Survival Seeds in a Can-9 Years Later

"Vintage" 2000 Nitro Pak Survival Garden Seed Can
"Vintage" 2000 Nitro Pak Survival Garden Seed Can

I, like some of you, have in the past purchased canned or packed “survival seeds” that are advertised as if they can be saved and planted when disaster hits.  Mine came from Nitro Pak Preparedness Center and were packed for 2000 (yep, that’s 9 years ago).  We didn’t get into the Y2K scare, so it’s really just coincidence that that is the year they were packed for, but I’m guessing I’m not the only one that has a can or two of these seeds sitting on the food room shelf waiting to plant them until I “need” them.  They are non-hybrid seeds, meaning they produce seed that will grow the same plant it came from when it is planted, so you are supposed to be able to harvest your seeds and grow more food next year with it.

I decided this year to plant as many non-hybrids or heirloom varieties as I can in my garden, so in addition to purchasing more heirloom seeds, I pulled out these cans and opened them up.  Inside was an oxygen pack, the seed packs, and a 2 page front/back printed set of instructions for gathering seed that left me slightly confused (this is easy to do).

Some of the varieties like beans and corn are annuals.  These will produce seed this fall.  Some like carrots, spinach, and beets are Biennial and will not produce seeds until NEXT growing season.  So I have to wait until next year to get seeds off some of these plants.  That means that if it were a survival situation, I could only eat some of the beets this year, then I’d have to leave some to go to seed next year (in some cases the biennials need special care to overwinter).  Then I’d be able to plant more the following year.  Are you seeing where this might be a problem if you’re starving?

In thinking I needed a little more information in my non-hybrid garden adventure, I searched out a book to help me and ended up with Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth.  It has specific directions on planting, growing, pollinating, and harvesting seed from about any vegetable you could want to grow.  It even has pictures–I love pictures–they teach me faster than words do.  This should help me out far more than the insert in the seed can–glad I didn’t have to rely on the scant information in the can to grow the plants and harvest the seeds correctly.

Rutgers Tomatoes grown from Survival Seed canI didn’t know what to expect from the 9 year old seeds, so I’ve planted some in Jiffy pots along with my seeds packed for this year, and here’s what’s happened so far.  (My kids helped plant the seeds, so that may give a small margin of error to my findings.)
The tomato seeds are Rutgers tomatoes and came up very well.  They actually had better germination rates than the new seeds I purchased this year.  I had 100% germination on these, and the plants are all healthy.

Onions on the left, Peppers on the right
Onions on the left, Peppers on the right

The peppers are bell peppers and the onions are White Lisbon Bunching onions.  These pictures were taken 22 days after planting.  I had exactly Zero pepper plants sprout (while the new pepper varieties all had 100% germination) and 4 of 56 onion seeds sprout.  The onion sprouts are very weak compared to the onion sprouts from this year’s seed and I don’t think I will even be transplanting them into the garden.
I’ve direct seeded the spinach, lettuce, and carrot seeds into the garden this week, and will be seeding the beans in the next few weeks, so I’ll report on those when and if they sprout :)

Peas from 2001 seed
Peas from 2001 seed

I did not plant the pea seeds from the can as I wanted all one variety of peas to make maintaining seed purity easier on me and I had more of another variety, but I did plant peas that were packed for 2001 and have been kept in the food room in a plastic grocery sack (no special, oxygen free environment for these seeds).  The picture was taken a couple of weeks ago.  I laid the seed in the rows pretty thick, so cannot calculate germination percent, but can say that I have quite a few peas coming up from those old seeds.
So if you have an old can of survival seeds in your preps, you might consider replacing them unless you can live on peas and tomatoes.  And going along with Wade’s Skills as a Prep post, if you have purchased non hybrid seeds to grow as a “survival garden”, you may want to plant them now and learn how to save your seed before you need to.  If you mess it up now, you can buy more seeds, but if you mess it up when that’s all you have it will be more than just an inconvenience.

24 thoughts on “Survival Seeds in a Can-9 Years Later”

  1. Forgot to mention the cans have been stored in my food storage room at whatever house we have lived in during those 9 years. Always dry, and usually cool. We’ve rarely had a basement, so they’ve been kept in the coolest place we could find in the house. Just a bit more background on the seeds . . . :)

  2. Forgot to mention the cans have been stored in my food storage room at whatever house we have lived in during those 9 years. Always dry, and usually cool. We’ve rarely had a basement, so they’ve been kept in the coolest place we could find in the house. Just a bit more background on the seeds . . . :)

  3. I just re-read this and wanted to say, I STRONGLY agree with your assessment in your final paragraph! Buying seeds and storing them is great, but if you don’t garden and you think that in rough times you’re just going to throw some seeds out and save yourself, you’re dead wrong! Gardening is not as easy as it looks – it’s a lot of hard work! It is both a skill you need to learn and a way of life. Not only that, but you need to make sure you know how to preserve both your harvest and your seeds. Practicing that now is paramount if you plan to sustain yourself off of self-grown food in an emergency.

  4. I just re-read this and wanted to say, I STRONGLY agree with your assessment in your final paragraph! Buying seeds and storing them is great, but if you don’t garden and you think that in rough times you’re just going to throw some seeds out and save yourself, you’re dead wrong! Gardening is not as easy as it looks – it’s a lot of hard work! It is both a skill you need to learn and a way of life. Not only that, but you need to make sure you know how to preserve both your harvest and your seeds. Practicing that now is paramount if you plan to sustain yourself off of self-grown food in an emergency.

  5. I found a post at Preparedness Pantry that talks about some seeds planted after about 6 years. Not sure how they were stored, etc. I do think that it’s a good idea to have some seeds in your food storage. Thanks for the post.

  6. I found a post at Preparedness Pantry that talks about some seeds planted after about 6 years. Not sure how they were stored, etc. I do think that it’s a good idea to have some seeds in your food storage. Thanks for the post.

  7. None of us can predict the future. We’re all only too aware of certain disasters caused by climate change in terms of whole communities being wiped out because of hurricane force winds and floods, the frequency of which seem to be getting even more common. By having seeds which you have harvested and kept, this means that should you ever be faced with a survival situation which means you have to relocate, then with the non-hybrid seeds you have collected, you can start growing food such as tomatoes, corn and peas again.

  8. None of us can predict the future. We’re all only too aware of certain disasters caused by climate change in terms of whole communities being wiped out because of hurricane force winds and floods, the frequency of which seem to be getting even more common. By having seeds which you have harvested and kept, this means that should you ever be faced with a survival situation which means you have to relocate, then with the non-hybrid seeds you have collected, you can start growing food such as tomatoes, corn and peas again.

  9. I just started trying to grow food last summer and it went well, although I didn't use “survival seeds”. I live in Minnesota and I am wondering if these seeds are zone sensitive when you buy them in a packaged survival garden. Do these seeds just grow anywhere?

  10. This is great info.  I have some heirloom seeds in my freezer from a different company and after reading your experience I will be opening them up and doing as you did.  Glad I found your site.

  11. A few years late to the party, but I’m wondering, do you know of any places in Utah Valley or Salt Lake that are good sources for buying heirloom seeds? I’m looking to go all heirloom this year, and trying to find a local source if I can.

    Thanks!

  12. Well, it’s nice to seed that at least some seeds sprouted after nine years, which is almost twice as expected shelf life for most vegetable seeds. If there were stored in refrigerator, I’m sure germination rate would be a bit higher. Still, the only right way is to plant the seeds, collect them, and do that every year to ensure your seed stock is fresh..

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