Saving Seed

Photo of Sharol Tilgner

Don't miss out on Dr. Sharol's newsletters: Get notices of herbal conferences,  any book giveaways  and new articles released.

Photo of bean and corn seed.

The Basics On Saving Seed

It is time to start thinking about next years garden. This is when I get all my seeds out and see what I have collected or have left from the current year. Hopefully, I have saved a lot of seed and don't need to buy much for the coming year.

If you want to be more self-sufficient and know your seed is from healthy stock, save your own seed. Some seed is simple to save and it just requires collecting fully mature seed. Other seed plants need to be protected from accidental cross-pollination by another variety. You can usually prevent cross-pollination by isolating crops from others of the same species. Every species has a required isolation distance, based on whether it's pollinated by wind or insects. Since the required isolation distance is usually too great for gardeners, some crops can be protected from cross-pollination by row cover, bagging, taping or boxing. If you want to get into saving your own seed, a great book for seed saving is called "Seed to Seed." The author tells you everything you need to know to save most seeds. I suggest you get it if you want to save seed. Seed saving skills are easy to learn with this book. The author has many jewels of wisdom in these pages.


Storing Seeds & Shelf Life

Always discard any old seed that was having trouble sprouting this year. If your seeds don't seem to last long, you may not be storing them correctly. Storage of seeds is a major factor in how many years that seed will last. That being said, I just pulled seed out of a non-heated, non-cooled storage unit where they sat for two years. Many of my seeds were still viable. I am eating food from them currently. Seeds continuously surprise me. There are a few of them that would usually have sprouted and did not due to the excess heat but I really did not expect most of them to make it. The handle bars on my bike melted and a few other items showed heat damage. Yet, many seeds made it through like troopers.

Make sure you keep them away from light, air, moisture and heat. A good way to store unused seeds that came in paper packets is to place them in a sealed jar. You can add a desiccant such as rice at the bottom if you live in a humid environment. Rice can be reused again as a desiccant if you dry it in the oven at a low temperature. Store the seed jar in a cool area, such as a closet or pantry. Seed can even be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Seed is best stored through the winter at 50 degrees. For seed you harvest, I suggest using old, cleaned supplement (vitamin/mineral and herb bottles) containers to store the seeds. They are free and are usually air-tight. Zipper freezer bags, glass jars, plastic containers, and metal boxes can be used if they seal tightly. Buckets with tight lids also work for larger seeds like beans and corn. Make sure you label them with the name and date collected. You should also label all seed packages you purchase with the date received so you will be able to track how old they are. Please realize that these seeds may already be a couple years old when you buy them. Companies will sell older seed if it is still viable. By your dating the packets you can at least know when you purchased the seed.

At the end of this post is a list of food plants and an idea of how long each type of seed will last.


Are My Seeds Still Viable?

When you start seeing that seeds are not germinating as well as they were, it is time to pull that seed and compost it. If you are concerned about a seed germinating, you can do a pre-germination test before planting them. This will save you the time and effort of planting them in trays if they are no longer viable. Simply treat the seed as you would sprouts you would sprout for eating. If you don't usually sprout seeds, you can get information on the web for sprouting in a jar. Another method is to sprout the seeds between two sheets of moist paper towels.  Moisten a coffee filter or piece of paper towel and place a specific number of seeds on it, such as 10 or 50. Fold the moistened paper over the seeds and put it in a plastic bag in a warm place. Take the paper out and inspect the seeds twice a day, spraying with water as needed to maintain moisture around the seeds. After the usual number of days required to germinate that variety, count to see how many have germinated and calculate the percentage of germination. Be aware that if the room they are in is not warm enough, it will take longer to germinate.

Once you know what seeds you currently have you can get ready to order the seeds you still need. Make sure you order seeds that are "true" and healthy. I try to order only organic/biodynamic seeds. I look for non-hybrid seeds as I will usually start collecting the seed for myself if I like the variety. Absolutely make sure you do not purchase genetically modified seed. Purchasing healthy, organic, non-gmo seed gets harder and harder as time goes by. This is why I harvest a lot of my own seed.

Viable But Not Potent

Some seeds will still germinate, but their growth is slower or they are less healthy as the seeds gets older. This is something I have noted over time in my garden. Just because a seed germinates does not mean it will be healthy. Therefore, when I see my seeds are losing the ability to germinate as well, I will usually stop planting them. Using a germination test and seeing what the sprouts look like can be helpful in determining their quality.

Some seed companies that I purchase from are:

  • These folks are great and they sell biodynamic/organic seed, but do watch out for some seed that is not "true." I have purchased crossed seeds from them. Part of the problem is that they get seed from a lot of different small seed collectors. That is also part of their charm. I know if I purchase seed from them that it was harvested lovingly and with the thought that it would bring health to those that are growing food with it. Luckily, they list the grower/collector of seed beside each seed they sell. This allows me to see who it is that supplies crossed seeds and I don't buy that collectors seed anymore if I get crossed seed from them.
  • These folks are employee owned and have the most "true" seed of any of the companies in my opinion. I don't think I have ever had any trouble with seed from them. However, the company Seminis which is now owned by Monsanto, supplies some seeds to Johnny's. (I was so disappointed to find this out.) So whatever you do, don't buy non-organic seed from Johnny's. Johnny's has told me that they are weeding out the Seminis seed and replacing them with other seeds as they find alternatives. If not, I would have quit buying even their organic seed. You can go to this website to see what companies are being supplied seed from Monsanto's Seminis company. Here you can find a list of companies to watch out for if you don't want to buy seed owned by Monsanto.
  • - These folks are a great source for medicinal herb seed. I see they are now selling food seed also. This is a company you can trust. It is family owned and I have been to their lovely farm. They are committed to bringing healthy, viable seed to their customers.

How Long Seeds Will Last

If seeds have not been pre-treated or pelletized, and if they have been stored properly, below is the general shelf life you can expect from seed on the market. I would add though, that I have had my home grown seed last much longer than the average amount of time seed is thought to last. Partially, this is due to how careful I am collecting and storing seed usually, but also the seed on the market may already be 1-2 years old when purchased.  This skews the length of time it will last on your shelf towards a shorter period. I find most of my seed will easily last from 3-5 years as a general rule.

Artichoke - three to four years
Asparagus - three to four years
Basil - three - four years
Bush and pole beans - two years
Beets - four to five years
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi - four to five years
Cardoon - three to four years
Carrots - three years
Celery - five years
Celeriac - five years
Chard - three to four
Chives - two years
Collard, Kale - three to five years
Corn - two years
Cucumbers - four to five years
Endive - five years
Eggplant - five years
Leeks, onions - three years
Lettuce - four to five years
Melons - three to four years
Oriental greens - three years
Parsley - two years
Parsnips - one year
Peas - two years
Peppers - three to four years
Radishes - four years
Rutabagas - three - four years
Salsify - one year
Spinach - one year
Squashes - three to four years
Swiss Chard - two years
Tomatoes - five years
Turnips - three - four years
Flower seed - annuals are generally good for one to three years; perennials for two to four years.

You Are The Healer exists due to the generosity of my readers.

The Crowdfunding I receive through regular patrons allows me to continue this website. “I welcome donations through my company Wise Acres LLC, of any amount in lieu of using ads from outside sources, and thank you!” Please use the Pay Pal donate button. Purchasing my paperback books from this website or e-books from Amazon is another way to support this website. Please note we are not non-profit and donations are not tax deductible.

Herbal Medicine: 190 Herbs

Click on E-book to buy at Amazon

Herbal Formulas Book Front Cover

Click on E-book to buy at Amazon