Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Seed Banks

A tiny fraction of the seeds stored in a professional seed bank

No, this is not a building that has replaced dollars with seeds.

A Seed Bank is a location or collection of seeds that are saved as a reserve (stockpile) just in case other seeds and/or plants have been destroyed. There are a number of reasons that individuals and organizations are keeping seed banks, but the most common reasons are the loss of biodiversity or food crops secondary to natural disasters, disease outbreaks, economic collapse, wars, or man-made habitat destruction.
One popular brand of individual seed bank.

Individual Seed Banks
For the individual, there are a number of companies that sell pre-packaged seed banks, and they are sold as “emergency seed banks”, “survival seed kits”, etc. In general, these are a slightly more expensive way to always have some seeds on hand if you ever think you would need them. The big problem that I have with these products is that it often gives a person a false sense of security. Way too many people have bought one of these containers and stored it in the basement, and have never grown a tomato plant in their lives. There are too many “survivalists” that are out there, trying to make sure they are prepared for the end of the world, who have a lot of gear but no skills to use them.

While I was never a Boy Scout, I try to live my life according to the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.” To me, having a large selection of seeds, and the skills to use them to produce food, is what I am constantly striving for. Most years my garden is much smaller than I want it to be, but I am still able to produce food from it. My long-term goal is to be raising a large percentage of my family’s food. I know that will take practice and trial and error. So that is what I am working on now.

If you have the skills to grow your own food, and you have some extra cash, one of these kits may be a nice “just in case” item to have in your larder. Personally, I just have a large box filled with seed packs that I routinely use and replenish as needed. There is a growing section of my own stored seeds that will make my collection even more resilient.

Underground and inside the Kew Millennium Seed Bank

Professional Seed Banks
Now we get in to the large and very large seed banking projects. These seed banks are trying to save as many seeds as possible for all the reasons listed above, and they are doing an amazing job. The largest seed bank in the world is the Millennium Seed Bank Project. It is coordinated by the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens and is situated in West Sussex County, England. They currently have seeds from over 30,000 different species of plants. This represents over 10% of the world’s wild plant species. Astounding!

Their goal is to have 25% by the year 2020, and I think they could probably achieve this. They also perform germination tests on all species every 10 years. This is vital. If the seeds are no longer viable, then storing them is worthless. If the seeds have low rates, they can restock with fresh seeds (if they can). All the seeds are cleaned, packaged, labeled, and stored in below-freezing temperatures in the below ground, nuclear bomb-proof vault. These guys take seed storing seriously.

You can find more about the Millennium Seed Bank Project, adopt a seed, adopt a species, and even tour the facility by visiting their website here.


  1. The Best seed bank is the one which will have a great collection of seeds and will also help the preservation of knowledge of cultivation in different kinds of soil. The Survival seed bank would be a very good step towards that direction. Without saving the seeds using the Best seedbank, there will be no seeds left after a natural catastrophe. The point is that people may not have much of an alternative than Emergency seed bank.

  2. i heard you can get free seeds and cuttings from GRIN (US Gov)
    but, supposedly have to show "research" of some kind.

    i looked at the database, and everything weas very old
    from the 1900's and older.

    which makes me wonder...
    if all seed banks have to keep getting fresh material, since lots of seeds and cuttings go bad in a year or 2,
    why dont they give it all away to people who request them ?
    seems a waste just to throw them out.

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