    Thank you for the valuable information! Seed saving is interesting to me, and something I’d like to learn more of, as I can. Blessings to you!

  13. Kim James

    This is an excellent article on saving seeds. I save some but want to start saving more and this information is giving me a lot of great information. Thanks

  14. Donna

    This year I have started purchasing heirloom seeds. Hope to learn how to save seeds also. Next is having a large seed bank!

    1. Lisa Post author

      I’m a bit of a seed hoarder, actually…lol πŸ™‚ I finally did a germination test and got rid of a bunch last year. Starting with mostly new seeds this year. Thank you, Nancy!

  15. Marla

    Hi Lisa,
    I think it is a wonderful and very smart idea to have a survival seed bank. I have seeds that I save from year to year from some of my flowers and other plants and replant them – actually most of them I got from Mary’s Heirloom seeds.

  16. farmgal

    thank you for being clear that not all seeds can be saved for years at a time, that there in fact seeds that must be used within two years or three on the outside, where others can safely be stored for 3 to 5 or 5 to 10 depending.

    I would like to put forth a garden idea for your to explore in the future.. the outstanding creating of a landrace seed.. While it switches the idea of “pure” heritage strains on its head, man can they produce even when pushed into the hardest conditions πŸ™‚

    1. Lisa Post author

      Thank you for the suggestion, FarmGal…I had the idea of a landrace collection while working on this post and decided it was a subject deserving of its own article!

      You are so correct about the life span of different seeds…I had to ‘weed out’ some this year that will no longer germinate…mostly lettuce, onions, and carrots.

  17. Julie

    I plant as many heirlooms as possible, so this fits hand in glove with my goals. I have a half-gallon Mason Jar I am going to use, and start selecting the seeds I want to save. Periodically, I run across a post that I want to keep. Rather than bookmark it, I print it out and put it in a notebook. This is going to be one of those posts!!

    1. Lisa Post author

      I am probalby going to need a couple of half gallon jars. I started with a quart jar and realize that it is inadequate for my needs! Best wishes with your seed saving adventures, Julie!

  18. Danielle

    We bought two seed banks several years back, but now we’ve either used them up, or if we didn’t, they would be about to expire. I’m going to have to build my own now that we’ve been gardening longer and know what varieties we like and don’t like. Very helpful information, thank you!

  19. Anna M. Lavender

    Such great tips on storing seeds. I need to get more organized and this blog gave me some really great ideas on how to store my seeds. Thank you!

    1. Lisa Post author

      It’s a great way to save seeds from one garden season to the next too! I always have seeds left over, don’t we all?! πŸ™‚

  20. Melissa Storms

    There is some really great advice here. So ar I have only successfully saved seeds from flowers and 1 herb. I have tried vegetables bit lost them because they were not in a very good location and became moist. I do have calendula seeds from this past summer and am hoping to have lots and lots growing next season.

    1. Lisa Post author

      I hope this helps with your seed saving projects, Melissa. Calendula is a great flower to save from seed…you’ll enjoy them even more when you save your own seeds! Thanks for stopping by πŸ™‚

  21. Joanne K

    Whenever I have had to buy seeds the last 3 years…it is only heirloom! Other than that I collect every one I can from my garden. I feel like an idiot now but 5 years ago I thought heirloom meant it was just an old, tried and true variety….duh…lol

    1. Lisa Post author

      It’s great that you are purchasing heirlooms and saving seeds, Joanne…and there’s a learning curve for all of us! You ahead of the game compared to many people. πŸ™‚

  22. Pingback: Self Reliance Giveaway for January 2019 - The New Homesteader's Almanac

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