Gardening Tips for Seedy Characters: Week 47

What to do this week

This week is a good time to get your seeds safely stored for winter.

You may have seeds that you saved yourself, from your garden, or you may have leftover seeds you purchased but didn’t use.

There are three things that effect the longevity of seeds: warmth, light and moisture. If you store your seeds where they will encounter these three things, they will die. Actually, they will try to grow, but it is unlikely they will manage that in whatever container you have put them in, and the eventual result will be death. So, warmth, light, and moisture are the three things you want to limit if you would like to save your seeds to plant next year.

Not everyone has the perfect location for seed storage, so if you are considering a few imperfect options, err toward limiting warmth and moisture, and don’t worry too much about light. If you are only going to be able to limit one of these three potential killers, limit the moisture. Moisture is the most difficult thing for seeds to survive while in storage.

It isn’t only high humidity that you have to watch for when it comes to seed saving, it is also changes in humidity. If you just leave your seeds in their little envelopes on a shelf, they will feel the change from rainy day to dry day and back and it is this change that is the real killer.

If you haven’t stored your seeds yet, wait for the first crisp, dry day that comes along. Put the seeds in mason jars. Use new jars if you can, with new lids. Don’t use any old jam jar. Don’t even use a secondhand mason jar lid. The seal is important.

Be sure the seeds are dry to begin with, especially if you have saved your own seeds from the garden. For bean and pea seeds, you have to be able to hit them with a hammer and have them crack, not smush. Then you know they are dry enough. With squash seeds, cucumber seeds, or even tomato seeds, you need to be able to pinch them between your thumb and forefinger and have them break rather than bend. If they bend they are not dry enough.

There is a trick to speeding the drying if you want to get the seeds stored but they are not yet dry enough: get some silica gel from a craft store, wrap a bit in a tissue and put it into the mason jar with your seeds. This gel will change color as it absorbs moisture. Don’t leave the silica gel in the jar for longer than 48 hours no matter what color it is, you risk over-drying your seeds. Most silica gel can be recharged by putting it in an oven to dehydrate. You can use the same gel every year.

Store your mason jars in the refrigerator, if you have room, or in the root cellar, the basement or on a shelf in the coolest part of your house.

There are some seeds that you might not want to bother saving from one year to another — onion seeds, any of the allium seeds, chives and things like that, don’t save well, and neither do carrot seeds. It really isn’t worth your while. But tomato seeds, if they are properly dried; cucumber seeds; any of the squash family seeds; and beans, can stay viable for 10 to 15 years if stored properly. They are definitely worth saving from one year to the next. So, if you have leftover seed packets lying around the garden shed or the porch, gather them up and get them into mason jars, and you won’t have to buy them again when it gets to seed catalog time.

Featured photo by Nadia Talent.





Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.





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