How Do You Store Your Bean Seed?

aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. CanadaNovember 8, 2009

1. Short term for one or two years.

2. Long term when it won't be grown for 5 or more years.

What do you store them in glass jars, zip locks, paper envelopes/seed pkts? Fridge, freezer? In airtight containers?

I'm asking because I've collected a few heirlooms :), although I will be growing a couple of different ones beside my own oldies every year some I won't be growing for awhile. Lack of space to grow more than half a dozen varieties each year is the thorn in my side.

Some of you must have large collections of Bean seed, I'm interested in how you very knowledgeable people store your seed.


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The rule is Clean, Dry, and COLD. Beans must be at very low moisture levels to store well. The seed should be fully mature, well filled, and solid. Get them completely dry and either place them in ziplocs in the freezer or put them in tightly sealed jars in the freezer. I use jars for really long term storage.

Stored damp - maybe 1 year
Stored dry at room temp - up to 3 years
Stored dry and cold - up to 5 years
Stored very dry and very cold in a deep freeze - up to 10 years.

Some varieties store better than others so make a point to take out a few beans from year to year in storage and see if they are still highly viable. When you try to grow them and they give less than 50% germination, it is best to immediately grow out for fresh seed to store.


    Bookmark   November 8, 2009 at 7:31PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Ditto on Fusion's comments. Before you begin to discuss storage, the seeds must be properly dried. It's impractical as a home gardener to measure actual moisture content; but there are several methods of drying which work reliably. Some use dehydrators (at low temps only!) to dry seed, while others weigh the seed, measure a fixed amount of desiccant, and place both in a sealed container.

In my Northern location, the air indoors becomes very dry in early Winter, so I use that to my advantage. I allow the seeds to dry on stacked trays, stirring them occasionally for the first month; a fan on low speed is helpful during this time (I use a ceiling fan). When the thermometer stays below freezing & 1/4" sparks begin flying from my sweater, the seed is dry enough. Unscientific, I know... but the beans I store at room temperature have good germination for 4-5 years, so I know it works. The rule of thumb for drying beans is that if the seed shatters cleanly when struck with a hammer, it's dry enough to store.

Once the beans are dry, I store them in ziplock freezer bags, since they are more air-tight. For the bulk of my beans, the bags are then stored in boxes to keep out light. If the room where they are kept is air conditioned in Summer, this will significantly extend their life. Avoid warm locations, such as near heating vents, or in cupboards near the ceiling, where heat rises. In Winter, I close off the vent where I store my seeds, and allow the room to cool. A cool basement can also be a good storage location... but to protect against the possibility of moisture intrusion, the seeds (with or without bags) should be placed in air-tight containers, such as canning jars with rubber seals.

For frozen storage, sealed jars are best. Ziplocks alone run the risk of freeze-drying the seed (especially for long-term storage) should they leak. I only keep back-up samples in the freezer, to minimize the space used. For frozen/refrigerated seed, be sure to allow the container - still closed - to warm to room temperature before opening. If opened too soon, moisture can condense on the cold seeds, leading to spoilage. For larger amounts of seed, dividing them between several ziplocks in the same jar allows you to remove just the seed you need, without warming the entire quantity. Frequent warming & cooling is detrimental to long-term storage.

The seed life is determined primarily by the moisture content of the seed, the storage temperature, and the species. The numbers given by Fusion are a good rule of thumb for beans in general. SSE uses refrigerated storage (at about 40 F. degrees) with controlled humidity, and most seeds maintain good germination for 10 years. The USDA uses -20 C. degrees (-4 F.) for long-term storage; a stand-alone home freezer is usually very close to this, at about -17 C. (0 F.). The icebox attached to a refrigerator will not be this cold, and the temperature will fluctuate often; so while it is OK for medium storage, a stand-alone (if available) should be used for the long-term.

