Basics for Starting a Seed Bank
A seed bank is simply your own stash of seeds that you have set aside for long-term storage.
You can purchase a can of “survival” seeds online but these just aren’t really very useful. In most cases, they are full of varieties that are just not optimal for your region, nor best for your purposes. Also, for more big-seeded staple crop varieties, there is likely to be only trivial amounts yet these would be the seeds that we would need more of during a major disaster.
The best seed bank should be full of vigorous, regionally adapted varieties of exactly the crops you care about the most. It should contain lots of seeds for these crops, enough to plant a normal-sized crop of each of them for three years or more. Tiny amounts just won’t cut it. The best seed bank possible is the one that you put together yourself and have in your home ready for when it is needed.
Why Start a Seed Bank?
First off, if you buy seed, you don’t need to just buy those tiny packets every year. You can purchase your seeds in larger amounts and pay just a fraction of what you would normally pay. All you need to do is dry the seeds out for long-term storage, divide it up into one-year-sized packets, and put it into your freezer.
Secondly, there are going to be times when it just isn’t possible to buy seeds. Maybe this is through loss of income or just being too busy with other tasks. If you have your own stash of seed in bulk, you can purchase them when you have the ability and dip into your stockpile when you don’t.
The third reason is that many varieties these days are produced by only one grower in the country or even the world, and then they are sold by many different retail seed companies. If crop failure happens to that person you can soon find that your favorite variety is no longer for sale in every seed catalog one year.
The final reason I want to look at is that the commercial seed trade regularly loses varieties. Just because one variety may be incredibly popular and widespread, it is no guarantee that you will still be able to get them. Often many seed companies continue selling the crossed-up trash under the traditional name. The more reputable seed companies drop the variety when it is no longer what it is supposed to be. The result is that you can buy varieties sold under the classic name long after the real variety that name represents no longer exists anywhere. All that has actually been preserved is the name.
If you care about preventing the loss of the varieties that you care about, you really need to start looking at starting your own seed bank. If the seed is widely available we just need to stash some away so that, if it is lost, we have good seed we can use to start our own seed saving after it becomes necessary.
How Much Space Does Your Seed Bank Need?
As with most things we discuss here at UK Survival Guides, it is best to start small and work your way up from there. In most cases your seed bank will start out as a simple small box in a freezer. Once you have figured it all out and get more knowledge on the subject, that small box may grow to a whole freezer of its own. Properly dried for long-term storage and put into a freezer, the seed will keep virtually indefinitely as long as the power lasts, and for several years beyond should the power stop.
Once you have gained the skills and knowledge needed and want to expand your supply, consider getting a used chest freezer. These are often available free because people get rid of them to convert to more convenient upright freezers. These are perfect for your seed bank as you won’t need to keep opening and closing the door to get other items out.
Does Freezing Kill Seeds
Seed banks store their rare, exotic and heirloom seeds in refrigeration units or cryogenic chambers to ensure the survival and future of specific plant varieties. You probably don’t have access to a cryogenic chamber within your home but you do have your refrigerator or freezer. They are perfectly fine as long as they are stored correctly.
Improper freezing can kill some seeds, but other seeds may be less fussy. In fact, many wildflower, tree and shrub seeds actually require a cold period, before they will germinate. In cool climates, plants such as milkweed, Echinacea, ninebark, sycamore, etc. will drop seed in autumn, then lay dormant under snow through winter. In spring rising temperatures and moisture will trigger these seeds to sprout.
Without the preceding cold, dormant period, though, seeds like these will not sprout. This period of stratification can easily be simulated in a freezer.
Using Frozen Seeds
If you want to succeed then you need to store your dry seeds in an airtight container and keep them at consistent cool temperatures. The seeds should be thoroughly dried before being frozen as the freezing process can cause moist seeds to crack or split. The dry seeds should then be placed in an airtight container to prevent them from absorbing any humidity and taking on any damaging moisture.
When storing seeds in a refrigerator, place them towards the back so that they are less exposed to the temperature fluctuations each time that you open and close the door.
Storing seeds in the freezer will provide seeds with more consistent temperatures than refrigerator storage. For every 1% increase in humidity, a seed can lose half its storage life. Likewise, every 10-degree increase in temperature can also cost seeds half their storage life.
Make sure that your seeds are clean and dry before freezing. Silica gel can help thoroughly dry seeds. When placing seeds in an airtight container for cold storage, make sure that you date the container to avoid confusion when it’s time to plant.
It’s also a good idea to start a seed journal so you can learn from your own successes or failures. Lastly, when it is time to plant, take seeds out of the freezer and allow them to thaw at room temperature for at least 24 hours before planting them.