Survival Gardening … Make your own seed vault

When I first started prepping, I knew how important it would be to have plenty of garden seed on hand in case of a severe crisis.  So I would purchase seed vaults online that had lots of seed, could store a long time and had lots of variety.  However the problem with these commercially made seed vaults is that that contain all sorts of varieties that probably wouldn’t do well in my specific climate and location.  I knew a lot of the seed would not do well here.

So about the same time that I started putting staple foods in my own long term storage, I decided to do the same with garden seed.  For me, long term storage means the items are inside sealed Mylar bags with either desiccants or oxygen absorbers inside.  This bag was then inside a sealed 5-6 gallon plastic container.  These containers are stored inside a prepper room I built in my upper barn that has its own AC unit, so the room stays in the 60s or less year round.

Now I understand gardens seed will not last anywhere near as long as my food items.  Things like dried beans, rice, wheat berries, etc. can last 30+ years in such conditions.  Most seed would last only a few years.  So each year, I put up a new container of garden seed.  Each container (seed vault) contains the basic garden seed that could sustain my family for a year, along with fruits & berries from my orchard, catfish from the pond & wild game in the woods.  These seed are varieties I grow each and every year, so I know they do well in my specific location.  I don’t have anywhere near the number of varieties found in commercial seed vaults, but every seed I have are varieties that grow here with minimal to no fertilizers & other garden chemicals… even though I keep more than a year’s supply of such in storage.

My philosophy on survival gardening is to keep it simple.  I also wish to extend the growing season as long as possible, which is pretty long here in north Mississippi.  So my seed vaults all contain cool weather varieties.  Tops for me are collard greens.  They grow early spring & late fall & produce huge crops of nutrient packed leaves.  I normally include some English peas, which also are cool loving, but this year I put them in my freezer in the barn, for very long term storage.  For warm weather varieties, my core crops are the three sisters, grown for ages by native Americans all over this country.  They include corn, pole beans & winter squash.  They are called companion plants because they all assist the others.  Corn grows tall & strong, and provides the support for the pole bean vines to grow on.  The pole beans, being a legume, fix nitrogen on their roots & provide natural fertilizer for the corn.  The winter squash vines stay low to the grown & provide ground cover to help maintain soil moisture & to smother weeds.

I always include amaranth in my seed stores and I feel amaranth is probably the most valuable variety for survival gardening.  It was a staple crop of the Maya civilization in central America.  Its leaves are super nutritious as are its seed.  Each plant can produce a half pound of seed each and the seed are tiny.  A single plant will produce hundreds of thousands of seed.  Amaranth in its native form, which I have growing wild on my property, is a weed.  You almost can’t kill it.  Across the country farmers fight it because it grows so well & reproduces so fast.  This family trait makes the commercial varieties so easy to grow.  They handle drought well, as do most weeds.  Cut the top half of the plant off, and in a few weeks it will have regrown.  These plants can get over 6 feet tall.  The seed can be ground into flour or eaten as a porridge.

So here is what is in this year’s seed vault:

10 lbs Rattlesnake pole beans   5 lbs Tennessee Red Cob corn, 5 lbs Truckers Favorite corn

1 lb Georgia Southern collards      1/4 lb Seminole pumpkins   1/4 lb Green Callallo amaranth

Seed count is as follows:  corn: 12,800     pole beans: 11,000      Seminole pumpkin: 1100

Georgia Southern collards: 100,000   Green Callallo amaranth: 150,000

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  • Comments (23)

    • 5

      Excellent post Redneck! Assuming open pollinated varieties, seed saving from those crops would keep you going for years with good nutrition. This spring I’ve been selectively allowing known edible weeds to keep their spots in my garden too, a very hardy & easy bit of food.

      In my own storage I do include multiple favorite varieties that I’ve grown successfully for the simple reason that each year’s weather can vary so much here (northern CA) so different varieties will prosper from year to year by climate or pest pressures. Certainly that’s more complicated though, storage wise. 

      Just curious, what do you do with your aging seed? I tend to keep it too long & then feel bad about tossing it out…and not sure if chickens should have it.

      • 5

        All my seed is open pollinated.  This summer I’m gonna open up my oldest seed, which is around 7 years old I think, and try some tests to see if any of it will germinate.  If none, or very few, I’ll go to the next oldest & repeat until I see around 50% germination.  That will give me a benchmark on how long I can store seed in my conditions.

        All my seed is bought commercially and I would assume has been treated somewhat.  I wouldn’t feed that to chickens.

      • 1

        Thanks for the reply! Sounds like a good plan. 

      • 2

        Redneck – this is badass. Kudos and great work on building your own seed stores and vault! And great job at experimenting to figure out how long your seed stores will last while still germinating. That’s a great thing to narrow down.

        You say:
        >Each container contains .. catfish from the pond

        Do you mean processed meat that you have prepared or preserved to eat later? fish eggs so you can start a new population? If so, how do you store them?

