The world is already struggling with food supply and managing crops. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted a general warming of the world climate over the next several decades. Growing our own food gives us control over our lives and independence.
The best seeds for you to store are those that are most suitable for the particular environment you find yourself in. And of course environments vary widely across the USA, from wet and warm, to cold and very dry. You should do some research for your particular area and work out what fits with your local weather systems. One of the best ways to do this is to observe what grows best around you and use that.
This article will give you some general advice on the types of seeds that you should think about storing, these are generalist plants but will develop a baseline for you to work from.
Seeds need to come from a good originating stock. One of the modern day issues we have to deal with is to find seeds that do not come from genetically modified (GMO) crops. Monsanto, GMO advocates, have deliberately bought up a large proportion of the world’s seed companies. In addition, Monsanto are working with several other companies to build the ‘doomsday seed bank’ known as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault with the express task of retaining ‘crop diversity’ assuming world events will conspire to impact the production of crops. With this in mind you need to find the right seeds to build your own doomsday seed bank.
Heirloom seeds come from original cultivar plants and often have disease resistance from hybridization with other plant species. They are hardy and don’t contain modified genes – however a warning. Monsanto are also buying up many heirloom seed companies, so you need to either create your own, or find Monsanto free heirloom seed companies. Seeds Now is a company that can supply heirloom seeds and does not trade with companies that support GMO. There are several others, check out their ‘about us’ section that usually details if they are GMO free.
Depending on your climate, squash is a really easy one to grow and it provides good grub. Squash has lots of carbohydrates and a great nutrient list, including Vitamins A and C, as well as magnesium and potassium. They can be used to cook both savory and sweet dishes too.
I live in a temperate, occasionally cold, but always wet, climate and can grow zucchini very easily from seed. In fact, I can grow so much of the stuff I can’t even give it away. Other warmer climates will have good luck with other squash varieties such as Pumpkin. Pumpkin and butternut squash both love the sun, but they also are thirsty plants and need decent amounts of water.
If you are using your own seeds direct from a pumpkin, you’ll need to dry them out. Follow these instructions to get storable seeds:
- Open the pumpkin (or other squash) and pull out the seed mass along with some pulp.
- Put the mass into a colander or sieve and run water over, pulling the pulp away from the seeds.
- Continue to run cold water over the seeds until you have pulp free seeds.
- Place the seeds onto an absorbent paper or cloth towel – spread them out so they aren’t touching.
- Dry them out in a cool dry place for about 1 week.
- The biggest seeds are the ones most likely to germinate.
- Store them in a cool, dark place, ideally keeping them in a paper envelope.
Green beans contain high levels of vitamin A and anti-oxidants so they are very good for general health, including heart health. They also have B12, B6 and vitamin C. Green beans are really easy to grow and crop well. They do need to have cane support, as they grow tall (even the dwarf varieties need some support).
If you want to store your own home grown green bean seeds you should follow these instructions:
- Once you stop watering your green beans (around September) the pods will continue to grow. The larger pods are the ones your after for future seeds.
- Once the leaves of the plant start to die off, remove the larger pods for seed production.
- Gently open the pod down the edge.
- Very carefully (without damaging the delicate skin) remove the seeds.
- Place the seeds on a paper lined tray, spreading them out so they don’t touch.
- Leave to dry in a cool, dry place for 1-2 weeks.
- Store in a jar in a cool, dark place.
Spinach is a very versatile and easy to eat food. You can eat it raw, to bulk up salads, or cook with it. It is has loads of vitamin A and C, as well as iron and minerals such as potassium and magnesium. It is best grown in spring and fall (some types are annual rather than biennial) and I’ve had lots of success with spinach, I can’t seem to stop it growing. Spinach seeds are a little more difficult to get at and keep than the previous two types of seeds we’ve mentioned. To obtain the seed you need to let some of your spinach grow on to flower. It won’t be edible at this point (it’ll taste quite bitter), so it really is only good for seed collection. To collect and store spinach seeds, follow these steps:
NOTE: Baby spinach is the best type of spinach for seed collection
- Let your spinach continue to grow until it flowers.
