Lots of people email and ask about what the best seeds are to store for long-term survival situations. With all of the deceptive and fear-based seed marketing in the preparedness market, it’s become confusing to try to figure out what kind of seeds to plant now and store for the future.
Here’s an example of an email I get fairly regularly:
Thanks for the info. Question: Dehydrated food lasts only so long. What is the best source for seeds, etc. to grow food? Online? Farmers’ markets? Country stores?
Here’s part of what I wrote back… plus some more:
Ideally, you want to have seeds from a few sources that are heirloom, hybrid, short season and long season, so that if any of the batches are bad, you won’t be wiped out. This will also protect you from early season hail storms, floods, late frosts and other environmental factors like volcanoes that might cause a short growing season.
Don’t confuse “hybrid” with GMO (genetically modified). Personally, I am a hybrid. I’m a mix of German, Russian, American Indian and French. Put another way, I’m a typical American mutt… and I like it.
Back to seeds… many hybrids occur naturally when the plants from one strain of seed pollinate the plants of another strain. Usually, hybrids occur in a controlled setting when scientists cross-pollinate plants. In any case, most hybrids are made to have more output or be more resilient to drought, flooding, heat, cold, disease and/or pests, but the trade-off is that most have seeds that won’t produce the following year.
GMO seeds are sold primarily to large farming operations, and you usually won’t need to worry about looking out for them when you buy seeds. Many seed companies advertise that their seeds are “NON-GMO” to a public that knows GMO is bad, but they don’t advertise that no other seeds in the store are GMO seeds. I won’t say that they don’t exist for the home gardener, but I have yet to see GMO seeds available anywhere in pouches for home gardens.
I don’t like GMO, and I do like hybrid and heirloom. But what’s the difference between hybrid and heirloom?
In simplest terms, hybrid plants are generally more resilient and forgiving. Heirlooms are generally more flavorful, and you can harvest the seeds to plant the following year. These are generalizations. Some hybrid plants have stabilized and produce viable seeds for the following year. Not all heirlooms are more flavorful than their hybrid alternative.
Again, I suggest having both hybrid and heirloom and planting some of both, so that if everything goes well and your heirlooms survive the growing season, you get the benefits of heirloom produce. But if things don’t go so well, the hybrid seeds may be more resilient to whatever knocked out your heirlooms and give you a partial harvest.
But that kind of misses the fundamental issue with storing seeds for survival.
In short, you should store seeds that you have experience growing successfully. If you don’t have experience growing seeds successfully, then there are other questions that need to be answered before worrying about which seeds to buy.
You’ve got to remember that, while there is a lot of crossover, “survival” skills are different than “primitive-living” skills.
Here’s what I mean.
Survival skills are designed to help you “survive” a fixed situation of known or unknown length. Food storage is a good example of this. So is traditional camping.
Primitive-living skills are designed to help you be more independent from other people and, in a pure sense, able to survive indefinitely separated from others. Gardening is a good example of this.
Both are valuable skill sets, especially for preppers who are aware of all of the short- and long-term risks we’re currently facing; but it’s helpful not to confuse the two. Primitive living skills, like gardening, also have the advantage of helping you grow your own food during “normal” times.
Back to the issue of storing seeds for survival. Think through the scenarios that you’re planning for. Are you planning for multiple-year primitive-living scenarios or one- to six-month survival scenarios that you can simply stock up supplies for?
I have both survival supplies and primitive-living supplies that I know how to use and work with regularly, but I use modern conveniences for most of my day-to-day living. In a total breakdown situation, I view my survival supplies as a buffer that will buy me time to get my primitive-living skills to the point where I can depend on them for living and/or a barter or trade economy to develop and stabilize.
Again, there will be overlap, but you need to be clear on which one you’re currently preparing for. By focusing on one or another, you will make faster progress overall. I normally suggest that people focus on survival and preparedness before they spend too much time focusing on primitive living.
Why? Because in the event of a disaster like a hurricane, tornado, flood or wildfire, survival and preparedness skills (in general) are much easier to use and benefit from. You don’t necessarily have to transition to primitive-living skills like grinding wheat to bake bread and using a loom to make your own clothes. You can simply eat what’s in your food storage and wear extra clothes that you had in your go bag.
Another question you want to ask yourself is whether you are planning for a partial breakdown in services or a complete breakdown? To clarify, a partial breakdown could be due to a natural disaster or a local terrorist attack after which supply chains are repaired quickly. A complete breakdown could be due to an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), infrastructure attack, earthquakes on the level of the New Madrid Earthquakes or other large-scale incident after which supply chains may be damaged for months or years.
You need to answer these questions to see just how much seeds will fit into the scenarios you’re currently planning for.
As an example, you won’t need seeds for a short-term survival scenario. (You might be amazed how many people have seeds in their 72-hour kits.) And if a long-term survival scenario starts right before your planting season, it’s likely you will have other concerns more pressing than tilling, planting, watering and weeding. It may be a year before you get a chance to plant your seeds. This is one reason why it’s important for everyone to have food storage — even if you’re a master gardener.
You also have to consider environmental issues. If you’re contending with acid rain, excessively polluted rain or a water shortage, a greenhouse may not only be a convenience, but a necessity to allow you to protect your plants from unfiltered water they might get in an open garden.
If you’re planning for an attack on the cyber and/or electrical infrastructure, it means municipal water will probably be hard to find. You should look for seeds that will grow naturally with the soil and water you will have available.
A great first step is to talk with local gardening stores to find out which plants and varieties of plants will work best with your soil type and start with those. If you live in an area where Indians lived, you may want to consider finding out what they planted and ate. In many cases, Indians simply took plants that grew naturally in their areas, harvested seeds and nurtured them in subsequent seasons to increase their yield.
As a note, for the first few years of gardening, I suggest either buying young plants from a nursery and replanting them or doing a combination of planting seeds and replanting plants. Why? There’s a lot to learn with a garden. The more variables you remove and the more early success you have, the more likely you are to continue your garden for years to come.
Keep in mind that if you want to start developing your skill at gardening, it’s not too late to start this weekend. You can still buy tomatoes, berries, herbs and salad fixings at local nurseries. If you can find them, they will probably already have fruit on them and be more expensive than early season plants, but they will give you a chance to practice the mysterious arts of watering, weeding and soil management.
One other thought… if you’re just starting out in your preparations, don’t have gardening experience and have a few hundred bucks available, go out and buy a few hundred dollars’ worth of nonperishable food and a couple tomato or strawberry plants to practice on.
This will let you dip your toes into gardening and also give you a good food supply in case you experience a survival situation between now and when you have developed the skills to grow your own food.
No matter where you are with gardening, keep taking small steps to improve your skills, knowledge and gardening area. This is a skill-set that will allow you to keep learning and improving for your entire life. Once you get soil gardening figured out, you can progress to hydroponics/aeroponics, controlling light cycles and changing up nutrient mixes to get five to 20 times more produce from the same amount of space.
What are your thoughts? How does gardening fit into your preparedness plan? How about hydroponics and aeroponics? And hybrids vs. heirlooms… which do you plant? Would that change in a survival situation? Let me know by commenting below.