Monday, April 25, 2011

Hybrid, Heirloom... Huh? A Quick Run-Down of "Survival Seeds"

One of the items I had on my prepping plan for this month was to buy some survival seeds. Everyone knows that gardening is a valuable skill both pre- and post-TEOTWAWKI, but what makes a seed a "survival seed"?

If you go to your local garden center, you'll find an overwhelming array of seed packets. If you were to select a few packets, store them in a sturdy container packed with moisture absorbers, and keep them in a dry, cool place, they would stay viable for a long time. In a time of need, you could take the seeds out of storage and expect a reasonably good germination rate. Your family eats and you're the hero of the day due to your foresight. Voila! That's survival seeds.

What types of seeds should you store?

That local garden center of yours and seed company catalogs offer a stunning array of seeds complete with what I affectionately call "scientific plant people lingo".

I've read a couple of books recently that have given me a deeper understanding of the scientific plant people lingo and where our food comes from in general - Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. If you haven't read either of those two books, get thee to a library and check them out. They are fascinating and thought-provoking. You'll learn something and like it, I promise! Here's my attempt to distill the pertinent bits when it comes to survival seeds.

Heirloom - Heirloom plants are open-pollinated, which means they take care of their reproductive business without people needing to be involved. If you plant seed gathered from an heirloom plant, you can expect that the baby plant will be like the mom/dad. Many heirloom varieties have been passed down from generation to generation and are time-tested.

My Dad's favorite variety of corn, Golden Bantam, is an heirloom variety. Our local garden centers no longer carry Golden Bantam in bulk, much to his displeasure. When he asked about it at one garden center, they told Dad that "Only old farts plant Golden Bantam any more." You should've seen the scene that ensued! What the local garden centers do carry is hybrid corn.

Hybrids - When people get involved in plant reproduction, some interesting things can happen. A hybrid occurs when you cross dissimilar varieties of a plant. The good thing about hybrids is that they often have something called, remarkably enough, "hybrid vigor". Hybrids can be especially healthy, disease resistant, or have other desirable characteristics. Sounds great, right?  It is, until you try to plant the seeds harvested from a hybrid plant. The next generation will not be anything like the hybrid and will probably give you very poor results overall.

Seed companies love hybrids because you have to purchase seeds over and over again. That's fine and dandy... unless it's TEOTWAWKI and you need to save seeds from your crop in order to have something to grow next year.

Another category of seeds that I will mention briefly is genetically modified (GM) seed. These seeds can only be created in laboratories. Geneticists are able to combine genes from a wide variety of organisms - plants, animals, and even bacteria. Many people have issues with that in general, and GM seed is definitely unsuitable for survival seed. For one thing, seed companies hold patents that make it illegal to save your seed. Saving seed would probably be fruitless, anyway, because they often splice in genes that interfere with reproduction.

Are you still with me? Good.

What's the bottom line?

You can choose to store hybrids, but do not store only hybrids. The bulk of your seed storage should be heirloom varieties. That way, you can gather your own seeds and perpetuate your crops from year to year.

It goes without saying that gardening is hard work and you can't pick it up post-SHTF and expect to suceed. Start practicing now.

Our Choice for Survival Seeds:

I seriously considered building my own survival seed kit, but there are lots of companies out there that sell pre-made kits. Quick and easy? I'm all over it. I chose Everlasting Seeds, a company that sells canned, organic, heirloom seeds.

I ordered their Garden in a Can, which is a #10 can full of 79 types of seed. I was attracted by the sheer variety - it has everything from asparagus to cucumbers to wheat to catnip. Included inside each can is a garden guide that gives planting and harvesting instructions.

Garden in a Can

Contents of Garden in a Can

Everlasting Seeds accidentally sent me their Vegi-Max and Herbs in Can instead of the Garden in a Can. They quickly remedied this and sent me what I ordered, but it gave me an opportunity to check out these products as well. As much as I could check it out without opening it, anyway!

The Herbs in a Can is the size of a can of soup. It has all of the same herbs included in the Garden in a Can.

Herbs in a Can

Vegi-Max is in a #10 can. It has fewer varieties of seeds than Garden in a Can, but in greater numbers.

Vegi-Max Contents

Everlasting Seeds also carries Crops in a Can and a Medicinal Herb Garden Collection.

If I had to do it again, I would probably order the Vegi-Max instead of the Garden in a Can. In a crisis situation, it would be better to have a greater quantity of more sustaining vegetables than to have a few each of wide variety. 

According to the Everlasting Seeds website, if you store their seeds between 66-70 degrees, they will last between 5-9 years. If you refrigerate them, you extend their life to 10-15 years.

The seeds contained in the cans are fine for my particular climate. They even include my Dad's favorite Golden Bantam corn seed. If you live in, say, Texas, Maine, or Hawaii, you may need to check and see if these seeds are optimized for your climate. If not, find another purveyor or make your own can of survival seeds. Research the plants that work best for your area and store them in a ammo can or similar container. Throw in some dessicants (You can read on the Everlasting Seeds site about dessicants vs oxygen absorbers) and store it in your fridge. You've just bought your family some extra food security for the next decade.

However you decide to do it, think about storing some seed. How are you going to eat when your food storage runs out?


  1. Everlasting Seeds offer a discount to veterans, a very high discount to disabled veterans, and a small free package of seeds to those on a severely limited budget. They are awesome.

  2. So if refrigerating the seeds adds an additional 5 years or so to life expectancy, then what about freezing them?

  3. Kris - I wondered that, too. I decided not to freeze mine A) Refrigeration was a safe bet recommended by Everlasting Seeds and B) Freezing could change the cellular structure of the seed. I didn't want to chance that with something so important.

    A quick google search unearthed this:

    Apparently there is debate on the issue. I'm sticking with the fridge and a 10-15 year shelf life.

    HTH! Emily