      • 2

        Obviously a poorly constructed sentence.  What I was attempting to say is our survival would be based upon growing food from the seed in the vault, plus calories we could harvest from the orchard, wild game from the woods and catfish from the pond.  So no I don’t store catfish in the containers, as my sentence implied.  🙂 

        But my pond does have an extreme population of hundreds of grain fed catfish.  About the only ones eating the catfish now are the bald eagles.  Saw another one yesterday down at the pond.

    • 5


      We had a small farm on the Springfield Plateau of the Ozarks for a dozen years and I was getting a few varieties of my favorite OP crops localized. 

      Mainly Old Homestead/Blue Lake/ Rattler pole beans I’d let cross. We grew a bunch. And some turtle beans I tried to let dry but these were hard work.

      An OP yellow dent corn that probably had mixed with Mandan Bride and a sweet OP I can’t remember was doing pretty well, lots of hybrid field corn around so no telling what kind of Frankenstein that was.

      A russet style potato I been replanting with different varieties for a while, though never really grew enough to be viable as survival seed.

      Unfortunately I had thought we were moving back to the west coast permanently so I didn’t keep any of these. Now we’re back in the Ozarks and I’m kicking myself.

      I actually ordered some Amaranth this year to experiment with on your endorsement, Redneck. If you kick over a dirt clod here the next day there is a stand of pigweed sprouting! (Spiny Amaranth) So I figure a less noxious variety might do well.

      • 2

        I try not to let my varieties hybridize.  I generally only plant one variety at a time, so that makes it simple.  Years ago, while testing which varieties performed best in my climate, I would have several varieties growing at the same time, but I would never save that seed.

        What variety of amaranth are you trying?  My favorite so far is green callaloo (Chinese spinach) that I get from Eden Brothers.  It puts out tons of leaves & plenty of seed too.  Doesn’t get overly tall too, like some of the seed varieties.

      • 3

        A good local landrace is always better in my opinion. No matter what you do, if you’re saving seed you’re selecting, might as well do it intentionally.

        I bought 5lbs of Plainsman seed to try cooking with, it’s what’s grown here, a hybrid of two old grain varieties. I’m gonna plant some for the chicks to forage and I’ll try to save a little for me just to see what it reverts to. I also ordered some red from Baker Creek, “Princes feathers” and caudatus which is a 60 day variety both are old. I should have tried some green but I don’t have a lot of room right now.

    • 5

      I was watching some food forest videos last night, and the homesteader was saying he prefers the “lazy” method of buying seed packs with tons of varieties, because he can just plant them willy-nilly and nature will sort out the rest in terms of what will grow well in that climate etc etc. What do you think about that approach vs. taking the time to optimize what’s in your seed vault? 

      • 5

        IMO, that is the perfect recipe for starvation.  Nature will sort his genes out of the gene pool.

        Now if you are just playing around with varieties, and you aren’t dependent on your crops for survival, then this is fine.  But this is not fine if you are creating seed vaults for your possible survival.

        IMO, for a seed vault, you want varieties that will provide complete nutrition and that you know for a fact grow well in your specific location.  Just because the description says it does well in your growing zone doesn’t mean squat.  You have to grow it yourself first and compare it to similar varieties. 

        Then besides growing well in normal times, what about how will that specific variety do if you can no longer run to the store for fertilizer or chemical sprays?  I try not to reinvent the wheel.  Native Americans grew the three sisters long before there were any stores.  Many also grew amaranth, which is related to weeds, and thus grows great without much, if any, care.  I have tries several varieties of winter squash and always had issues with the squash bugs.  Then I tried Seminole pumpkins, which were grown in Florida by the Seminole Indians well before the Spanish arrived.  I figured if they could grow it in Florida, then it should work for me… and it does incredible.  Squash bugs will get in there but they don’t kill the vines.  Plus the squash tastes wonderful & will store over the winter in your garage or shed.  And are they ever productive!

      • 6

        I heartily agree with Redneck on that, I’ve had gardens over 30 years. Nature will sort it out alright: survival of the fittest equals WEEDS, and most are not going to be the useful/edible ones unless you deliberately sort them out as they grow which requires proper identification early on also. 

        Even of the few veggies that survive, with that approach how do you even know what’s what? Most gardeners without many years of experience would have no idea what all is there, edible or otherwise, not to mention picking it at the optimum nutrition or storage phase to maximize its value. Another big problem would be cross pollination of similar varieties that can lead to undesirable results. BAD IDEA. Once we had cucumbers that crossed with cantaloupe, gross tasting, and of course can’t save that seed.

        Start a garden & learn to do it properly for your location; there’s no shortcut for that hands on experience. It doesn’t need to be a traditional row type garden, honestly mine are always a mess, wild looking, with tasty (known) edible weeds happily rubbing shoulders with planted veggies, fruit trees, berries….however, I know everything that’s there & how to maintain & use it, or how to replace it with another personally tested variety. Otherwise, plan on bartering with someone who has that skill & experience. 

