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Tips for Saving Your Unused Seeds Like a Seed Bank

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
How to save seeds for next year.

Here are some practical tips for saving your unused seeds for next year.


By now you are probably near the end of your spring planting and like most gardeners you will have some left-over seeds. And, like many gardeners, you will likely set aside what remains of the seeds into a box on a shelf with the intention of either getting around to storing them properly “some day”; or, trust that they should be good as-is for at least one more year if you just reseal the packet and toss them into a drawer in the kitchen. Both are bad practices; A better practice is to treat your seeds with the care of a Seed Bank.

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The Millennial Seed Bank

Seed Banks such as the Millennium Seed Bank exist because currently an estimated one in five plant species are threatened with extinction worldwide. Seed banks, therefore, are needed as a preventive measure to not only ensure the preservation of many at-risk plant species, but to aid future plant research, and also to ensure mankind’s survival as well in case of some catastrophic environmental event that threatens the world’s food supply.

Here’s an Informative Video on The Millennial Seed Bank from TED

Reasons for Saving Seeds
• Saving seeds means saving money—Commercial seeds are not dirt cheap. The thrifty gardener can add to his or her yearly gardening savings with easy practices such as saving leftover seeds, or by exchanging seeds of other types with other like-minded gardeners.

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• Saving seeds insures availability—That variety of vegetable seeds you grow this year may prove to have yielded some exceptional vegetables that you would like to repeat next year. However, varieties change and so does their availability. By saving those leftover seeds for next year, you will be better prepared for selecting and preserving that line by extracting seeds right out of the plant when the time is right.

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• Saving seeds for off-season growing—Your interests in gardening could evolve into trying your hand at off-season growing with hot boxes, green houses, indoor trellises or hydroponics. Having proven seeds in hand would provide you with the opportunity to compare growing and taste when using alternative gardening methods.

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Recommended Seeds for Saving in Your Seed Bank

• Tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas are typical good choices for seed saving. They have flowers that are self-pollinating and their seeds require little or no special treatment before storage.

• You may want to avoid seeds from biennial crops such as carrots or beets since two growing seasons are needed to set seed.

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• Open-pollinated varieties (such as many heirlooms) are preferred over hybrids. Open-pollinated plants bear similar fruit and set seeds that will produce more plants of the same or similar type. Open-pollinated tomato varieties such as 'Big Rainbow', 'San Marzano' and 'Brandywine' will produce identical plants.

• While you can save seeds from hybrid vegetable plants, you need to understand that they are products of crosses between two different varieties, which leads to a combining of traits between the parent plants. If you saved seeds from a hybrid, the resulting plants next year will likely differ from last season’s and might not be as desirable. Hybrid plants, such as 'Big Boy', 'Beefmaster' and 'Early Girl' tomatoes will produce viable seed, but how well the seedling plant will grow, or what qualities the fruit will have are unpredictable.

Simple Seed Banking Steps

After you have finished planting your garden, take the time to store the leftover seeds properly by following these simple seed banking step:

1. Remove the seeds from their original packets and place each type in a smaller paper packet to save on space, and be sure to label each packet. Save the original seed packets for your gardening records—you do keep records…right?!

2. Store the seeds in their new paper packets in tightly sealed glass containers. Seeds survive best if they are kept cool and dry. Temperatures between 32° and 41°F are ideal; therefore, the crisper drawer in a refrigerator is good place to store seeds.

3. Since a lowered humidity is an important seed survival factor and the fridge door is typically opened multiple times a day, give your seeds some added protection by placing a commercial desiccant or a homemade one consisting of powdered milk in a cheese cloth sachet. Powdered milk will absorb excess moisture from the air for about six months. Mark the storage date in your gardening records and replace the desiccant as needed.

4. Use the saved seeds within one year. The longer the seed are stored, the lower the germination and vigor will be the next planting season.

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If you have a favorite method for saving seeds that has worked for you, let us know about it in the comments section below.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with a background in farming and an avid home gardener, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between plant biology and gardening for healthy living. For continual updates about plants and health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Images courtesy of Pixabay


Why we're storing billions of seeds” Jonathan Drori, TED 2009.

Saving vegetable seeds” University of Minnesota Extension.