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Storing my seed

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When I first started out growing from seed, a small dark green plastic box sold as "Seed Saver Jr" was all I needed to keep all of my seeds neatly organized. As I started saving seed from the garden, trading seed, and getting ever more through seed exchanges and mail-order purchases, I quickly ran out of space, and needed a better solution. The one I use now has been tested for a few years, and works great for me.

It's not high-tech

My storage solution can be built easily from materials found in any discount store!
  • A medium-size clear storage tote with lid
  • 3"x5" index cards
  • scrap cardboard
I lined the bottom of the tote with some rough cardboard, to keep the cards from shifting around too much on the smooth plastic. Another two strips of cardboard made two dividers, to separate the box into three lengthwise rows. The two left rows are for index cards with seeds - the right one (which is narrower) holds some supplies (baggies, blank cards), as well as cards for plants for which I don't currently have seed.

It's all on the cards

I create an index card for each plant species for which I receive seed. Usually, I have only one card even if I have multiple cultivars of the same species. The card is labeled at the top with the botanical name, and that's also where some other administrative information goes: the common name, if applicable; my first source of the seed; and whether the plant is annual or perennial, if I'm likely to forget.

The next section of the card has any instructions I've found (from online sources, reference books, or traders) on germinating the seed. These are often somewhat conflicting, so I just add whatever information I come across.

If I think I'll want to collect the seed from my plants, and have doubts about identifying it, often I'll tape a seed or two to the index card, so I'll always have a reference.

Most importantly, after I'm done germinating the seed, I write on the index cards what my actual results were. These are the results you'll also find on my plant portraits, under "Detailed germination information". I have an entry for every year I tried the seed, regardless of whether I was successful. These entries are my starting point for deciding on the procedure and timing for starting the seed next time.

Oh - and the seed itself? It is attached with a paperclip to the back of the index card. Depending on what's handy, and how it arrives, it's either in plastic ziplock baggies, manila envelopes, or home-made paper/vellum contraptions.

Keeping those seeds fresh

I don't have fridge space for my large seed box, but I do try to keep the seeds cool, or at least to not expose them to wildly fluctuating temperatures. For that purpose, I built an insulated cover out of plywood and styrofoam that fits over the top of the box, The covered box sits on my basement floor, up against a wall. Even though my basement gets comfortably warm all year, the floors and walls are cool, so I think my seeds stay at 50-60F year-round. And that's fine for most seeds. The few varieties that are notoriously short-viable I store separately in the fridge.

Organizing all those seeds

In the beginning, I tried to organize by type of plant (annual, perennial, vegetable, etc), but that got to be a hassle (what about biennials? what if some sources say it's an annual, others a tender perennial?), so now I just keep everything in alphabetical order by botanical name. That would never work without having a way of deciding which seeds to start when - so that's where my Excel seed starting tool comes in - I just print off the list of the next 40 varieties I need to start, in order of start date, and pick the varieties one by one out of my seed box. Yeah, I guess I'm anal. But it's the procedure that's worked best for me, after trying several other approaches.


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Last modified: April 27, 2009
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