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Garden Edition: March, 2001, page 2


Seed storing

Moisture and heat are the main enemies of seed--strong sunlight is inadvisable, too.

Ideally, seed should be stored in airtight, well-sealed containers, either glass or plastic. I use leftover prescription-drug bottles, which aren't completely airtight. Coin envelopes are handy, too, but they aren't airtight either and are inconvenient to re-open and close. Plastic bags are offer visibility but can be punctured easily. Since it's hard to write on a plastic bag, I write on a post-it and insert it in the bag. I've also read that you can use tea bag wrappers--not the way I unwrap a tea bag--or relabel commercial seed packets.

Some veterans use a desiccant like silica gel packets (available at many craft stores) to absorb excess moisture in stored seed if air is above 30% or so relative humidity. This is too much trouble for me. If I have the tiny silica cylinders that come with vitamins I'll use them or nothing. You could also use a few grains of uncooked rice.

As a precaution against insect infestation, one authority recommends adding a little diatomaceous earth to the seeds before storage. Add just enough to cover the surfaces of the seeds. I haven't had any trouble with insects but it's nice to know a non-toxic solution.

Be certain to mark any containers with basic information about the seeds: species, and when and where it was collected. The fewer "mystery" seeds you end up with the better. If you do, Sharon's Little Garden has great photos of the seeds of common plants.

In the past, I stored my seeds in the basement. It kept the seeds between 50F and 60F in the winter, which apparently was good enough for short-term storage. Temperatures around 40F are usually what's recommended for maintaining long-term seed viability, which makes a refrigerator the ideal storage facility--assuming, of course, you have room.

One caveat I came across: If you store seeds in a refrigerator, do not to keep them in the same compartment with fruits and vegetables. Some fruits (apples, for example) give off a chemical as they ripen that will inhibit the germination of many species of seed.

If seeds sweat on insides of jars during storage, they are too wet and must be dried further. Be sure to use a desiccant when you're ready to bottle them up again.

Seed swapping

This age-old practice has taken on new life on the Internet. I came across a variety of sites. Some were personal sites or community sites that are free, web sites of membership organizations like Seeds of Texas Seed Exchange or private enterprises with a mission like Southern Exposure Seed. Seeds of Texas charges a $20 yearly membership fee. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange sells seed of open-pollinated, heirloom varieties, and traditional flowers and vegetables produced with organic and sustainable methods.

Traders on personal and community sites use a lot of common names, so you don't always know which plant is meant. Some sites were searchable by plant name or zone, a real plus.

Here are some of the free major sites I came across and my comments:

Garden Web. Links you to a variety of its sites for exchanging seeds, plants, herbs, aquatics, regional plants (FL, CA, etc.), books, European gardeners, etc. Searchable by plant. (

Gardens DFW Big Garden Site allows users to post their needs; hard to read and not searchable (

The Seed Exchange. Free members-only network that's suppose to send you info via e-mail once you register your "haves" and "wants"; definitely ambitious: "Our Goal is to be the most extensive Seed Exchange Network in the World!"

The Gardeners' Exchange. Limited listings; small type is hard to read; not searchable

Nature Node Seed Exchange. This site is a work in progress; limited number of listings but searchable by hardiness zone

The Seed Swap Circle. Searchable with all queries readable; hosted by (

Personal sites tend to be limited since they represent what one person has to trade or wants. One stands out:

The Total Gardener: ( It features a bulletin board with "good trades" and "bad trades." That's where you can share experiences about trades you've made. It also has an interesting assortment of links to other personal and business sites.

Other sites mentioned in Linda's article:

Seeds of Texas Seed Exchange:

Sharon's Little Garden:

Southern Exposure Seed:

If you have other sources to recommend or questions to ask about seed saving and exchanging, email Linda.

Linda Coyner is a gardener/journalist who planted her first seed in New York soil. She trained as a landscape designer at the New York Botanical Garden and was a tour guide at its Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. She recently said good-bye to her garden in Chappaqua, New York, and a full-time job in book and magazine publishing.  These days Linda lives in Naples, Florida,  where she's a Florida Certified Nursery Professional and delighted to be gardening year-round as well as writing about plants and flowers.  Linda can be reached by email .

©2001 Linda Coyner for SeniorWomenWeb

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