Another factor that influences seed storage is the health of the seed. The seed should be sorted, and fat, healthy seed selected for storage. Seed that is diseased, shrunken, or has been exposed to frost or excessive moisture, should not be used for long-term storage if it can be avoided. You can sometimes increase the size of bean seed - and its viability - by giving the plants wider spacing than you would normally. I use 6" (about 15 cm) between plants for bush beans, twice that for most pole beans, and 2-3 feet for limas.

As Fusion mentioned, there will be variations in storage life, even between beans dried & stored under the same conditions. When a decrease in germination is noticed for a variety, it should be regrown for seed as soon as possible. The remaining viable seed could deteriorate completely within several years. If you don't plant every year & choose not to do germination testing, keep a sample of each variety in the freezer as insurance.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2009 at 3:05AM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

Thanks you two, that's exactly what I wanted to know. Up until now I have just kept my seed in the crisper drawer in the fridge, these methods give me a couple more options. I'm definitely going to save this thread for reference, thanks again.


    Bookmark   November 9, 2009 at 10:29AM
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One "heads up:" never open cold seed until the temperature inside the bag or jar has completely equalized with the outside. I once opened a jar, straight from the freezer, but for a few seconds, to remove a few seeds and clamped the lid back on. Later I took that jar out of the freezer and stored it at room temperature. By spring it had zero germination. The condensation which that incident caused, was enough to kill the seed.


    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 10:54AM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

Good point George, in my search to match up the italian beans I've been growing for 44 years with something already out there, I've acquired a few more heirlooms to compare them to :).
AND, while going through lists of ALL the heirlooms that are available I'm afraid I kinda fell of the wagon and added a few more varieties to my have to try list. These with the beans GW'er have kindly shared with me I want to make sure they are stored properly. I intend to try them all, but it's going to take a few years.


    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 12:43PM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

I want to put backup samples of the beans I have in the freezer, I have a none ending supply of these little cat food containers, would they work, the lids are very tight fitting. These will also be stacked inside a plastic storage box, I won't be doing this until the seed is thoroughly dry though. This is what they would look like, I could also add some little desiccant packets if you think that would help. Annette

    Bookmark   November 21, 2012 at 1:40PM
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Plastic containers are permeable and let oxygen and moisture penetrate over time. So long as you are storing the seed for less than 8 years, they will work, but if you want viability extended to 10 or more years, you should store in sealed glass containers like Kilner jars.

I have had good germination of bean seed stored in ziploc bags in the deep freeze for up to 5 years. From 5 to 8 years, germination gradually declines though I usually get somewhere between 20 and 50 percent viable seed. I had one variety that was 10 year old seed and when I grew it out a few years ago, only 6 seed out of an entire pound were viable. Now that is not a major problem, those 6 seed produced over a pound of seed to go back in my freezer, but if I had only stored 50 seed to start with, the odds are that none of them would have germinated. My point being that it is better to stash 200 or more seed if you can because it increases the odds in your favor during long term storage.


    Bookmark   November 21, 2012 at 3:41PM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

I don't have Kilner jars with the rubber rings but have lots of Mason jars and lids, would putting samples (100 or so) in small zip locks and then packing them in mason jars with lids screwed down tight work. If I'm still around in 8-10 years I'll be a happy camper:).


    Bookmark   November 21, 2012 at 4:06PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Annette, that method should work. I am planning to do the same thing this year for my backup samples.

I must confess, my long-term storage has up until now been rather haphazard; I didn't store everything, and what I did store wasn't well organized. It occurs to me that if I store samples together of all beans grown in a given year, they will have similar storage lives, and if needed, will tend to be taken out at close to the same time. This will minimize the number of times the container is likely to be opened... and let me bury it at the bottom of my chest freezer. ;-)

I agree with Fusion's comments regarding plastic containers. IMO, used alone, they are untrustworthy for long-term frozen storage. However, ziplock bags packed tightly into a sealed jar provide good protection. This allows for quick removal of individual samples without thawing the whole jar. I would highly recommend the use of heavy-duty freezer bags for this purpose, since they are the least permeable & tend to have better seals.

A mason jar should provide adequate protection against moisture intrusion, but it might be a good idea to enclose some desiccant in the jar for added insurance.

