Pet peeve: “Survival Seed” cans

Miracle garden in a can!

Miracle garden in a can!

If you have spent any time at all looking at bulk food and disaster preparedness sites, you’ve seen them.  Yes, if the zombies come and civilization collapses, all you need is this can of seeds to instantly grow your own garden!  What could go wrong?

  • Are the seeds high quality, or are they old repackaged seeds?
  • Are the seeds a good value for the price?
  • Are the seed varieties included ones which do well in your area?

Let’s set aside for the moment that successful gardening takes slightly more effort and knowledge than poking a seed from a mylar envelope in the group.  Gardening need not be hard or complex or a huge amount of effort, but it does take a bit more than a can of seeds and a heartfelt wish to work.

In germination tests conducted on some of these cans, germination rates were very low, even newly purchased.  Then again, some cans germinated fine years later.  Unfortunately, you have no way of knowing which you have until you try to grow them, and if the local grocery stores are shuttered in this doomsday zombie scenario, that’s probably the wrong time to find out.  Caveat emptor.  If all that was needed to save seeds for extended periods was some mylar and a tin can, we wouldn’t have specialized, highly technical seed banks.

Are they a good value?  At an average of $40 for 20 packs of seed, I’d say no.  You can certainly spend more than $2 on a pack of seeds, but a frugal gardener can find seeds for cheaper by watching the seed racks and clearance sales at the end of the season, particularly for seeds which have long lifespans, like squash and beans.  Right now, in fact, is the perfect time of year to pick up 2013 seed while they are making room for the 2014 seed coming it.  Gardeners who squeeze their pennies even harder will save some of their own and trade seeds with other gardeners at seed swap meets and through the mail.  And if you are careful and have a tolerance for potential surprises and crop failures, you can save seeds from some of the vegetables you already buy from a local farmer or market, or even the grocery store.

Whether or not they are seeds that do well in your area is highly variable.  Most of the cans will have the varieties on the label.  Again, caveat emptor.  No set of varieties will do well everywhere, and if you live somewhere with a 150 day growing season, 180 day squash will do you no good.  If you live somewhere hot and dry, a variety bred for chillier climates will simply wither.

So should you buy the can for the seeds?  I say no.  This is a case where you are better off rotating out your own seed to keep it fresh instead of relying on a can of miracles.  In the meantime you gain the experience needed to succeed at feeding your household from your garden… whether the zombies come or not.

(By Nicole Castle)

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