Survival Seed Vaults: Build Your Own vs DIY Kit

Avatar for Jodie Weston Jodie Weston  |  Updated: July 5, 2018
Survival Seed Vaults: Build Your Own vs DIY Kit

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The idea that we need a seed vault is real, but do you need one that is store-bought? Not so much.

There are few things in the prepper “industry” that bug me and one of them is the commercialization and degradation of the issues that we face. A store-bought seed vault is one of those issues for me. In this blog, I look at seed vaults that are DIY or ready-made.

What is a Seed Vault?

The answer to that question varies a great deal. We have the mega example of Svalbard – the Global Seed Bank and then the off-the-shelf bag of seeds in the mylar bag. A seed vault needs to keep seeds safe and that means a container that has low moisture, is out of direct sun, and in a temperature zone that is ideal for each type of seed that you save.

seeds rice harvest

Just like people, seeds have varying needs. This is one reason why the off-the-shelf seed vaults complete with 1,000 variety of seeds are bunk to me. You can certainly by a variety of seed vaults or you can make one that is just as effective and that will likely better fit into your prepper master plan.

Why Do You Need a Seed Vault?

The idea behind a seed vault or seed bank is to supply you and your family with the means to grow food in the event of some catastrophe where the supply of regular food is interrupted or diminished. The first consideration is that it takes money to survive in this world and in the face of a natural disaster, the flow of money is often interrupted.

A seed vault helps you mitigate the need for food (down the road as it takes time to grow a garden) and to conserve the financial resources that you have available. This means that you might not have to make that tough decision between eating and buying fuel.

man planting seeds into ground

Seed vaults are also valuable because the commercial seed varieties are shrinking and changing. With the continued use of GMOs, many people are looking at safeguarding seeds that are organic. Also, of great concern to those of us who grow our own food is the loss of heirlooms that are pushed out of the market and replaced by standard types of seeds that everyone wants.

Seed vaults also resonate well with the segment of preppers who are concerned about food security. Those concerns range from the chemical additives to foods to the reliance on foreign countries to supply our food. The grow-your-own population is growing, and seed banks are highly beneficial to these people.

Seed Banks

The original seed bank is something that the farming community has used for millennia. In ancient times farmers grew extra plants so that they could harvest the seeds. In my garden, I do the same thing. I grow a half a row of this or that and I let those plants go to seed.

This practice ensures that I have the seeds I need for the next growing season. That is the exact reason why farmers save seed. In the old days, there were not mega stores where seeds were readily available. People grew and collected and saved seeds from the plants that they used.

wheat grain kernels seeds

Meals and feeding one’s family revolved around the types of plants that you could grow and the animals that you could hunt. Family recipes, meal planning, and the very culture of people developed based on food (and a few other things.)

Think about the difference between Italian food and Spanish food. Those “foods” developed based on the types of plants that grew well in those areas. Even in countries such as Italy, the variation of the same foods changes from one region to the next.

Issues with the idea of Seed Banks and Off-the-Shelf units

One thing I truly dislike about commercial seed vaults is that not all of the seeds in that vault are going to grow well in your area. The labeling too irritates me. “1,000 seeds – enough to feed two people.”

How many seeds do you need to feed a family of four for an entire year? This is not a seed vault. It is a gimmick designed to take the money from people who in my opinion rely too heavily on the idea that every prepper product is going to work, especially if you don’t have the experience to utilize it.

  • If you don’t know how to garden, how are you going to grow two acres worth of seeds and magically produce an ongoing food supply?
  • What happens when your seeds run out?
  • Do you know how to collect and save seeds?

shovel in dirt gardening

The biggest problem with store-bought seed vaults is that they are missing several links in the chain.

Some are beautifully made and comprehensive in their contents but without the knowledge to grow crops, harvest food, and save seeds, they are pretty much worthless. In the catastrophe you might even face greater challenges to growing food then you would under normal circumstances. There is also the big “time” issue to solve too. Crops are not magically ready in a day or a month. They can take 60-180 days to see eatable foods.

beets vegetables

At the heart of what we do is that we prepare. That must go past the fact that we can just buy a bunch of seeds or ready-made meals. Somewhere in all of this must be the grout the secures each step in our prepping plan. To simply amass all these things and expect that they will fit perfectly into our lives or even work is at best, hopeful.

I have seen a variety of seed vaults over the years and the idea that we are building a mini version of Svalbard is not too far off. The difference is that we do not need all of the technology. Quality seed vaults are not long-term storage systems. They need to only hold seeds for a few years at best. The reason why is that your system should be one of use and replace, not store until needed.

Seed Vaults – DIY vs. Store Bought

In my opinion, if they sell you only the vault and not the seeds and you need a place to store seeds, then great. If they are selling you a bunch of seeds, then you likely don’t need this product. The reason is that your seed vault needs to be filled with seeds that are tried and true in your location.

