I’m pretty sure you’ve heard about Survival Seeds, right? There are various companies that sell seeds for survival packed in cans or mylar bags or PVC tubes or some other long term storage set up. They are named such things as “survival seed vault”, “survival seed bank”, or just “survival seeds”. They are usually a collection of non-hybrid seeds put together as a package to grow an entire garden and sold with the assumption that you can store them with your food storage and pull them out and plant them when there is an emergency of sufficient significance as to require you to grow your own food indefinitely.
Well, it sounds like a pretty good deal, right? Who wouldn’t want a pre-packaged garden that they didn’t have to plan and could just keep and plant when it’s needed? Well, actually, I don’t. And here’s why.
1. False security. Do you really think you’ll be able to pull out the seeds and plant a garden if you’ve never done it before? After about 15 years of having my own garden, I can tell you that it is a skill that takes practice. I still have things I’m learning and I’m not gardening with the knowledge that my family’s lives depend on what I can produce. You wouldn’t purchase a shotgun and stick it in your storage intending to use it just in an emergency. You’d want to get trained on how to use it and get some practice with it so you could use it properly if you ever really needed to. Same with your garden seeds. Don’t think your garden will produce amazing amounts of food if you’ve never planted a seed in the ground before.
2. Seeds don’t store forever. Some of these companies will be upfront and tell you that the seeds have a shelf life of just a few years. But you probably didn’t pay attention to that when your bought your seeds and set them on the shelf or buried them in your survival cache. Some seeds store very well and still germinate after long periods in storage. Others don’t. So if you want your garden to only grow about half of what was included, go ahead and store it 10 years or so before planting anything. I did, and it didn’t work out very well.
3. You don’t always get what you pay for. I have purchased three different survival seed packages from different companies. Some of these places actually sell you a lot of seeds for a fair price, others don’t. And 1,000 seeds of lettuce or whatever they’re advertising may sound like a lot of lettuce seeds, but you can probably pick up a packet of lettuce with the same amount of seeds in it from the store or Gurneys or even Baker Creek seeds for a fraction of the cost of what they’re charging you for it. Just make sure you’re getting seeds that are labeled as heirloom, open pollinated, or non-hybrid. One company I was very pleased with the amount of seed I received was Hometown Seeds. So if you do want to purchase the survival seeds, that’s one place that had a fair price for the amount of seed you get–and there may be others as well–I haven’t tested everybody’s seed banks out.
4. The varieties are all chosen for you. I live in an area with a slightly shorter than average growing season. Most seeds will grow here. However, if you are in the south or higher elevation or farther north where your growing seasons are other than average, some varieties in the can may not work for you. And what if I don’t like Butternut squash or Bulgarian Carrot peppers? And right now I prefer bush beans to pole beans, they just work better in my garden plot. Well, I don’t get a choice of the varieties that are included in my survival seed can, but if I pick and choose the seeds I want, I can grow the exact varieties of plants that grow well in my area and that my family and I actually enjoy eating. I’d rather have more squash and less lettuce. More beans and fewer radishes. It’s just my preference and I get my preference when I buy my seeds a la carte.
If you’ve never gardened, don’t know what varieties of veggies you like, and want to put down the $25-$150 for a survival seed collection, go ahead. Like I said, I did it. Three times. Do a little research before buying so you know you’re getting a decent price and a fair amount of seed. Having it pre-packaged does take all the guess work out of how many of what varieties of seed to purchase. But here’s my advice–plant those seeds. Learn how to preserve pure seed and harvest your own seeds now. Don’t wait for an emergency to try out your seeds.
As for me, I’ll be purchasing my non-hybrid garden seeds one pack at a time because I know what I want and how long my growing season is. And I’ll be putting them in the ground rather than storing them on a shelf. Happy gardening!
