R. Ann Parris on Survival Seeds


Survival Seed Kits by R. Ann Parris

If we’re buying kits and vaults marketed for preppers and survivalists, there are a few things to consider right off the bat.

1.) Seeds have a shelf life.

Even in a “vault” the clock is ticking. Most companies base their stated shelf lives on the longest-lived seed or the average life of some percentage of their seeds, and on perfect storage conditions. Some seeds are naturally long-lived and resilient (corn, beans, squash). Others, however, just don’t store well or long, no matter how we store them (spinach, onion).

If you’re paying for special packaging, contact the company first for the by-variety breakdown of shelf life trials. If they’re claiming a 5-10-15-20 year storage life, the information is somewhere — or should be. If they give you a runaround… well, time to apply a grain of salt.

2.) Generic kits only account for generic settings.

Ignoring the aspects that come into play with unfamiliar soil, whether it’s played out lawns, scrub brush, roadside verges, sports stadiums, or pasture, regardless of bedrock and base soils, our climate plays a huge role in planting, both general crop type and specific varieties.

Very few of those kits provide multiple varieties of a certain crop type — say, corn or beans or lettuce. Very few of those kits are specific to regions. That means very few of us can make use of all the seeds in any given kit.

If you’re after a kit, contact the company. If they don’t have detailed information about the days to harvest and planting date (which we need to compare to our specific location and season-extending capabilities), we need to get the by-name varieties so we can research ourselves and checks on their basic viability for our situation (which we then test with planting trials).

3.) Numbers are regularly “inflated”.

We have to look at the breakdown of seed numbers in our kits. (If seed is presented by weight instead of estimated count and we’re not familiar enough with ounce/pound planting, we can research conversions — here’s one https://harvesttotable.com/vegetable_seeds_per_ounce_per/.) We need those numbers to determine best-condition expected yields, and which crop types we’re looking at.

First there are the crops that require a lot of seed planted due to average germination rate (lettuce, celery, peppers). While many can be harvested as microgreens, most home-gardener seed contains instructions for dense seeding that’s then thinned, sometimes a couple of times through its growing season.

Then there are the crops that we’d almost never plant in the densities provided. A one-gram packet can contain hundreds of tomato, basil, and chive seeds, thousands of thyme and celery seed, and only a handful or dozen corn, bean, pea, and squash seeds. (28g = 1 oz.)

Even with the USDA standard of 55% germination viability for celery and then a planned culling to 1/5-1/10 the survivors, planting 3K seeds for 150-300 heads of celery is pretty extreme for a household. Same goes for basil and thyme — just how much do we actually need here, even using it as a companion plant or bee fodder.

Likewise, the much smaller number of 20-40 summer squashes and melons are actually HUGE numbers for a 2-5-person household, even accounting for storage.

Differently, applying the same formula to tomatoes, the 150-200 seeds numerous kits contain (https://amzn.to/2s0VsxR) results in 10-20 plants. That’s actually a reasonable number for a couple or small family to consume (with preservation) but that’s a LOT of tomatoes to care for with pest control, irrigation, and nutrients, particularly the calcium that tomatoes require to avoid blossom end rot.

Similarly, even if 300-400 broccoli seed reduced to just 15-20 or 30-40 plants by germination and thinning, that’s a LOT of garden space to devote to a long-growing crop that’s only going to produce a primary head for harvest and potentially a small palmful of additional small flower heads.

Meanwhile, those kits commonly only have 10-20 and 30-50 of the seeds that WOULD be reasonable to plant in larger numbers — the storage squashes, peas and beans that can be eaten fresh or dried to starchy proteins, and the corn that can also be eaten at sweet stages, roasting stages, or dried for grinding.

(I am not picking on the “inflated” numbers of tubers, cabbages, and leafy greens because they’re worth having in those numbers for various reasons.)

Even worse are the kits that claim to be feeding families that throw 200-3K strawberry seeds included in their totals. It’s not that they’re not valuable crops — they are. However, it’s not going to yield much if anything this year due to the growth cycles of those plants. (Potatoes, too.)

Know what you’re paying for.

There are good kits out there — for “regular” gardeners as well as the prepper/survivalist crowd. Look at them hard, though, for both the Top 3 reasons listed here and other considerations like calorie density, the space and time they’ll occupy, shared pests/crop rotation issues, and the neediness of the crops. Make sure what we’re paying for is worth it, from the packaging to the contents, and augment those kits as needed to cover gaps.

And then, get growing. Those seeds can’t just sit on a shelf. The learning curve is too steep.