Seed Storage

As we were harvesting vegetables for the Seed to Feed program this week, a couple of volunteers asked a great question concerning seed shelf life and storage. This is a timely topic for many gardeners looking to wrap up warm season vegetable production. We are, after all, about six weeks from the average first frost for this part of Indiana. Depressing, eh? Not for me! I am soooo looking forward to fall weather.

Back to the topic at hand; let us first discuss seed shelf life. There is a lot of information out there in the wide world of webs, but a very general rule of thumb for seeds relates to size and hardness. The larger the seed, the longer the shelf life. Seeds can survive once cut off from the plant based on how much metabolite reserves, such as starches, they have available. The larger the seed, the more storage capacity. Also, a harder seed coat often translates to greater longevity. Hard seed coats protect seeds from desiccation, and they can be less susceptible to pathogen attacks.

Now as to storage, most vegetable and annual seeds are best stored in a cool, dark, dry environment. I keep all my personal seeds at home in a paper bag in my basement, to be honest, without any additional special treatment, and am satisfied with seed viability. I like to switch what I grow a lot, so I may not use the same variety for more than a couple of years in a row any ways.

I hope this has planted a seed of thought of what one must do in the coming months as we look forward to ice crystals arriving to a plot of ground near you.

Josh Steffen, Horticulture and Facilities Manager

5 thoughts on “Seed Storage

  1. Some seeds last for years! You know how they sometimes get misplaced and forgotten about? It is surprising what comes up if old seed get sown just for the heck of it.

  2. Julie Goetz

    The information that you post each month is very insightful and valuable. Do you ever speak to Master Gardener groups for a stipend? We are looking for a speaker several times a year the first Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. CST in LaPorte (LPCMGA). Please let me know if this is a possibility. We also host a garden show in March.

  3. Marlen Cruz

    Hello Josh, thank you so much for your enlightenment and for educating us. I live in South Florida and have been wanting to collect my fox tail seeds for a while now, but have been desperately searching on how to collect, clean and store anywhere, or at least not in details. I have several questions and was hoping you might be able to help me.
    1) Once the seed is collected, how much time do I have before cleaning them or is it even the right thing to clean them immediately?
    2) To clean them, how long can seed sit in water (water being changed several times) before cleaning?
    3) I’ve read that the best way to propagate a seed is by putting them in a container with Pead moss or Perlite, is that so?
    4) In storing the seeds, can I store seeds that have been cleaned in water for a few days ?
    5) Storing seeds, when ready to propagate, does the seed need to be soaked prior to planting?

    I know its a lot of questions, but I really want to ensure that I am doing this right.

    I hope to hear from you soon.
    Thank you in advance

    1. Hi, Marlen, thanks for the questions; are you talking about foxtail palm seeds? A little out of our zone here in northern Indiana, but perhaps we can help you find some resources on collecting, storing, and propagating those seeds.

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