- You will get two types of plant, a male ad a female. They can be differentiated by the colour of the little balls that grow under the leaves. The female has only green balls, whereas the male has yellow ones.
- Usually the spinach wind pollinates between the male and female plants, but to give nature a helping hand you can give the male plants a ‘flick’ to get them to release their pollen.
- Once the plants start to turn yellow they are ready (the color shows they have given up all of their nutrients into the seed stage).
- Pull them up and discard the male plants.
- Hang the female plants upside down in a cool, dry place.
- Leave for about 2 weeks until the whole plant dries up. The seeds will now be dry too and usually they can be simply shaken onto paper to collect (they are very small).
- Keep them in a jar in a cool, dry place – they usually only store till the next season.
Potatoes are a staple diet of many of the world’s peoples, especially those in the west. The contain potassium, copper and B6 and are really good to ‘fill you up’ at mealtime. They are also usually pretty easy to grow, although some varieties are very disease prone. I have lost whole crops to blight when growing during wet years; it’s very disheartening when that happens. So to avoid it, choose your starter variety with good disease resistance. You can find them in any good store. I have used a variety called ‘Charlotte’ which I’ve never lost to blight yet, and they taste delicious. Other disease resistant varieties include Caribe, Purple Peruvian and Prince Hairy (very good against potato beetle).
To produce potatoes direct from the seed:
You can grow potatoes from the seed. The seeds can be found in small, round pods once the potatoes have started to die off. However, not all potatoes grow these pods, especially potatoes that are created for the mass market as their pollen is no longer fertile. But if you do find the little green balls on your plant, you can try and use the seeds inside to grow potatoes. However – warning. It takes at least two seasons to grow edible tubers directly from the seed. The first year you end up with ‘tuberlets’ which become your ‘seed potatoes’ which ultimately become your first true crop.
To extract the seeds out of the balls:
- Harvest the balls when feel soft and ripe.
- It’s hard to get the tightly packed seeds out of the pod, so you can cover the pods with water and smash them up using a rolling pin or similar.
- Leave this smash in the water overnight.
- The seeds should start to pull away from the pod and sink to the bottom of the container.
- The seeds are very small, like tomato seeds.
- Rinse the seeds and place on an absorbent cloth or towel to dry out.
- Store in a cool, dry place.
Using seed potatoes
Not to confuse the ‘potato seed’ with ‘seed potatoes’. If you have a crop from the previous year, keep those potatoes that start to sprout as these will become your seed potatoes.
To prepare seed potatoes for planting, I usually have a supply of eggs boxes, or similar, that I use to ‘chit’ the potatoes out in. Egg boxes are good because they naturally keep the potatoes apart from one another. Place each seed potato, sprout end up into the box and leave in a light place away from frosts for about 6 weeks until you have about 1 inch of sprout. They are then ready to plant out.
Related: Preserving Potatoes Year Round – A Solid Choice for Preppers
If you live somewhere sunny, corn is a really good crop to grow. It has iron, vitamin B6 and is a great source of carbohydrate. You can use it to make all sorts of other foods, like corn bread. Corn is wind pollinated, so you need two crops, a mile apart, is good, but then can be closer and they’ll cross pollinate. If you want to harvest your own corn seeds from your corn crop, follow these instructions:
IMPORTANT: Corn can suffer from too much inbreeding. You really need to minimize this happening by having a good supply of plants to take seeds from, upwards of 100 plants is recommended to have a large enough gene pool.
Corn HAS to be pollinated for the seed to form a kernel and germinate into a new plant. Growing corn in blocks rather than long rows helps pollination.
- Leave the plants for up to 6 weeks after normal harvesting of the ears.