    • 3

      I am always so impressed by the posts you make on here. You understand what plants work together, which ones require the least amount of work, which ones produce the most nutrients, and everything in between.

      Are there any new varieties you are going to try out this year? I remember you grew luffas for the first time last year.

      • 3

        Thanks Olly.  You are exceedingly kind.

        Yep and I saved some luffa seed to plant again this year.  I have some dipper gourd seed that I’m gonna try this year, along with all sorts of other decorative gourds.  My wife loves them for fall decoration.  I want to try the dipper type as the native Americans used them.

      • 2

        Those are funky looking! Hope they turn out well for you.


    • 3

      Thank you for sharing! This is year two for our garden and I think it will be an equally big learning experiment for us this year. Not sure how much the crazy April weather we had in the PNW this week is going to affect things though. Everything was sprouting beautifully last week before the sleet, hail, and freezing temperatures hit. 

      We did have some accidental gardening occurring. My husband discovered several carrots that had grown over the winter, along with some spinach and lettuce. We were also surprised to find a bunch of pumpkin sprouts. Apparently he let the kids bust up their pumpkins in the garden boxes after Halloween this year and now we have pumpkins growing. Lol. Our everbearing strawberries have also tripled in quantity since last year. I guess we’ll know in a few weeks how much the weather has damaged things, but that should be enough time to replant for the summer if necessary. 

    • 2

      Good post!

      Just wanted to add that, if you have a vacuum sealer, you can throw seeds into a few small bags, seal them, and extend their time a little more, similar enough to your desiccant and oxygen absorber idea. I just thought about small packs for ease of transport, trade, etc.

      • 2

        Yep, I also have Mylar bags that hold a quart & some that hold a gallon.  They come in handy.  If you note in that first pic, I used a small Mylar bag to package up some seed.

    • 1

      Great info, Redneck! Let us know how your 7 year old seed works out!

      For the amounts you listed that you keep in your seed vault, how many people are you expecting that to feed? Making some purchases of my own and I wasn’t sure how to scale.

      • 2

        I’m gonna have to wait till next year to check germination on old seed.  I just don’t have time this year.  We have been very busy at work plus the very high daytime temps here have restricted the number of hours I can work in a day.  We have had feel like temps well above 100 for most days the last few weeks and still continuing.  I will retire in a few months, so I will have plenty of time next year.

        Scaling the amount of seed you will need depends on so many factors, I doubt what I do would apply to anyone else.  I try to plan on providing food for around 20 people in an extended crisis.  I would have multiple seed vaults to use, plus other seeds long term stored in my freezer.  I would likewise hope I’d be able to get more at the beginning of the crisis.

        Some of the other factors in feeding others is that I live in the country and would have a good bit of wild game initially.  I also have a pond full of grain fed catfish and there is a tremendous amount of readily available meat in there.  I also have extensive fruit trees, berries, grapes & nuts growing in my orchard & yards.  My orchard has over 150 trees in it.  Also several of my neighbors have cattle herds & I’m sure I can arrange a trade for some beef.

        Another factor for everyone would be how fast can you prepare beds for the seed to go in?  Do you have the tools to ramp up production quickly?

      • 1

        Thanks, Redneck, I agree everyone’s situation is different but that’s helpful to hear how many you’re planning to feed (along with your other sources of food).

        Are there any tools you have found particularly helpful when it comes to bed preparation/harvesting?

      • 3

        Best tool I have is my tractor and a bottom plow.  That can create large garden plots in a short amount of time plus can easily & quickly keep a patch in shape by turning the weed grass over & smothering it.  I do keep many gallons of diesel fuel in stock so that in a crisis, I can quickly ramp up food production.

        Besides that, I do keep lots of shovels, rakes & hoes in stock… enough for many people to use.  But you need industrial grade hoes in such a situation and I love my Rogue field hoes.  They will last a lifetime, are incredibly sharp and have a nice heavy head.  They are great for manually removing sod so as to start a garden and can easily build rows.  They do wonders when hoeing a garden patch to remove the grass & weeds between rows.


        hoe 1

        hoe 2

        My stand & plant seeder is a wonderful tool for planting a garden by hand.  I love mine & discussed it here:


        Another garden tool that is great is my stainless hori hori knife.  I use it for in close weeding & for planting established plants.  It is also great for removing dead plants.


      • 2

        Thanks Redneck, that’s super helpful. I’ve never had a garden big enough to need a rake. What is your main function of a rake and is it like the rogue cultivating rakes or something different?

        Have you found any particular tools that have been helpful to you when it comes time for harvesting?

      • 2

        I use garden rakes & leaf rakes, typically for cleanup… nothing special.

        Only tools I use for harvesting would be hand pruners and assorted baskets & buckets used for putting the goods in.