Gardening plays into the prepping/survival plans of many people. Whether they grow a lot every year, or they have a vacuum packed tin of survival seeds. Either way, you’re going to need to refresh your seed every once in a while, as seed doesn’t remain viable forever.
Short Shelf Life– Parsnips and okra are the worst, they are lucky to last 2 years in ideal storage conditions. Okra doesn’t grow so well in our short cold summers, but perhaps lucky readers in warmer climes will find the information useful. Parnips on the other hand are well suited for our cold winters and can fill a unique niche as an early spring crop. Planted in the late spring, and left in ground as fall fades to winter, under a heavy blanket of mulch, parsnips are sweet when chiseled out of the ground as soon as the soil can be “worked.” (It counts if the work is done with a pickax, right? :-D) So, in my opinion they are worth the trouble to keep around and grow, but know that you can’t just store the seed and forget about it.
Still short shelf life – Onions, beets and leeks are in the 2-4 year range for viability with ideal storage. These are all crops that do well with our temperature range, although, leeks are more work than the other two, requiring some hilling and a long grow time. These also have the honor of being biennial in their seed production, so it takes a bit of foresight and patience to grow the seed. I’ll admit it, I cheat and buy seeds for these. I tried overwintering a few beets once, and I guess I didn’t have enough mulch, because they died. You can hedge your bets by buying 2 years worth of seeds, then refreshing them with more as soon as you get down to 1 years worth, remembering to use the oldest seed first.
Surprisingly long lasting seed – Turnip, cantaloupe and potato seeds (the real seeds, not the seed potatoes) are all really long lasting and can last close to a decade with proper storage conditions. I know I know, turnips; nobody wants to hear about the d*mn turnips. They are a preppers best friend though. Tolerant of cold and frost, reliable producers, trouble free growing and sprouting. Plus, dense in calories and vitamins. I’ll make turnip lovers out of you yet.
Everything else – Everything else runs middle of the road for viability, averaging 4-7 years for best germination. Remember, optimum storage conditions are cool, dark and stable.
Bottom line here is that if you have a tin can full of seeds, you’d better make sure that every 4 years at least, you’re planting those seeds and growing out the veggies with the intent to harvest fresh seed for storing. Or, you’re buying fresh seed at the store and rotating that through. Growing is definitely the cheaper option, with the bonus of providing a bit of food if you do it right. Do make sure not to harvest from the plants that you are growing for seed. Tie a string around them, or mark with flags, so you’ll remember to take good care of the flowers and the drying seed pods. Growing them also gives you a trial run so you’ll have some experience growing the varieties that you have stored. This can help avoid crop failures at inopportune times. I think that seeds from Y2K might be a bust if you try to plant them to weather the Great Recession.
– Calamity Jane