Keep preparing! Angela
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I have gardened as a hobby, and plan to do a lot more when we move into our own home later this year. I too have purchased on of these emergency seed “vaults” or whatevery they are called. It says it is guaranteed to store for 5 years. I had planned to plant the seeds prior to that to make sure I am able to use them, but really appreciate what you said in this post. Probasbly won’t be buying anymore. I think it’s more important that I learn how to collect and store my own heirloom seeds of varieties that grow well here and my family will eat. Thanks!
Hillbilly mom says
I’m so glad you did this article. I have two of those emergency seed kits as well. I don’t have much trust in them, but they were given to me as gifts…so no money lost there. I am going to be working on heirlooming this year, so that I have a sustainable supply of seeds.
I wrote a post on this same topic (which as I just read back was inspired by a post you wrote on Utah Preppers as well as a question that I had from a reader about seed shelf life).
Anyway, seed shelf life varies hugely. I cannot save onion seeds for more than one year. On the other hand, pumpkin seeds save quite well. You might get some seeds in a can that still sprout. As I cited in my post, sellers of these canned seeds boast “a possible 90% sprout rate after 8 years and 50% after 15 years.” Some suggest that freezing seeds preserves them longer – others argue that it bursts the cell walls and destroys them.
Like you said, the best bet is to plant year after year and learn to harvest your own seed. I know this isn’t easy. I’ve got it figured out for green beans, potatoes and tomatoes, but have a high failure rate for everything else.
I usually purchase new seeds each year, but actually use the ones I purchased last year. That way I always have next year’s seeds on hand.
Excellent post. I will also add that those “seed vaults” are ridiculously expensive, and the same seed can be had from other sources for far less.
Any advice on drying and storing seeds? I have a dehydrator, canning equipment and mylar. It’s hard to get anything to grow here in south central Texas, but we’ve had success with tomatoes, peppers, onions and squash. Luckily we like to eat all of these. I’d like to store some seeds away for future use.
If you are saving seed, I suggest the book ‘Seed To Seed’ by Suzanne Ashworth and Kent Whealy. It walks you step by step on how to save seed for just about any fruit/veggie. Its been very helpful to me. I have been saving my own seed for about 8 years. That book is one of the better books I have read on seed saving.
I make my own seed packets out of typing paper. I label them with the year I collected it and what it is. Then I put a bunch into mylar bags and seal them (no O2 absober needed) and store in my freezer.
My friends that live in TX garden from Feb-May and then again from Sept-Dec. They said June-Aug is terrible for them. Good luck!
I will be buying a can of seeds this year to see how they work out in my garden but not to store. I do however have regular seeds that I bought years ago that still germinate well – I store them ziplock bags in the fridge and they still have acceptable germmination. I also stock up when Walgreen has the 10 for $10 sale early in the gardening season and watch for the clearance at the end of season. I figure even with hybrids and such if I have a lot of seeds it won’t matter that I can’t save seeds from everything.
I have to agree that going with the heirloom seeds by the pack is a much better deal, and much more suited to the area!
Grow veggies that require little fertilizer like beans and stay away from ones that need alot like corn , if storing seeds for survival garden you also need fertilizer,pesticides, tools etc
You probably can’t store seeds forever, but they are trying in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
The seeds are stored in four-ply sealed envelopes, then placed into plastic tote containers on metal shelving racks. The storage rooms are kept at −18 °C (0 °F). The low temperature and limited access to oxygen will ensure low metabolic activity and delay seed aging. The permafrost surrounding the facility will help maintain the low temperature of the seeds if the electricity supply should fail.
Good article. Makes me wish I had good light and room to grow stuff in my yard.
I was glad to read your post. I think many people are paying way too much for seeds. I know several people that have the cans sitting in their pantries and its a waste. They spent around $99 and that included shipping. I compared the regular price of several survival cans to the prices at several heirloom sites. Its less expensive (by about $30) to buy your own seeds per pack then it is to buy the seed bank. I am a very experienced gardener and its taken years for me to produce mass amounts of food. I have had to narrow down what grows well in my area. We have a short growing season, so I cannot grow large water melons or tomatoes. Its been trial and error to find out what works and what does not. I have learned that freezing my seeds will lead to a better germination rate and allows me to save excess seeds for several years. I only buy a few packs of seeds per year. I save my own seed.
