Seed Longevity


Beans and peas often have good seed longevity.

I’ve discussed the issue of seed longevity before. In many cases, it’s worth trying to germinate older seed. But just how old? Thereby hangs a tale…
One of the benefits of the internet is that you can often find scanned copies of old books and articles you might otherwise never lay eyes on. (Of course, you can also find everything from junk to outright c**p.) What I found was a handy little booklet published by the USDA in 1978 titled “Principles and Practice of Safe Seed Storage.” Its 259 pages are crammed with data on seed saving, seed longevity and seed storage. It includes research from back in the day when Big Ag hadn’t started to sway studies with money – meaning the data is much more likely to be honest.

Setting up for seed germination testing.

Among the studies the authors mention were the following:
A researcher named A. J. Ewart tested seeds sent from Kew Gardens in England to Melbourne, Australia, in 1856. They had been stored in a dark, dry cabinet for at least 50 years. Many of the seeds germinated and grew. Scientists G. Aufhammer and U. Simon proved that barley and oat seeds 123 years old could be germinated successfully. In 1906 and 1934, Paul Becquerel conducted germination tests of seeds collected as early as 1776. He successfully germinated seeds 158 years old.
I discovered in my reading that the stories of seeds from the Pyramids are just that – stories. No one has ever successfully germinated wheat from a pyramid. However, a seed from a date palm found in 1973 at the ancient Jewish fortress of Masada was germinated in 2005. The date palm seed was from an extinct species, the Judean date palm, and was estimated to be 1,900 years old. The seedling that resulted was named Methuselah. The Anasazi cave bean was discovered in ancient ruins in the early 1900s. It may have been as much as 750 years old, but the original seeds were apparently never carbon-dated. Researchers have found that hard-coated seeds typically have the greatest longevity – members of the legume family tend to be the winners in this race.

An overnight soak often helps in germinating hard-coated seeds like legumes and morning glories.

When you buy seed, you should consider these facts:

  • A seed packet sold this year may contain seeds that are several years old. The packet says “packaged for 2020.” It doesn’t tell you when the seeds were grown.
  • Germination tests vary according to the state. Your seed might have been tested as early as six months or as long as 18 months after harvest. The seed may have been tested as long as 36 months prior to sale. By the way, flower seeds are exempt from testing regulations.
  • You may store your seeds properly, but you have no way of knowing how they were stored by the grower, seed company, transporter or store from which you bought them.
  • Wish books!

    If you buy new seeds every year, how you store them probably doesn’t matter as long as you don’t allow them to get wet. If you save your own, store them in the coolest, driest conditions possible. The best option is to place seeds that are carefully labeled and very well-sealed in a glass jar in the fridge. Scatter desiccant packets in the jars to take care of any residual moisture. You will know exactly how old they are. If you do the job right, it may be that your great-grandchildren will know as well.

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    Food Map USA


    Wild plums from our trees.

    I talk a lot about food on this blog – growing it, harvesting it, prepping it, preserving it and cooking it. It’s probably the most basic of human needs outside of water. You can cobble together a shelter in an emergency (we’re not talking modern housing, OK?). You can scavenge something to wear. But if the cupboard is bare, you’re SOL. So this food map should make you sit up and pay attention.

    These eggs feed us, pigs, dogs, cats and (if hard-boiled and smashed) the chickens themselves.

    For most people, their food comes from somewhere else. It’s transported by trucks, planes and trains, all of which run on oil. As the food map shows, a tremendous amount of that food comes from a very few locations. A whopping lot of it comes from southern California – six counties, as a matter of fact. In other words, your food supply is dependent on a LONG supply chain. What do you think is likely to happen to this food map if there’s a trucker’s strike, a major California earthquake (The Big One is long overdue) or we get into a shooting war in the Middle East?

    Summer apples, grown on our trees.

    Summer squash: Black Zucchini, Early Prolific Straightneck, Cocozelle, Yellow Patty Pan and a few Crystal Apple cucumbers.

    It ain’t going to be pretty. Now is an excellent time to take a good hard look at your local food sources. Support them – it could be your life you save.

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    Old-Fashioned Cooking: Elva’s 90-Minute Bread


    These cinnamon rolls from 90-minute bread beat Starbuck’s any time!

    In this modern-day-take-it-out-of-the-freezer-and shove-it-in-the-microwave world, we often lose sight of what real food tastes like. Not too surprising, when you look at the ingredient lists on most prepared foods. Many so-called foods have more chemicals than food ingredients. I figure if you can’t even pronounce half the ingredients, you shouldn’t rely on it as a major food source. On the other hand, just think about beef stew or chili simmering slowly through the day, ready to warm the cockles of your heart – not to mention your cold hands – come dinner time. Or home-made breakfast burritos or Cornish pasties, stored in the freezer for those mornings when you can barely find the kitchen, let alone think up a menu.

    People born during the years of the Great Depression were often indelibly marked by their circumstances. They had the double whammy of depression and World War II. My husband’s mother, born in 1924 in a remote Idaho valley, was the granddaughter of the first settlers in the area. Her grandmother was the first white child born in the valley (I don’t like the term “white” as it connotes racial differences, which are nonsense, but it’s probably better than “European” or some of the other possibilities).

    Elva Shaw, as she was then, grew up in a world where the ranch wife typically cooked on a wood stove, used a hand pump and an outhouse. She took a bath on Saturday night in front of the kitchen fire. Most women washed clothes in a washtub with a scrub board. The house was lit with oil lamps or candles. Rural electrification didn’t really begin until the mid-1930s. Cars and trucks did travel the roads, but mostly in summer – mud and snow made mush of the dirt and gravel surfaces. Tractors were also in use, but many farmers still preferred draft horses for plowing, haymaking and feeding stock in the winter. For that matter, my father-in-law still raised Belgians and used them regularly when I met the family in the late 70s.

    Elva spent her entire life as a ranch wife, other than a few years in a retirement home when she was nearing 80. She was a wonderful cook and – like most ranch wives – short on time. This versatile bread came from her recipe book. One batch of 90-minute bread makes four loaves, but it’s easy to make a single loaf as well. In addition to 90-minute bread, the dough also makes great cinnamon rolls, a favorite of Elva’s oldest son. You can also make rolls to go with something like a cream soup.


    Elva’s 90-Minute Bread
    4 tablespoons yeast
    4 cups warm water
    8 tablespoons sugar
    4 teaspoons salt
    4 tablespoons melted butter
    8-10 cups flour

    Mix water, sugar and yeast and let it sit (proof) until yeast is dissolved and starting to bubble. Add other ingredients. Stir in flour. Knead for 10 minutes. Divide dough into 4 sections. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes. Beat (literally – whack it hard!) each piece with the edge of a bread board or knife handle for about one minute, then allow flattened pieces to sit for 5 minutes. Shape into 4 loaves. Put in greased pans and let rise about 30 minutes. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, 20 minutes for rolls.
    For cinnamon rolls, brush on melted butter, sprinkle heavily with white or brown sugar mixed with cinnamon and sprinkle on chopped nuts and/or raisins). Roll tightly, slice into 12 rolls per quarter of the dough. Place rolls in a buttered pan and pour cream over the top until it’s about 1/2-inch deep in the pan. Cinnamon rolls typically take about 30-35 minutes to cook. Turn them out of the pan when they are still fairly warm. Otherwise, the combination of cream, butter and sugar will harden to the pan like cement.

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