- The ears should be allowed to mature and dry on the stalk (try to avoid the ears getting wet in rain during this stage). When they are dry, the kernels will feel hard and can’t be dented by a thumbnail.
- Once dried, rub kernels off the ears off with your hands.
- Lay the kernels onto paper and allow to dry for a further 1-2 weeks.
- Pull any bits of silk or debris from the kernels.
- Store in a cool, dry place
You may also like:
10 Things Cowboys Carried With Them in the Wild West to Survive (Video)
Post Apocalypse Gardening: Living From a Small Piece of Land in Tough Conditions
15 Lost Survival Tips From The Cowboys Who Wandered The West – With Illustrations
How to make Antibacterial Laundry Detergent at Home
I just wanted to add a tidbit about corn. If you’re growing corn, especially in a small space, you MUST put three plants or multiples of 3 in order to get the plants to pollinate. For some reason, 2 plants will NOT pollinate each other (I don’t know why). This is important to know if your space is extremely limited.
Corn is wind pollinated. Planting corn in blocks three to four rows deep ensures better pollination. The pollen drifts from the blooms at the top of the plant to the silk tassels on the ears of further below them, fertilizing the kernels.
Planting just 2 rows is risky, because it makes pollination rather hit and miss. I have found that you can grow dwarf varieties of popcorn in small spaces so long as you really fertilize and water well, and so long as that space has access to sun and heat almost all day.
Native Americans always planted corn, squash and beans together in the same mound. Here is a link describing the mutual benefits ot planting the “3 SISTERS”.
Threee sisiters as their called are about soil nutrition. Corn sucks up alot of nitrogen and the squashes beans put it back into the ground. all three take something and put something else back by planting them together you get better food plants this year and better soil for next year.
This trio includes what will become succotash on the dinner table, i.e., corn plus beans. I’ve read that the 2 veggies that make up this combo provide a complete protein, as each one supplies parts of the protein that the other doesn’t. Not a growing tip, but one to consider nonetheless. Of course, the squash would make still another good dish to serve at the same meal.
Bean seeds should be allowed to completely dry on the plant. The pods should be dry and brittle. When you shell them, the beans will hard and shiny. Granny saved her seed until she couldn’t garden anymore.
Green Beans don’t have any B12, so I feel you might want to vet the source you are getting your nutritional information from. I just thought I would let you know so you are prepared to protect your family!
Hannah B12 is only found in meat, egg or dairy sources. You can have a complete protein in a grain and legume combo and still miss out on B12.
Potatos with the skin and and dark leafy green vegetable are also a pretty complete food but you do need some flesh based source for B12. That white yucky stuff on your teeth in the morning has B12. The bacteria are a living organism. That wouldn’t by my favorite source! Wild bird eggs or a fish would be preferred.
I wondered, so I checked. Vegans are in a lot of trouble when SHFT hits. Like, not even yeast has it, and I always told that was considered ‘perfect’ nutritionally.Mushrooms do have B 12. https://www.australianmushrooms.com.au/about-mushrooms/myths-facts/
While I like them, some, like King, can freeze the stomach if too much is eaten. https://fungi.com/ Stammet’s book on mushroom growing is the bible for growers.
I plan to become a total carnivore…maybe 🙂 niio!
I liked your article but it sounds like you do not use heirloom seeds. You specifically mention getting potatoes that are blight resistant. So, are they heirloom?
It’s very difficult to grow potatoes from true seed. Nearly all potatoes are grown as clones. Basically you need a potato to grow potatoes. That means it doesn’t matter if you are growing hybrid or open pollinated.
When we planted potatoes, we cut the potatoes so there were 1 – 2 ‘eyes’ on each cut piece, these ‘eyes’ were where the sprouts started from
another squash to consider is the loufa squash – organically grow your own scrub pads
and dry bean varieties are easier to store after harvest without refrigeration than green beans – unless you plan to can or pickle then.
Wow!! What a superb article! It’s easy to read and understand, concise, and comprehensive! I do believe that an altogether inexperienced gardener would have enough in this one article to get started!!
