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best way to preserve bean seeds?

Posted by ncstockguy Zone7 NC (My Page) on
Mon, Jun 12, 06 at 17:55

Can you seed experts advise on the best way to keep some green pole beans and lima bean seeds for planting in a future year? We have some heirloom beans, and were not able to plant all of them this year. Would like to keep them until at least next spring. Suggestion? Just a cool dry place or in the fridge?

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: best way to preserve bean seeds?

A dry place and probably better in paper than plastic, you don't want humidity to build up till next year.
Wouldn't you be able to still plant beans this year?

RE: best way to preserve bean seeds?

Thanks for the suggestion. I figured cool and dry would be best. Because of some medical problems, not able to add any more to this year's garden. But next year will be a different story.

RE: best way to preserve bean seeds?

The best way would be to store them in a sealed jar (in paper envelopes) in your fridge, or a cool, dark basement. If you can find some color-changing desiccant (Southern Exposure Seed Exchange sells it), place an amount equal to the weight of the seeds in the jar also.

The next best thing... If your home is air-conditioned, you have reduced humidity; and a dry, dark area far from the kitchen or bathroom should keep your seeds safe until next year. In this case, store them in just the paper envelopes.

Pole beans will usually store well for several years if kept cool, dark, and dry. Lima beans, however, can deteriorate very quickly... especially the large-seeded varieties. I am trying to rescue a variety this year that I obtained from another seed saver, only 4 seeds of 50 germinated.

I would highly recommend the use of desiccant, especially if the seeds were exposed to high humidity. Regardless of whether or not you use desiccant, if you refrigerate your seeds, allow the whole container to reach room temperature before you remove them. Moisture condensing on cold seeds could destroy them within days, especially under warm conditions.

RE: best way to preserve bean seeds?

I'm also interested in this question; in particular, what about control of insect pests in saving legumes? I'm harvesting some peas to save for planting in fall or next spring, and noticed they have some small insects in the pods -- perhaps small weevils? I know that many recommend freezing thoroughly dried peas to 0 degrees F for a couple of days, but has anyone simply added a little insecticide in with the peas -- say, a little rotenone powder -- and then sealed them up?

RE: best way to preserve bean seeds?

I've done a fair amount of research into this question and have found that the best way to preserve seeds is to ultra-dry them. Research done in this area indicates that seeds may remain viable for up to 40 years if properly preserved.

The best method appears to be to seal the seeds in a container with silica gel. Normal "dry" seeds are (IIRC) in the 5%-8% moisture content range. Ultra-dry seeds are in the 1%-3% range. For long-term storage of seeds, the quality of the container matters. Plastic containers are all moisture permeable and unsuited to long-term seed storage.

One study compared dozens of different kinds of containers and found that only pure glass (glass tubes sealed by melting the glass tip closed), metal cans (think "canning operation") and metal-glass containers akin to mason jars were suitable for long-term storage. Of these, the mason jar is probably the easiest to use. A little less effective, but still pretty good, would be commercial glass jars like the kind used to hold jam, that is, a container that is all-metal and glass with a good seal.

The method I settled on was to use small envelopes (coin envelopes) to contain the seeds, label the envelopes and store them in wide-mouth quart mason jars with an inch or two of silica gel in the bottom. About 25 such packets to a quart jar seems to be optimal. Since I access the seeds periodically, I use more silica gel than they used in the research studies. The silica gel is blue and turns pink when it has absorbed moisture, so there is an easy indicator of when it's time to recharge the silica gel (which you can do by drying in an oven for a couple hours.)

Note that heat is never a friend to seed preservation, but the literature on the subject indicates that seed drying is a better process for preservation than even the most advanced (and expensive) cryogenic storage. Apparently, even seeds cooled to near liquid nitrogen levels must be planted and their seeds harvested for re-freezing every decade or so to maintain viability. The research suggests that most seed banks around the world would benefit significantly from drying over super-freezing.

Some seeds are NOT suitable for ultra-drying. They include seeds with very heavy, hard shells which may not allow the moisture to exit the seed. Fortunately, these types of seeds are relatively rare.

So far, I've built my seed collection to nearly 100 different types of seeds. Rather than try to organize them into any specific order, I just label them with a name and a number, and use a database to match name/number for lookup. The jars all contain seed packets by number: 1-25 in the first jar, 26-50 in the second and so on. With a click of the mouse, I can view the seeds by name (with corresponding position in the appropriate jar) or number (which tells me which seeds are in a particular jar.

I consider seed storage an important part of self-reliance, I grow a significant portion of my own produce, starting out after asking myself the question, "What would happen if the food supply system broke down?" and, "Why are peppers $1 each!?" What started as an experiment ("How much of my own food can I grow?") has become an interesting hobby and a source of superior produce. (I haven't bought a pepper in years!) The recent droughts already have experts predicting that food costs will double this year. With the dollar teetering on the edge of collapse, being able to grow your own food just seems prudent to me - and a stable supply of good seed is critical to that effort.

RE: best way to preserve bean seeds?

I store my rare varieties of bean seeds in the freezer in ziploc bags.

RE: best way to preserve bean seeds?

Bambi b,
I have only just started saving seeds this year, and right now its only 1 bean type, but I agree with your reasons as to why. I am the only gardener in my neighborood and I to want to preserve all I can, both in seed saving and growing and canning. You are right prices on food are sky rocketing and food is becoming a luxury instead of a staple. Oh and I save mine in a glass jar with a bundle of rice to keep moisture down.

This post was edited by gardenman101 on Wed, Dec 19, 12 at 23:03

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