You are wasting money buying seeds that are never going to grow in your location. A good example of this are places where the growing season is short, and your feed vault is full of melons and peppers that take 120 days to mature.

green pea boy holding

A Seed bank is easy to assemble. Mine is a thick-walled wooden chest in which I have containers. I use paper envelopes for many seeds, such as beans and peas. I use Mason jars for storing seeds that are more sensitive such as rutabaga seeds.

There is also a spot in the chest for a collection of seeds for later use. I never use my entire stock of seeds. One crop failure would mean that I am out my entire stock of seeds. I use the 90:10 rule – I use 90 percent of the seeds and save 10 percent for the next year. I also collect seeds at the end of each harvest.

Everything goes into a glass container. For me, it is Mason jars. Some, I put on the lids and others, I leave to air. Anything with a lid gets a couple of paper towels to help control moisture. Seed environments should not be 100 percent dry as the seeds will dry out and then die.

The idea of using a jar with a lid works because the moisture level in the jar diminishes slowly over time and the paper towels help to absorb the excess moisture. Big seeds, such as beans, do just fine in an open jar for a year or two. The longer you plan on keeping the seeds the better the system has to be to control moisture.

mason jars

I store my seed vault in a closet in my house where the temperature remains mostly even year-round. I also keep a very small version of my seed vault in an old jewelry box with 5-25 seeds of everything I grow in it. This is also stored in the closet and is part of the bug-out equipment that I take with me, should I have to leave the property. That little bundle of seeds is all I need to replace the bigger chest.

The bottom line for me is that a DIY seed vault fits better into your life than do most of the store-bought versions. I grow about 75 percent of what I eat and I understand how to grow everything in my seed vault. If you take nothing from this article but one thing, please take the idea that you must garden and grow the seeds in your seed vault before you need to use that vault during a catastrophic event.

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15 Responses to “Survival Seed Vaults: Build Your Own vs DIY Kit”

  1. I save some seeds from what I grow, but only a few items. I would like to save more extensively, but some seeds I save do not remain viable. I am curious if any one has (or has read about) saving seeds in mason jars with the oxygen removed? And/or refrigerated? Numerous variables in storage conditions, I realize, and do not want to spend too much time experimenting when others may have already done so systematically, and may have already posted results. Would be great to have a common database/forum where folks could post their attempts with all relevant conditions. Maybe the Seed to Seed book could help here. Bottom line, I suspect some seeds can be kept for quite some time, while others would need cold, dark, oxygen, some moisture, etc. Just looking for a resource that might contain such info. Anyone?

  2. I have done both. I save seeds, with great success AND I bought a pre-canned vault. Now those pre-packaged vaults claim anywhere from 5 – 10 years storage and still viable. I tested that. After 7 years I opened the first one I bought and planted the seeds. Some germinated, some not so much. (So those were only good for 5 years. Lesson learned) What I do like about the pre-packaged vaults is the seed variety. While I may be buying all my onions at the super market right now, in a future event I may have to grow my own (Yes, onions grow well in my area…I am just to lazy to grow them. LOL) I also buy seeds at the dollar store to put back for barter. I have tested those too….they are good, climate controled, for about 3 years as they are packaged. (I wait til they are 10/$1 so if I never use them for anything I haven’t lost much….but I try and plant any seed before it gets to old to grow and replace it with fresh as soon as I find it on sale.)

  3. If you want to be sure your seeds are heirloom, try Baker Creek seeds. They do not sell any hybrids or GMO. If you have a question they will answer your email in a day or two. They guarantee that their seeds will germinate for 2 years or they will replace the seed at no charge.

    Seed saving is a skill that takes time. I’m a Master Gardener and have grown a veggie garden for 40 years. It still took 3 years before any of the seeds I tried to save were actually viable. A great resource is the book Seed to Seed by Ashworth available (used) for around $8 online. Well worth the money.

    Saving seeds in glass jars with tight fitting lids extends the life by 50%. Putting the glass jar into the refrigerator will usually double the life of the seeds. I put all of the seeds I need for a whole garden in paper envelopes in a glass jar painted black to keep out light. I usually have enough jars in the fridge to last about 3 years.

    To understand the vulnerability of our seeds and food sources read about food scarcity in England during WW11–6 years of war, 15 years of rationing, people lost 25 pounds the first year and 3-5 each year thereafter until the end of the war. It’s not enough to store seeds. You need to be able to grow them in your area. Also most veggies are to low in calories to keep you alive, so look for high calorie, high nutrition vegetable seeds–potatoes, corn, beans, squash, kale, leeks–not lettuce, radishes, cucumbers etc.

    • You are spot on, Farmer Phyl. The best time to begin gardening was thirty years ago. I’ve been at it for more than fifty years and I learn something new every, single year.