I’m an agronomist and an additional reason never mentioned about the use of heirloom vs hybrids seeds is the disease resistance. Newer varieties had been interbreed to obtain resistance to a group of diseases or physiological disorders.
For example, in a disease resistance table of bell pepper seeds, you can obtain hybrid (H) seeds with more disease resistance than heirloom varieties (OP).
If you choose to grow heirloom seeds, you need to think in the fungicides or bactericides too…
I agree with edivimo about the hybrid seeds. What a lot of people don’t know or don’t realize is there is a reason that all of the hybrids were developed, one of the big ones is lack of production in the heirloom varieties. I have gardened for years on a truck farm scale. Normally the heirloom plants don’t perform near as well as the hybrids. I have heirloom varieties in my stash but I also have hybrids and will continue to grow them first and only grow the heirlooms if it becomes necessary. If you want to keep your heirloom seeds renewed from year to year then just plant a few of them each year and collect the seed. This way you can keep your seed fresh and you can still have a garden full of hybids so that you can store a larger harvest in your food stores. I am also a big believer in the square foot gardening method. It’s amazing how much you can grow in a small well maintained space. It’s best to just go to a reputable seed catalog and look at the open polinated seeds and order what you want and what you will eat for a reasonable price and stay away from the people just trying to make a quick buck off.
As a former director of a community garden I couldn’t agree more! I was also raised on a small farm and my family grew 75% of what we ate some years, including meat, milk, and eggs. If you think you can merely open a can of seeds and start gardening for your survival you are dead, literally, wrong. Start NOW.
Join a community garden now to learn gardening from a low risk standpoint, meet other more experienced gardeners, trade plants, etc. Be sure to take advantage of workshops that they might offer, and focus on the tried and true varieties at first to get your skills up. My husband and I are very experienced gardeners and every year there is something that fails – last year the heavy rains made it very hard for us to get certain seeds in the ground at the right time and we did without those crops, however those that liked a lot of water went gang-busters. The point I’m trying to make is that only experience will help you endure things like pests, soil problems, weather, and disease. You cannot, I repeat, CANNOT open a can of seeds and expect to feed yourself and your family if you haven’t paid your dues and gotten your hands a little dirty year after year.
Having said that, my friend Dr. Job Ebenezer teaches gardening to folks all over the world using low tech methods such as making planters out of children’s swimming pools and any found containers on hand. You will be blown away by what he has done around the world with poor people who need to grow their own food! Read this article and then follow the links to learn more about him! You can learn from his methods quickly and use them in a survival situation.
We do a lot of gardening and have found that our local extension office sells heirloom seeds that have been passed down generations in the South Carolina area. I know they will be good for where we live. I bought several varieties of things we eat and made my own survival seed bank!
Just as a side note….if you are buying seeds of any kind because of a possible survival scenario…take into account that water may be scarce…All the non GMO seeds in the world aren’t going to help your family if you don’t have enough water to make them grow.
I heard that if you replant gm seeds, that if they came back up…the fruit or veggy that came from them would be toxic to you..The gm seeds make there own poison to kill bugs…an you get this when you eat the produce….so when you replant if it grows, it turns toxic if it produces…like the gm grass that was planted for cattle, in a couple of years it started produceing sionide poisoning..an the horses an cattled
die from eatting it..2 farms experenced this…Does anyone here go to infowars.com
rolling my eyes says
great article. just wanted to say mypatriotsupply.com has great seeds, i ordered about 7 or 8 varieties from them for this spring and most of them had 100% germination rate. they were very reasonably priced and their packaging was great. they are non GMO and have tons of variety. i will be ordering from the for years to come.
ps: they also have the seed vaults, not sure on prices and whats in them…i just buy the regular seeds!
