It is the last week of summer here in New Zealand (calendar, not astronomic) and I have seeds on the brain. I’ve been gathering from the garden and sorting through my stash for autumn planting since we’re lucky enough to be able to grow all year round. We have a seed collection post in our archives packed with tips for gathering and storing seeds from the garden, so pop on over if you’re looking for ideas as well as a pitfalls and problems to avoid.
Storing Seed for Improved Viability
Why talk about storage before packaging? Well, most of use (self included) are space constrained. It’s good to know what conditions seeds prefer. Then we can think about where we would keep them after organisation, and select packaging and containers to suit our available safe seed storage spaces.
Ideal Seed Storage Conditions
Germination rates (sprouting) and viability (actually generating a viable seedling) can decline with poor seed storage and/or age. Cool, dark, and dry are the preferred conditions for most seeds. How rigidly the conditions are controlled depends on the storage need, purpose, and dedicated resources.
Seed banks and other professional facilities use condition controls for light, temperature, humidity and more. Short terms storage is often in a cool dark dry place, with a consistent cool temperature (~5 to 15C) and low relative humidity. Longer term storage uses additional drying and frozen storage, typically around -20C. Extreme long term storage uses cryopreservation with liquid nitrogen at around -180C. International seed banking standards help ensure consistency in how dispersed seed banks guard our global biodiversity.
Trying to Mimic Ideal Conditions at Home
The closest mimic of these highly controlled (and expensive) systems for the home garden are to use the refrigerator or freezer; however, this isn’t necessarily the best option at home! Saved seed may have higher moisture levels than professionally prepared seed and freezing may kill the seeds. Use the refrigerator if you wish, but take precautions by using sealed containers and humidity controls inside the containers.
Most home gardeners also don’t have fridge or freezer space to devote to a seed stash anyway, and other alternatives can work well for storing your seeds in the short to medium term.
Potential Home Storage Locations
Sealed storage in a cool moderated temperature zone of your house is a good alternative for short to medium term storage. This can still be tricky, especially if you have a large seed collection or are tight on space.
As noted above, stored seeds will have the best chance of success if they are kept in cool, dark, dry conditions. This means that typical garden gear storage locations like sheds and garages are poor choices for seed storage. They’ll toast in summer, freeze in winter, and may also be damp or humid.
Dark (containers) and dry (sealed containers, desiccants) are more readily controlled than consistent cool temperatures. That makes temperature the priority consideration for most home gardeners. Where are you homes consistent cool to moderate temperature spots? Basements, cupboards, pantries, closets, drawers, and similar could be options.
Keeping them consolidated and organised makes it much easier to neatly store them in the house. I currently keep seeds in the linen closet, using paper packets bundled tightly into a metal storage tin with silica packs – not ideal, but it works for now. See below for packaging and storage ideas.
Since this post was first written, we’ve moved yet again. I no longer use the linen cupboard as it backs onto our hot water cylinder. Amazing for warm dry linen storage. Terrible for seeds. My seeds now live in a pantry cupboard, pending a revamp of my storage for more efficiency. I’ve outgrown my old system. I have a new bigger garden with a bigger seed stash. It’s an addiction!
Seed Packaging for Storage
Before packaging and storing seeds, make sure that they are completely dry (especially if gathered) and free from any signs of disease or pests. Bought seed will usually come pre-packaged. If you’re sharing, swapping, or gathering then you will need to make, buy, or repurpose suitable packaging. If your packets are opened, you will want to take extra care with those as well.
Individual Sealed Containers
Spice bottles (particularly handy for dispensing, especially sprinkling free-planted flower seeds), pill bottles, or other small containers are all great for sealed container storage. These allow you to seal and control the seeds individually by type, and are more persistent to pests than paper packets.
With a salvaged silica gel pack popped inside, these are great for keeping seeds in the refrigerator or other storage location, but they do require extra space for consolidation and storage when compared to packets.
Paper and Packets
Seed packets can be bought or made. There are some awesome free printables if you’d like to create your own special packets for storage or beautifying a few special packets for swapping, sharing, or gifting. Check out these pretty packets from Pass the Pistil and Simple as That.
Envelopes make a great alternative to seed packets and come in a wide variety of sizes. There are products sold especially for seeds, but you can also use other types of envelope. Paper bags are also handy (take care to close them though!) and available in different sizes.
These are all inexpensive and work well for containment and (if opaque) light, but are more vulnerable to ambient conditions and insects than sealed containers. They can; however, be grouped into larger sealed containers or jars for protection and/or additional humidity control, similar to the individual containers above.
Labelling Seed Containers and Packages for Storage
Whatever you choose for packaging, labelling is key to keeping things as user-friendly as possible. If you are gathering seed you will need to create your own labels. You may also want to label (or relabel) swapped or shared seed.
Some purchased seeds will have detailed planting information on the packet, but not always. Some of my favourite suppliers use very simple packets. I like to have specific information at hand, like preferred aspect, lifespan, mature size and spacing, along with any specific sowing details such as chilling, soaking, scoring, temperature, or germination. I created seed information label templates for myself and shared them for free download.
Organised Storage for Seeds
Ways to Organise and Store Seed Packets and Containers
So, what do you do with all those packages and containers of seed? It all depends on the size of your stash, your storage location/space, what you’d like to invest, and the style of organisation that bests suits you. Remember to leave a little room for expansion, if possible. Here are some ideas:
- Photo album pages or sports collector card sleeves make handy ways to store seed packets. These can be used empty as records in your garden journal, but also as sealed storage for open/full packets too, as long as you seal the open tops. This is a handy space-saving option for smaller gardens and you can slip the binder onto a shelf for easy in-home storage.
- Photo storage boxes, recipes card boxes, and similar small filing containers can be used (with or without index cards) to create a file of packets. Make sure that any open packets are sealed to avoid messy spills and you can pop a desiccant packet or two into the box for extra moisture protection.
- For larger collections, a bigger storage tub, box, or other suitable container could be an easy solution. You can group your collection with smaller containers within, or make your own segmented storage using cardboard or foam core to create dividers.
- Purpose made seed storage boxes and tins can be bought from garden suppliers or online.
Keeping Your Seed Storage Organised
Once you’ve created a system, commit to keeping it neat and tidy. Label before adding new additions, return used packages to their rightful place, and check regularly for expired supplies. Planting season planning is a good opportunity for a seed audit before buying new supplies.
Outgrowing Your Existing Seed Storage
If your stash grows (like mine…) over time or when you are lucky enough to expand you garden, you might find that you’ve outgrown your seed storage. A good starting point is to make sure you aren’t hanging onto to old unviable seeds. Once you’ve whittled down your stash, ask yourself if you will use it before it expires. If not, consider destashing through gifting, exchanges, swaps (or planting, of course) before making a decision on upgrading or expanding your storage.