Fusion hit on a point above about oxygen, and reviewing my previous post, I never mentioned the importance of minimizing the amount of air trapped with the stored seed. Ziplock bags - whether used for long term or short term seed storage - should have all excess air squeezed out. They should then be packed tightly in a larger container to keep them compressed, and prevent air from reentering. Rolling the bag up & placing rubber bands around it would work for the short term, but rubber bands have a bad habit of breaking or losing elasticity over time, so I wouldn't recommend their use for log term storage. If using rigid containers, they should be filled with seed as tightly as possible.

Fusion also mentioned the advantage of using a larger amount of seed for long term storage, should the germination rate drop drastically. There is another advantage to storing larger quantities of seed: they will quickly consume most of the oxygen trapped with them, which will then greatly reduce their metabolism.

There was a great study that I read online several years ago, regarding the importance of low seed moisture & low oxygen for long term seed storage. I believe it was a French study, but I lost the link when my previous computer crashed. :-( Their findings were that with very low seed moisture & low oxygen, seed life could be significantly extended, even when stored at room temperature.

I can testify that this method works. I do not use the ultra-low seed moisture that the study recommended, since I have no way to measure that; but after drying as described above, I squeeze all extra air from ziplock bags of seed prior to storage, and pack the bags tightly enough together in boxes that the bags can't re-inflate. The boxes are then stored in a room with a very stable annualized temperature, 68-72 degrees.

Anecdotal testimony isn't worth "a hill of beans" without the facts to back it up, so I tracked the performance of my older seed this year to get a better evaluation of their storage life. It was a good year to do so, since the majority of the legumes I grew this year were from 2005-2007 seed. These were the results:

"Bird Egg #3" (05) poor, about 25%
"Champagne" (06), very good
"Chechoslovakian (06) very good, almost 100%
"Fortex" (06) very good, almost 100%
"Isla" (06) very good
"Light Brown Zebra" (06) very good
"Portugal" (05) good
"Soissons Vert" (05) very good
"Uzice Speckled Wax" (07) very good, 100%

Lima: "Cave Dweller (Black)" (07) good

Cowpeas: "Bush Sitao var. BS-3" (07), "MN 157" (06), "Sierra Madre" (07), "Fagiolino Dolico Veneto" (06). All had very good germination.

"Black Eyed Susan" (06) very good
"Bill Jump" (05) good
"Golderbse" (07) very good
"Prebohaty" (07) poor (was planted on a slope, lower end had good germ)
"Vantana Matar" (05) very good

"Buff" (06) very good, 100%
"Takara early" (05) very good, 100%
(both were transplants from sorted seed)

Black gram (05) very good

Soybeans: All good to very good unless otherwise indicated.
2005 - "Cha Kura Kake" (poor), "Hidatsa", "Pando", "Rouest 13 A1 2", "Sakamotowase", "Vir 1501-40"
2006 - "T 239", "Ta Li Tsao Shen Wu Tou", "Krasnoarmejscaja", "Mandarin A" (fair), "Ohozyu", "Seneca" (fair), "PI 427088 I", "Musan -1"
2007 - "DV-2371", "Ezonishiki", "Gardensoy 24" (poor), "Sapporo Midori" (poor), "Kosodiguri Extra Early".

In evaluating germination rates, I define "very good" as 90% or better, "good" as 75%-90%, "fair" as 50%-75%, and "poor" as below 50%.

Whether using new seed or old, I discard damaged, shriveled, or discolored seed when I plant... so some older seed was thrown away that might have lowered the results. For the most part, only one bean (BE#3, 2005 seed) had germination issues from 2005 & subsequent. All Vignas (cowpeas, yardlongs, adzuki, black gram) had good germination from 2005 & up. Only one pea had poor germ, and that was probably environmental. For soybeans, field/processing soybeans had at least fair germination from 2005 & up, and most were good to very good... but edamame cultivars had germination issues even with 07-09 seed. It appears edamame soybeans have a shorter storage life.

