I really enjoyed this and learned some great tips! SRNBy FARMERIK
I keep getting this question emailed to me over and over again, asked in slightly different ways.
In my article about Long term Seed storage I explain how thoroughly dry seeds may be frozen, for really long term storage. See the Related Article section below for details.
All of my estimates for cool dry seed storage times in this article have been compared to reliable sources, like my favorite seed saving book Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth, other books and information from various State Agriculture Schools.
We don't sell any 'magic seeds'. How long seeds last in cool, dry storage conditions is controlled by the crop itself. Onions, parsnips, and lettuce only have good germination rates for one year. Carrots, leeks and chives seed should still grow for two or three years.
Very wide spacing can greatly exaggerate the planted area. If you already grow a large garden, you will know what you want to plant. If you don't, you would be much better off to start small so you can learn how to garden. Think about each kind of vegetable seed they offer. Ask yourself, if I was really hungry, would I want to eat radishes, watermelons, and cucumbers? How much lettuce and string beans would I plant? If I am gardening by hand, or with limited amounts of fuel, how much space would I give to crops like those?
Others claim you may open a large can of seeds and plant some each year. I guess you could. It would be safer to have your seeds sealed and stored in amounts you would actually plant each year. Often the claim is made that since all the seeds in the can they sell are open pollinated, you may save your own seeds forever more. In a way that is true, but each kind of seed is saved a little differently, and it will take a number of years to learn how to save each kind reliably. Start with the most important crops, not a big variety pack! To learn how to save your own seeds,I like the information at the International Seed Saving Institute, ISSI in the links below.
Our Garden Security Collections include reasonable amounts of seeds. 25 Squash and 25 Pumpkin seeds will plant 5 hills of each, and we harvest about 10 of our squash or pumpkins from each hill. That is roughly the main dish for 100 family meals. In a new garden, your yield may be less. Some companies include hundreds of squash and pumpkin seeds. This helps them claim the collection they sell will plant a huge area. Rows of field pumpkins and winter squash are often planted 20 feet apart. Our dry beans and corn seeds are offered in balanced amounts to be served together for complete protein meals. We offer both earlier and later harvested crops. Our collections can be planted in a reasonable size garden which can be maintained with hand tools. As you learn more about growing these crops, you can double the size of your garden each year. At first you will need to have some other sources of food. No one becomes a successful gardener in one or two years. By starting with these carefully selected varieties, a beginner can grow a lot of food. We learn and try new things every year and so should you.
Another thing I should point out about the large seed collections in a can is that many kinds of seed will cross pollinate. They will give you some sort of hybrid mongrel crop seed. For example, Swiss Chard and Beets are in the same family and would cross. If you saved seeds from your Swiss Chard, some of them may try to form a bulbous root like a beet. What is that going to taste like? Will it keep in a root cellar for months like beets? Who knows. The seeds will be randomly crossed, not an intentional hybrid with predictable results.
There are four major families of Squash. The Pepo group includes zucchini squash, yellow summer squash (like crook neck), Acorn squash and pumpkins. You can only produce true seed by growing one variety from each group at a time. Our Waltham Butternut squash is in the Moschata group, and will not cross with our pumpkins. We choose the Waltham because it keeps the longest of any winter squash. Our Sugar pumpkin was chosen because it is sweet and small enough size to cook and serve for one meal. Field pumpkins are mostly for decoration, and take up a lot of garden space. Summer squash is nice, but Winter squash and Pumpkins keep for months. You can grow them all to eat the same year, but the seeds inside your fruit will have crossed if more than one variety from each of the four groups is grown. Next year, planting those new seeds you saved will result in various hybrid combinations. Who knows how they would taste or if they would keep.
Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage are in the same family. Since cabbage can be harvested over a long period and keeps, we chose both early and late varieties. Compare the food in one head of cabbage to the food in a head of broccoli or cauliflower. If you are hungry, which one would you grow? Once you add broccoli or cauliflower into the mix, you have to watch out for all of these crops cross pollinating.
Another example of how little these people know about saving seeds is to offer several varieties of the same crop. If you grow more than one variety of tomato, they will cross pollinate, and you will no longer have seeds to collect for each variety. Unless you carefully choose crops which pollinate at different times. For corn, read my Corn is King article. It contains information about how we choose two varieties which tassel out at different times.
I am suggesting that you think through all the claims being made by others. Think about the foods you will really need to eat. They are sources of calories, like root crops, grains and Winter squash and pumpkins, and dry beans for protein. Remember a wise saying, If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
Beets, Spinach, Early Cabbage and Late Cabbage. They are easy to grow, and can be harvested over a long period of time. These seeds keep about four or five years. Our Butternut Squash and Sugar Pumpkins are available in paper packets. They should last six years in cool dry conditions. We have added new varieties of seeds offered in paper packets too.
Our Garden Security Collection, Our Garden Bean Collection, and two small grains. Hulless Oats and Rye. These have been carefully dried and a desiccant packet has been added. They are properly prepared for even longer storage in your refrigerator. In your freezer they will last much longer, like Grampa Neff's beans, which were frozen for 22 years before we planted them in our 2007 garden.
For example, carrots, parsnips and beets are all root crops which can provide calories. Only beets have edible tops to harvest during the summer. They are easier to grow, and the seeds keep longer in storage too. We chose to offer them first. That is not to say you shouldn't grow the other two, it just that beets have advantages over them.