A lot to think about on this subject. I live in Florida and you have to be really aware of a plant’s weakness for various kinds of fungus and common things like powdery mildew because of the damp and overall warm climate. This also makes storing anything that is not air tight a challenge. Just trying to keep the mold and mildew off our house and deck is an unending challenge.
Personally I am not one for using chemicals of any kind so that makes growing things a little harder. I would have to go with the group that seems to be stressing the hardiness of certain hybrids to various wilts and other diseases as I’m not ready to start drenching my plants in questionable toxic chemicals to get them to survive. My parents had a commercial nursery years ago and the part I really hated was constantly spraying everything with fungicides, pesticides, etc. Just cause the government says it’s safe does not convince me. They are still trying to figure out why the huge increase in various cancers, etc.
While I agree with some point s from your post, I have to emphasize from my experience that all seed banks are not the same! Some seed vaults really have packaging that will ensure you can store your seed for years, without losing seed viability. And if you want to keep your seeds for long term (3 and more years), it is best to just plant a few of them each year and collect the seed.
That way you will gather valuable knowledge about gardening, see what is growing and what is not, and essentially eliminate “false security” issue. This is why it’s important to choose a seed bank which is designed so it can be opened and re-sealed, so you can use it as storage for the seeds you collect from your garden!
Rather than waiting for old seeds to go on sale to save money for next year’s garden, may I suggest you look at all of the different seed varieties I offer, and check out the seed counts for each package. Guaranteed fresh every new growing season, and all for just $1.00 per package.
As to the comment above regarding GMO seeds, I do not believe they will grow toxic if you regrow them. However, since these seeds are the property of Monsanto and the likes, you could face criminal charges for saving and growing these varieties. GMO seeds will defend against Round-Up, so the pesticide can poison the ground in which they are grown.
Last year I was given a seed vault of types from Augason Farms. I was late on the start so we really didn’t get a yeild but I did get to see the germination rate and that they could will stand my zone 7 atmosphere. This year I am taking the rest of those seeds and recording what happens for a better review.I am also picking out other varieties for a totally different source to compare the two. The Seed Garden from Augason Farms is relatively cheap . I hope it will produce. Happy Gardening!!
Thanks so very much for this very informative article! I especially appreciated the recommendation for Hometown Seeds. Their prices are very competitive, and a much better buy. I have previously purchased “survival” seeds (back in my novice days), and am dismayed by the overpriced and somewhat misleading products being sold out there by certain “survival supply” companies. This is why the invaluable advice in your article is so very welcome.
I agree also with your observation that experience is needed to produce a successful garden. I am actually a grain farmer in Nebraska, and after 30 years of farming there are still things I am learning about the business of planting seeds in the ground and getting a successful crop. I’m afraid that a lot of folks who have never picked up a hoe in their lives simply assume that they can produce a bountiful garden on their first attempt. It simply doesn’t work that way. I would advise people who truly want to be prepared, to practice gardening on a small scale; just to get the hang of it. If you are only trying try to grow some vegetables in a flower pot or in a small corner of your backyard lawn—by all means experiment with that first. Even though it is on a much smaller scale than the “1 acre garden!” that is proclaimed with glowing pictures on these “survival seed” cans, it will give you the experience and confidence to tackle the “real thing” when and if the occasion should arise.
I disagree and think more times than not folks make things more difficult than need to be. Here is a link that talks about freezing seeds. . My friends grand dad passed and in the freezer they found all his stored seeds some over 75 years old. They all grew! One of my favorite places to go is Thomas Jefferson home and I purchase seeds there. I love that I am growing veggies and herbs that he grew.
Great article . I did buy a seed package back in 2013 , just planted some of the seeds. We will see if they produce. Not much hope though. I will be harvesting my own seed year to year. From now own. The truth is seeds don’t last forever I don’t care what you do. , we bought 3 acres years ago Best thing I ever did. Moved out of city & buit new home 2017. Now retired and plan in garden every year till I’m to old to do it.