To date, I have not tested any of my frozen seed, since none of my working seed stocks (at room temperature) have yet gone dead before I was able to replenish them. However, if I can get reasonable germination for most 6-7 year old seed stored at room temperature, I am certain that frozen seed will easily last 10 years or longer with proper handling.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2012 at 2:27PM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

Zeedman, thanks for taking the time to share your results.
I've been sticking a straw in the top of ziplock baggies, zip, suck as much of the air out I can, pull the straw and zip quick, seems to work pretty good.
I stored my seed from 2011 this way in a tightly closed container in a cool, dry place. Some of the beans have been hard to find so putting samples in the freezer seems to be the way to go.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2012 at 10:04PM
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rxkeith(z5 MI)

i use zip lock bags which are then stored in an old seed box from the 20s or 30s, or an old whiskey box i picked up at a sale. these are kept in the basement.

don't do like i did with some romano bush beans. i had them on top of a cabinet on the enclosed porch of a house we owned, hot in the summer, cold in the winter just laying there. then another two years downstairs in the house we are in now in a plastic container no lid. i planted 20 seeds this year hoping for one to sprout, and i got 15 plants. go figure.


    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 6:46PM
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This link has been posted several times over the last 3 or 4 years. It is well worth reading by anyone interested in storing seed for the long term.

seed storage guide


    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 9:19PM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

Has anyone vacuum sealed their seed in mason jars? Pros, cons.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 12:00AM
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Zeedman, you mentioned that you put dry seeds in boxes to keep out the light. How important is darkness for long term storage?

How about during the drying phase. I often have to pick pods when they are not fully dry. Drying them in a grow light setup a foot below the lights would be convenient.

And after they are shelled out, they could be further dried under the lights. Would this be detrimental?

How about normal room light for shelled beans on drying trays? - Dick

    Bookmark   November 27, 2012 at 12:15PM
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The only "keeping out of the light" that I do is to keep them from direct sun. That is because sunlight can raise the temp of some beans high enough to kill them. In other words, it is not light that is a problem, it is the heat that comes with the light.


    Bookmark   November 27, 2012 at 8:34PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Thanks, Fusion, for posting that link, I think it is the study that I have been searching for. Bookmarked it again... I wish I knew how to transfer bookmarks from a dead computer, I lost a lot of good references.

Drloyd, after shelling, I dry nearly all of my beans on trays exposed to room light. Since I don't transfer seed into storage containers until the indoor humidity is low (below 40%), some of that seed is exposed to artificial light for 2 months or more. As reported above, I have seen no ill effects from this treatment. However, I make sure that direct sunlight from nearby windows never hits the trays.

For drying pods that were not fully dry when picked, I place them under a fan. The air circulation is the most important factor for rapid drying; the use of heat runs the risk of reducing seed life. Drying pods closely under a light might be OK as long as some means of air circulation is provided.

I store seeds in the dark because my initial research into seed storage said that heat, light, and humidity were the enemies of stored seed. To be honest, that was quite some time ago, and I guess I never questioned the light aspect... because dark storage has worked so well for me, and you don't mess with what works. (Additionally, as mentioned above, packing bags of seed tightly in boxes also helps me to keep air from reentering the bags, and further moderates the temperature of the seed inside.)

It may be that light is inimical to stored seed because stored seed is enclosed in a container, which is most often transparent. With no air circulation inside, heat from radiant sources can penetrate & accumulate very rapidly in a transparent container. I've observed this most notably in ziplock bags, which can heat very rapidly when exposed to sunlight. For that reason, when carrying seed into the garden for planting, I use a small ice chest.

Light absorption can directly induce heat into the seed; but I still wonder whether the light itself - and perhaps its spectrum - has any direct effect on seed metabolism. There is anecdotal information that it doesn't, of seed stored for years in a jar in a lighted room. Personally, I still prefer to err on the side of caution, and keep my seed in the dark.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2012 at 2:33AM
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Thank you Dar and Zeedman for your help on this. - Dick

    Bookmark   November 28, 2012 at 9:13AM
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