Theoretically, seeds are supposed to keep indefinitely in a sub-zero freezer. We decided to to do a three year test to see how such a plan could be implemented in a home situation. We chose pepper and tomato seeds from reputable companies for this experiment from each of the three year lots. Some of the packages were placed in the freezer and some were left unopened in the house. Since they are clearly marked by the manufacturer as to the years of use, it was easy to track how the seeds performed. So, how did they perform?
First, the three year old seeds, the oldest seed group. The bell pepper seeds that remained at room temperature did not germinate. Neither did the seeds stored in the freezer. However, the room temperature tomato seeds produced three plants out of 50 seeds, that’s a 6% germination rate. The frozen seeds germinated at a rate of about 50%. None of the plants were viable. They did not produce fruit.
In the next seed group, two year old seeds were bell pepper and tomato. Five of the room temperature bell pepper seeds germinated, but the plants either did not survive or did not produce any peppers. Almost half of the room temperature tomato seeds germinated, and half of those plants died before maturity. Two tomato plants are producing fruit. The tomatoes have a 2% fruit production rate.
The current year seeds produced interesting results. None of these seeds were frozen. The pepper plants, of various varieties, but including bell peppers, germinated at a rate of about 50%. All of the tomato seeds are now producing fruiting plants.
The cause of failure to germinate and produce plants can be any argument about the conditions of the seed quality, soil, temperature, location, water supply and so on. One also has to consider how many times during the last three years the freezer was opened as it would be by anyone who stores frozen foods.
The take away from this is that if we were going to try to save seeds, either purchased or saved from our own crops, it is important to note that freezing 50 seeds could result in no harvest during a time when the harvest is needed most. So what is a person to do?
Complete your own experiment! Each person’s situation is different. Location, temperature, soil, and any number of other variables come in to play. If you have old seeds, test them! How else will you know if they are still viable and will produce food for your family? If you find a seed lot that does not produce, replace them with new seed.
For us, this means we will need to save many more seeds than the number of plants we need. If we expect a 3% success rate over time, we will need 100 seeds to get three plants. If by chance all 100 seeds grow, we will have plants for barter.
Considering the relatively low price of seeds compared to other preparedness items, it makes sense to buy extra seeds in bulk both to use and to save for a world changing event.