Keeping your home seed storage well organized is paramount when it comes to ensuring a smooth and effective functioning of your seed production operation. This process involves adequately labeling seed varieties, organizing them, as well as conducting inventories. While systematized procedures require efforts, conscientiousness, and patience, applying them whenever possible will help to further maintain the viability of the seeds and prevent unnecessary, sudden, or premature germination loss resulting from poor storage management decisions.
Labeling your seeds is an imperative as it will help identify, track, and organize each of the varieties that you are storing or planning to share over time. With that aspect in mind, each label must therefore be legible and show adequate, accurate, and key information relevant to the variety. Depending on your situation and needs, some of this information might be optional or not applicable.
- Name of the specie and variety
- Variety code/number (if used)
- Short description of the variety’s specific physical and biological characteristics
- Picture of the variety at maturity
- Name of the seeds’ original source (internal or external)
- Harvest date
- Germination rate or grade (grade A = seeds with a germination rate of 70% and above; grade B = 50-70%)
- Days to maturity (number of days from sowing to mature seed)
- Weight (that will allow you to remember approximately how many seeds there are – see Packaging)
It is highly recommended labeling both the outside and inside of each seed packet and container as the outside label may rub off or become discolored over time. Tape can be put over the outside label to further protect it. Consistent and thorough labeling procedures will also ensure that seed varieties that are shared and intended to be saved within families and communities will be the expected ones.
Containers that are stored outside freezers can be grouped together based on plant species and put in boxes placed on open shelves in a cool, dry, and ventilated environment. Each box can be further labeled with the help of specific colors and nomenclatures to facilitate and optimize your storage areas. If several persons are involved in its organization, QR codes can be used and placed in strategic locations which will allow – when scanned – to access additional and timely information related to each variety’s characteristics and storage history.
In anticipation of crop failure or contamination by unwanted cross-pollination, a backup seed reserve must be maintained and replenished when needed. Any available surplus can be shared within your community, or given to your neighbors and friends. Unused seeds can also be donated to schools, providing the opportunity for students to start a small community garden.
Seed savers maintaining larger and rarer collections of heirloom varieties might want to further document their records with the help of additional, detailed, and comprehensive data (also called descriptor lists). Such endeavors require a substantial amount of time and energy, and are usually taken only by serious hobbyists, professionals, or researchers. Descriptor lists are however useful resources, providing valuable information about plants in general.
Everything that goes in and out of storage must be recorded in a what-where-when-how manner, regardless of the storage period. That includes seeds that were produced and harvested on-site, seeds that were bought from external sources, and seeds that were given by others. All data can be kept and updated inside a database and made available to all members of the storage management team and other seed savers within the community.
Conducting regular inventories will give you the ability to keep track of the different varieties constituting your seed storage and identify seeds that are about to irremediably lose their vigor and viability and whose germination rate has sharply decreased. This is particularly critical when dealing with endangered or heirlooms varieties that are not well maintained. If it has been determined that you are no longer able to perpetuate them, it is essential to pass them on to other seed savers better equipped to preserve those varieties.