Also excellent is your advice on how to harvest and store seeds for the next year. I never knew about starting potatoes from seed, very neat.
I have read that the native people of the Great Plains used a lot of the sunflower that are native to this continent, using the seed for oil. Would they be easy to grow? Also, sunchokes (that used to be called Jerusalem artichokes) grow wild all through the center of the continent and can be harvested year round as long as the ground isn’t frozen. They’re one of my favorite vegetables, crisp and juicy raw, delicious boiled or steamed like potatoes. They’re sunflower family, too. Easy easy to grow.
Thank you for such a great article!
There are several very good books on seed saving,and Seed Savers Exchange is THE go-to for both seeds and information.
Sunchokes are versatile and easy. It’s too dry for them here without some irrigation, but they do well in the tropics and I think up to Zone 3, as well. The thing is, they need to be stored. They can change color, often growing very dark, but the longer stored, the more sugar they have and are used for sugar production in temperate climates like Europe.
Sunflowers are easy to grow, as well, but demand more fertile soil. Both are drought tolerant. Canna lilies are used for starch (2nd best cooking starch after arrow root). niio!
There are few resoueces that write about the highest number of calories returned from the smallest square feet of garden space. John Jeavon’s garden books are a great resource for this info. Examples: leeks have 3x more calories than onions, kale is one of the few leafy greens that are high in calories, tromboncino squash can be used as either zucchini or left until mature it tastes like butternut, when grown on a strong 12 foot row of trellis you can harvest over 350 pounds of squash. Zucchini may grow prolific fruits but very few calories. Any kind of squash seeds are high in protein and calories.Green beans are low in calories but when dried they are high in protein and calories with a long shelf life. Tomatoes are low in calories but when dried become a very concentrated, high calorie food that has a long shelf life and requires very little room to store. Remember an adult human needs to get all their calories and nutrients in only 6 pounds of food per day.
Thanks for info! Also sprouts are very heathy, great book is “Sprout Garden” revised edition, by Mark Braunstein
I carry on listening to the newscast speak about getting boundless online
grant applications so I have been looking around for the
top site to gett one. Could you tell me please, where could i get some?
Has anyone done any research on Nixtamalization of the dried corn? If this step is not followed, you could get pellagra, a fatal vitamin deficiency. Other reasons from wiki: “This process is known to remove up to 97–100% of aflatoxins from mycotoxin-contaminated corn. The term can also refer to the removal via an alkali process of the pericarp from other grains such as sorghum. Nixtamalized maize has several benefits over unprocessed grain: it is more easily ground; its nutritional value is increased; flavor and aroma are improved; and mycotoxins are reduced.”
very good point..actually corn with only one or 2 cobs does not make sense to me
Simple hominy is what you’re describing. Soaking in lye water or water that was leached through wood ashes. Oak was best but if leached through ashes it will add lye to the water. Needed in concentration to make LTE soap or weaker to soak corn till the putter hull bursts. The rinse in clear water. It can then be used boiled or dried as desired. When dried it can dehydrated as hominy or be ground. That ground dried hominy is the coating that encloses tomallies or the dough made with hot water, kneaded some then flattened makes corn tortillas that are ready to use when “dry” fried on a hot flat griddle. If fried in grease they make crispy taco shells.
The lye water for soap needed to have enough lye to make a boiled egg float. Hominey doesn’t need a concentration anywhere near that strong.
All you lose is the bran from the grain. Best of all, posole is very resistant to weevil- and miller infestation.Old-style was a mild lye solution. Soak dry maize in it over night, then rinse several times. If you want to keep the bran, that has to be well-rinsed, also.
I question the assumption of climate warming at the beginning of the article. I believe we are entering a period of Solar Minimum with potential climate cooling. I think data is showing a general cooling trend for the planet.
very good point… i think we should prepare for wild swings in weather… prepare for very hot and very cold as much as possible. best wishes.
