There sure seems to be more suppliers offering “survival seed” collections this year. Their ads are even being aired on the radio lately. I’ve been skeptical of some of the claims made by these vendors and would like to explain why.
First, the obvious:
Some of these “survival garden” websites make it look very easy to grow and harvest massive amounts of fresh produce. You are in for a rude awakening if you’re planning to learn how to plant, grow and harvest an entire year’s worth of vegetables and seeds AFTER a disaster. This is especially true if you’re starting with seeds that have been in storage for years.
In our own experience, we’ve had good harvests over the years but still had to purchase certain canned or fresh vegetables depending on what did or didn’t grow well during the season. We also buy seeds yearly since we’ve had more than a few occasions when the seeds harvested from one year’s vegetables were partially or completely lost due to some form of failure in the following growing season.
With that said, let’s take a look at the “survival seed” collections being offered online and why they may not be the best option.
Heirloom seeds and non-hybrid seeds are basically the same thing. The difference is that heirloom seeds have been grown consecutively for at least fifty years. Believe it or not, Non-hybrid seeds still make up the bulk of the seeds that are available at Walmart and home centers like Lowes and Menards in our area.
We spent a morning shopping several stores to identify and document the specific types of seeds that are on display this year. It was actually hard to find hybrid varieties of vegetable seeds in our area (with the exception of tomato, broccoli and corn). FWIW, Burpee has a separate retail line of seeds labeled as “heirloom” that cost no more than the rest of their products.
If you’d like to check this for yourself, you can compare the seeds available in your area to the non-hybrid and heirloom seeds being offered by reputable dealers like Victory Seeds.
At Menards we were able to purchase a season’s worth of non-hybrid seeds at an average of $1.35 per variety.
Doing a quick google search for “survival seeds” you’ll find the following survival seed deals:
- 22 varieties plus a how-to book….. $149.00
- 27 varieties……………………$44.99 (This is actually not a bad price)
- 67 varieties plus soil treatment and literature……$155.00 (This package includes multiple varieties of the same vegetable)
- 16 varieties sealed in a #10 can……..$46.00
There’s many more but I think this is enough to show that most of these prices are nowhere near as competitive as local prices.
A couple more concerns that I have about these “survival seed” kits are their shelf life and the specific seed varieties that they are providing.
A general rule about seed viability is that germination can decline at a rate of about 10 percent per year. Meaning that when a batch of seeds is kept in storage for one year, 1 seed out of 10 will not germinate… after five years, five out of ten will not germinate. There are other sources that give a seed’s viability much less time than that. Seed viability and storage method will also vary by plant species. Certain seeds included in these survival seed kits may not even germinate at all after 2-3 years. That means that you would need to buy a new seed kit every three years if you plan to just store the seeds.
I’m curious how some of the survival-seed sellers can state a shelf life of “up to” 20 years. And I’m curious at how old the seeds are when the customer receives them.
I’m also suspicious of the specific seed varieties being put into these seed kits. I’m sure they are legitimately heirloom but certain varieties grow better than others in specific zones. Which, ironically, is the whole purpose behind the development of some of the hybrid varieties. Some kits even contain multiple varieties of the same vegetable which can introduce the possibility of unintentional cross-pollination.
You definitely need to find which varieties grow best in your area if you are planning to have a decent harvest and collect the next season’s seeds. Your best resource to find this out will be the local suppliers…not somebody that lives on the other side of the country.
Are “survival seeds” a scam? I do think some vendors are exaggerating the lifespan of their seeds and using fear to drive sales. In my opinion, most of the sellers are simply repackaging seeds purchased from the same outlets that you could be buying from. I believe that you can save money and get better results by selecting your own seeds and doing the research on proper seed storage methods. Also keep in mind that even the seed from some hybrids can be saved for future planting.