  4. //

    I have found Territorial to be good in the Pacific Northwest and any zone that fits. They have three different Seed collection kits .

  5. Your article expressed my concerns about buying a can of seeds to have for “later”. I would have liked to see pictures of your seed vault or links where you can buy a vault though.

    • You don’t need to buy a “vault.” Seeds you buy that come in small envelopes or even plastic bags will last for at least two years if you simply keep them in a veggie drawer in your fridge. I put mine in small cardboard boxes, pill bottles or jars or tins. Larger seeds like corn, beans and peas store well for at least two years in mason jars even without refrigeration.

      The reason I refrigerate my seeds is because I live in Arizona where storing many seeds outside a fridge means they’ll be too warm and too dry and lose viability more rapidly.

      As a rule, the smaller the seed the sooner it will lose viability. If kept in a dark, preferably cool place, like a root cellar, even small seeds will last for years. without refrigeration.

      You are on the right track if you are planning to save and store seeds you have actually grown in your own garden. If you look on the packet it will either say heirloom or open pollinated, hybrid (or F1, F2 or F plus some other number which means it’s a hybrid) or nothing–which, as Gaye said in this article, usually means it’s open pollinated.

      If you plan to save seed you need either heirloom or open pollinated seeds as they will breed true. Also, learning how to plant and grow vegetables, when is the right time to harvest them, how best to prepare them for storage and (especially) how to save their seed takes years of practice. Gardening is a skill set, part science and part art that requires time to acquire.

      Unlike many, my “seed vault” also contains hybrids. I don’t have them there to save their seed. They are there because many of them have desirable traits like resistance to diseases, often referred to as hybrid vigor. Think of them as an insurance policy as they will grow and produce crops with greater certainty than many heirlooms. My other reason for including hybrid seeds is that my wife and I love the flavor of (for example) Jelly Bean and Sweet 100 tomatoes, and Short n Sweet carrots.

      Caution: if you are planning to save seeds it is best to grow only one variety of a given crop at a time to avoid cross pollination. For example both DiCiccio and Calabrese broccoli are favorites of ours but I never grow them at the same time. This year DiCiccio was my Spring crop and I’m harvesting seeds from the single best plant right now. When that’s done I’ll pull that sole remaining broccoli plant. Then, later this month or early next month, I’ll plant Calabrese broccoli as my Fall crop. Since I sometimes don’t get to save seed from my Fall crop of broccoli I’ll plant Calabrese as my Spring crop next year.

      I never plant ALL of the seeds of any one variety. Like Gaye Levy, at Backdoor Survival, I plant at most 90% of any given seed stock–and for the most part it’s more like 50%. I keep the rest in reserve in case of crop failure and because some years your crops simply produce better, stronger seeds than in other years.

      Example: Two years ago my Scarlet Nantes carrots produced an abundance of good, viable seeds. Whereas last year seeds from those same carrots struggled to produce any seeds at all. This Spring I planted some of those seeds I’d saved from last year’s crop and was hugely disappointed–though not surprised–when they mostly failed to germinate. I switched to the seed from two years ago and got an excellent crop–from which I selected the healthiest plant and saved seed again this year. I’ll grow that seed in my Fall/Winter garden this year and see how it performs.

      I applaud your decision to grow and save your own seeds as I agree with Gaye that the seed banks sold at the large seed suppliers are not tailored to your area and will produce unreliable results.

  6. I have been using only heirloom tomatoes for the past couple of years and the in-house early starts are all from last years saved seeds. This is proving to be quite easy. One problem I have is for the smaller vegetables is to find those that on the package that say heirloom or hybrid? If they say nothing about it how do you know. this season I put out radishes late and only got a few while the rest bolted. Instead of pulling them up and putting in something else I decided to let a number of them to go to seed. What are my chances of having viable radishes next planting season or even later this season?

    • The commercial standard is that seeds are open pollinated (heirloom) unless it says hybrid on the package, so if it says nothing either way it probably is heirloom. Many seed companies don’t follow that standard any more so you still need to do a check of that particular variety on Google to see if it is hybrid or not.

  7. You are absolutely correct! Our garden was a huge disappointment this year,due to torrential rains. There were times when it was a week or more before we could literally set foot in the garden without miring up to the knees! One day’s worth of work was only a drop in the bucket toward weeding before another heavy rain. Weeds and grass, however, had no problem! Our tomatoes are stunted, the corn didn’t pollinate well, the peas and pole beans got overgrown with weeds, as did the yellow squash. Our eggplants did marvelously well. You never know what nature has in store from one year to the next! Always save some of your seed for another planting, if need be!

  8. This has been on my mind for awhile now. I’ve been wanting to research more on how to save & store seed so this article helped. Should the seeds be replaced each year?

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