Can anyone tell me where to find info or book to help build shelving and/or cans to grow veggies/fruits on a back patio that has a lot of sun if the cart can be rolled out into the sun. I am going to attempt to plant some veggies/fruits for my own use because of the high prices at the stores. As a senior on Social Security, I can only afford to pay for so much. I make a lot of vegetable soup in order to get the veggies I need on a daily basis. I need to plant about 5-8 vegetables/ fruits and I am interested in using rocks in the bottom of large planting cans rather than soil if that’s possible I’m new at this and I need a little help with ideas.
a wonderful book on food producing container gardening is “McGee & Stuckey’s The Bountiful Container” which you can get used for less than $5 including shipping from abebooks.com. And yes, rocks are ok but styrofoam would be better as it is lighter. I am also a senior on soc sec & watch every penny…saving seed, making sprouts, great book “sprout Garden” revised edition, by Mark Braunstein, healthy FAST food… sunflower sprouts are great! and the petals of many plants are edible, just take off the part that attaches it to the flower as it is usually very bitter. Best wishes!
I need some help from someone who knows about home gardens. Can you use rocks instead of soil to plant veggies like potatoes, green beans, squash, lettuce, pumpkin, & tomatoes? My yard is extremely small, so I was thinking about building a shelving unit of 4 shelves that would hold round cans of either rocks or if not, then soil, that I could have large wheels installed on it to roll out in the hot sun and/or rain and keep on my patio on bad days?
if you can not afford potting mix go into a forest or very woody area and get the leaf mold under the top leaves and use some of that mixed with rough sand as it must have good drainage (& holes on the bottom of all containers) Soggy, compacted soil will kill most plants – roots need air, too.
I haven’t herd anything about seeds being illegal in my area.
Tom are you referring to saving and selling or sharing seed? Google your state laws on seed saving and seed sharing. My state laws make sharing illegal and selling saved seed illeg a l unless you have germination tests and perhaps more. It seems crazy and I was shocked. I have and do always save the best seeds from my garden. Always shared some with neighbors or friends. There are seed saver exchanges around so I’d guess the law isn’t enforced unless you’re selling quantity.
I was digging up a patch of garden to plant nasturtium plants (the tall, semi-wild type for salad greens) when I saw what I thought was a weed by an old chimoyo chili stump. Here it had 3 sprouts! No clue how it survived the winter, with it getting into the lower 20s and a lot of snow (for here) but it did. Chimoyo was developed on a Hopi rez and grown at 7,000 feet, northwest N. Mexico. While they do not like the heat, they did great once the monsoons started and continued thru several heavy frosts that knocked out the tomatoes. I got the original seeds from native Seed Search. niio!
my grandma taught me to peel potatoes by hand leaving 3 eyes in on piece of peel. Then plant the peels if well turned soil. I have had good luck with this process.
Unfortunately green beans provide very few calories, better to plant other bean varieties that are protein fence.
Your 5 seeds list is all you need for a “Three Sisters” garden. Planting Corn, then Bush beans and then squash are a miniature garden that can provide all the nutrients needed for a survival garden. .
You can tell by the name that it is an garden that is very old and from all over.
Three of the seeds you mention are the basis of a “Three Sisters” garden. The name gives the origin of the mini garden and the length of time it has been used. The three sisters are, in order of planting, are: Corn, then beans and then squash. The garden is adaptable to ‘new’ five gallon, food grade plastic buckets
Three heirloom seed companies that have not fallen victim to Monsanto are Bakers Creek in Mansfield, MO Rareseed.com and Seeds of Change in New Mexico. Also Sand Hill Preservation Center. All are good sources of Heirloom seeds. There are other for sure but I have done business with these and all are excellent.
Southern exposure seed exchange is great, too
and if you enjoy short season vegies, etc
with lots of good info
also try Fedcoseeds.com in maine, also highmowingseeds.com, vermont