One of the most important things a prepper can be is self-sufficient. Seeds are an excellent way to not only grow your own food, but to process more seeds so you can keep your food supply replenished. In this guide, we’re going to be tackling the seed drying and storing process so you can stay prepared.
The first thing you’ll need to do is figure out which seeds — wet or dry — you’re going to be harvesting. Depending on the type, the process to harvest and clean the seeds is different.
Harvesting and Cleaning Dry Seeds
You’ll need to harvest dry seeds from their plants when their pods or husks have dried, though an exception can be made for some seeds if the seeds are close to dry and rains are coming in. However, it’s important to note that other plans, like those in the Mustard family, will not finish ripening if picked too early. Leaving seeds on the parent plant to full maturity and dryness is always preferable.
After you’ve harvested the seeds, you’ll need to store them in a dry place and wait until they’ve become fully dried. You’ll know when they’ve completely dried because the pods or husks will crumble in your hands. Once you’ve reached this point, go ahead and crumble all of the pods or husks, removing the seeds and chaff and placing them in a bowl or box. Shake the bowl gently so that the larger chaff pieces will rise to the top and can more easily be removed by hand. You can also use various sizes of mesh screen to remove the chaff.
Harvesting and Cleaning Wet Seeds
Wet seeds are easy to clean, though some need the additional step of fermentation. Seeds which require fermentation should be cleaned after fermenting, not before. We’ll cover fermentation a little later in this post. Allow the “fruits” to fully mature on their plants before harvesting. This time can vary depending on the plant, but in many, the fruits will be well past the eating stage. Once you’ve discerned whether the fruits can be harvested, you’re ready to clean the seeds.
First scoop the seeds from the fruit, pulp and all. Pour the seeds and pulp into a large, sloping bowl. Now just add water. You’ll see healthy seeds sink to the bottom of the bowl, while dead seeds and pulp will float, giving you an easy and natural way to sort the good from the bad. You can then remove the pulp and dead seeds by carefully pouring the extra water, along with the floating pulp and dead seeds, from the bowl. Pour quickly enough for dead seeds and pulp to pour off the top, and slowly enough so that the heavier, good seeds remain on the bottom of the bowl.
For best results, repeat this process multiple times to make sure the healthy seeds are left very clean, making it easier for you during the drying process.
Drying Seeds after Cleansing
To initially dry your seeds after cleaning, drain them of excess moisture in a strainer. Pat the bottom of the strainer with a cloth towel to pull extra water from the seeds after they have drained. While your initial thought will be to put them on a paper towel or wax paper, it’s recommended that you use neither and instead spread the seeds on a piece of glass or a shiny ceramic plate. Once you’ve done this, place the glass or ceramic plate in a cool, dry shady spot for several days.
Fermenting is a process used for wet seeds as described earlier in this post. If you’re harvesting dry seeds, you’ll skip this process completely.
To prepare seeds for fermenting, squeeze or scoop the seeds and any pulp that remained after cleansing into a jar with some water. In a glass, measure about half as much water as is taken by the seeds and pulp, so if the jar is half filled with seeds, it should be three-fourths full once you’ve put the water in it. Store the mixture in a place that’s warm — about 75 to 85º F — for 1.5 to 5 days. The time you’ll store it depends on the type of seed and overall temperature of the place in which you’re storing the mixture.
After some time, you’ll notice bubbling and/or a formation of white mold on the surface of the seed and pulp mixture. Make sure this bubbling/molding has been present for about a day before moving on to the next step. Don’t allow the seeds to ferment too long, as they’ll germinate and will not be able to be stored; they’ll have to be planted immediately or discarded.
Once the day has passed, pour the seed and pulp mixture into a bowl and clean according to the directions given earlier in Cleaning Wet Seeds.
Preparing Seeds for Storage
For purposes of storage, there are basically two types of seed: ‘desiccation-tolerant’ and ‘desiccation-intolerant’. Most of the garden plants with which we are familiar produce desiccation-tolerant seeds, which means they can be safely dried for long-term storage, so for the sake of this guide, we’ll focus on these.
During ripening and drying, seeds prepare for dormancy by greatly slowing or ceasing most physiological processes, and by converting food reserves from sugars to more stable fats and starches. After they have prepared for dormancy, seeds can be safely dried and stored for long periods of time without significant loss of viability (many years in some cases). Some seeds even require drying to complete the ripening and dormancy process before they will germinate. Drying should be gradual and thorough, and desiccants used when drying seeds in air above 30 percent relative humidity or so. During storage, seeds must be kept at appropriate temperature and moisture levels for greatest longevity.
Long-term storage lowers viability percentages and also lowers the vigor of seedlings produced by the stored seeds, even if the conditions are perfect. As the length of time increases, the damage increases as well. The shorter the storage time and the more frequently a batch of seeds is regrown, the better the overall health of the plant populations produced.
Final Drying of Seeds
Seeds should be slowly dried in a shady spot. Spread seeds one or two thick in an airy, dry location—such as an air-conditioned environment or other place where relative humidity stays between 20% and 40%—for two or more weeks. Large seeds must be dried longer than smaller seeds. When dry, corn and beans will shatter when hit with a hammer, squash seeds will break instead of bending.
Seeds air-dried during humid weather require additional drying with desiccants such as silica gel before final storage. Carefully follow the instructions which come with your silica gels for drying them after use so they’re not damaged. It’s important that you do not use heat to dry the seeds. The longest storage life for seeds is achieved by drying them to about 6 percent moisture content (by weight) and then storing them at several degrees below freezing. Seeds dried to a low moisture content with silica gel and then stored in a freezer can usually retain viability for many years.
To use silica gels for drying seeds, place equal weights of dry silica gel and seeds to be dried in a well-sealed jar for 7 to 8 days. Then transfer the dried seeds quickly into airtight storage jars and place in a freezer, refrigerator or other cool, dark place.
Desiccation-tolerant seeds can be stored for months or even years if properly dried and stored. These seeds should be stored in a freezer. If properly stored, these seeds can typically retain their viability for months or years.