Storage & Shelf Life of Seeds
Introduction to Proper Storage and Shelf Life
The primary purpose of this article is to provide what I believe to be the most optimal shelf life for some of the most common vegetable seeds as well as information that may help preserve saved or store-bought seeds. Knowing how to properly store and how long seeds last is very important if you are concerned about quality and higher yields from seeds.
Proper Storage of Seeds
Seed Storage is important and can effect the quality and yields of planted vegetables or other plants that one might grow in the garden. One might read things like seeds last longer if you freeze them. This is typically not the case. Dampness in stored seeds may freeze causing damage that cannot be undone. This damage may mean less and even no production of plants when the seeds are planted. Cool dry storage is best. I have found refrigeration in a proper storage container to be ideal for protecting seed integrity. I typically use small envelopes, write the seed and date on it then fold it and place it in a large mason jar along with other seeds. Placing some dried mild in the bottom of the mason jar can help keep moisture from building up in the seeds and doing damage. Make sure you do not put the dried milk inside the envelopes; it goes in the mason jar, then seeds are separated by type and stored inside the envelopes. There are, of course, other methods that work just as well but this is my preferred method.
This Nifty Seed Storage Organizer Can Make Storage Fun
Banana Pepper, Ripe and Ready to Seed
Dried Banana Pepper Seeds, Ready to Store
A Quick Tip on Drying Seeds Before Storing
To ensure higher yields, never store seeds without drying completely. All seeds should be dried at least 3 days to ensure that moisture is completely out of the seeds. Most of the time, proper drying can be achieved by laying seeds flat on a piece of cheese cloth or piece of sheet. More about seed saving can be seen in my article Save Your Own Tomato Seeds for Next Year's Garden.
These photos were taken while I was beginning to save banana pepper seeds. Note that they were dried on a small piece of sheet so that they would not stick and be easy to remove following the drying process. Some materials cause seeds to stick.
This quick tip is to help save you some trouble. I have lost many seeds by not properly drying them or drying them on materials like dishtowels where I am unable to get them off without breaking them. Some seeds are much more fragile than others. For example, tomato seeds are less likely to be damaged than cucumber seeds which tend to be quite thin and breakable. Using a smooth material can help prevent this breakage.
Seed Saving Shelf Life
I have provided what I believe to be the best 'use by' dates/shelf life for a few of the most common seeds. Opinions may vary but the fact is that the longer a seed stays in storage the less bang you get for your buck. This means that all seeds should be used as soon as possible, preferably the following season. If for whatever reason, you are unable to use seeds the season following storage, refer to the table below for ideal shelf-life times. I have also included a link to one of my favorite books on seed saving below. This nifty reference guide is helpful in providing storage information, season planting times, farm planning and more.
Ideal Shelf Life for Some Common Seeds
Proper storage is key to a longer shelf life regardless of the type of seed. Make sure that all seeds are dry and store them in a cool, dry area. Try to use all stored seeds as soon as possible for higher yields. This is especially important for individuals interested in saving heirloom seeds. If you are interested in saving and growing heirloom seeds a good resource to look into is Seed Savers. Regardless of the type of seed you decide to store or grow, I highly recommend that you collect good information from books, online and other sources and start saving seeds!