All serious preppers and even people who aren’t preppers at all have heard of the Global Seed Vault. This is an underground vault located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, which is the westernmost part of the Norwegian archipelago. It borders the Arctic Ocean, the Norwegian Sea and the Greenland Sea. It truly is a remote place, although it is actually a fairly large island and is permanently populated.

This site was chosen for the Global Seed Vault as a place to store the world’s repository of food-bearing plant seeds. It was believed that the permafrost that exists on the island would provide “fail-safe” protection for the stories of seeds. Currently the vault holds more than 880,000 samples of seeds ranging from basic global food staples such as rice to unique varieties that are used only in certain areas. The idea was that these seeds would be safeguarded for use in the future in the event of a “doomsday scenario” such as an asteroid strike or a nuclear war. No word on how the average human in, say, the hills of Appalachia were supposed to acccess the seeds in this vault. But I guess it was supposed to make everyone feel better that they were sitting there. I kid.

But seriously. News reports now reveal that the seed vault has been breached by water from the surrounding melting glaciers. The Global Seed Vault is basically a concrete bunker in the side of a mountain. After a year of higher than normal temperatures, meltwater entered the entrance to the seed tunnel and then froze, so it was “like a glacier” when workers tried to walk into it. The reports went on to say that the water stayed at the entrance of the cavern and that the seeds were not in danger. Still, it is alarming. Alarming also is the thought that the designers of this seed vault, who say they planned it to keep the seeds safe for future generations, would not have arranged it so that melting water was not a problem. Maybe they need to rethink the design of this vault to prevent this from happening again. I personally believe that climate change is a real thing. And I support the work of the seed bank.

But you know what is the most important thing? That you, yes YOU, start saving heirloom seeds from your garden plants. Or at least stocking up on some seed packets of non-hybrid plants. We’ve written in the past about why only certain type of seeds work for seed storage. Learn more about that here:

  1. Why Your Survival Seeds Should Be Heirlooms
  2. Another Reason Why Seeds Should Be Part of Your Survival Kit


Image of the seed vault from credit AFP

A lot of preppers have seed kits, which is a smart investment because if there really is a natural disaster or a societal breakdown, being able to grow your own food is going to be a key to survival. Gathering wild plants can work but if you don’t find enough before winter hits, people who live in areas of snow and ice are going to be SOL.

Seeds stored for your garden should be heirloom varieties, because these will grow the same type of plant as the parent plant and produce seeds that will be the same type of plant as the parent plant, unlike hybrids, which product seeds that can be of varieties very different. But there’s another reason why a cache of seeds is a great idea for survival.

Many seeds can be sprouted easily. These sprouts, sometimes called microgreens, are highly nutritious, easy to grow and can give you fresh green food in a matter of days, even when you can’t fully garden with seeds in the ground. Sprouts are harvested before the first set of leaves develop from the seed. Microgreens are harvested after first leaves have developed. Sometimes, you need an inch of soil to grow microgreens unless you invest in a hydroponic tray. For this reason, sprouts are easier than microgreens.

Seeds are stores of nutrition that is meant to provide sustenance to the growing plant. When you eat the sprout, you are eating all of that stored nutrition. In winter, in areas of snow, or if you are having to move around from location to location and you either can’t risk putting seeds in the ground or you don’t want to, sprouting seeds is a great way to get nutrition and fresh food that you can pack along with you. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a survey lead by Agricultural Research magazine reports that “microgreens contain considerably higher levels of vitamins and carotenoids—about five times greater—than their mature plant counterparts.”

Most seeds can be sprouted in a jar. There are also canvas sprout bags made specifically for sprouting. You can even wrap seeds in a damp towel. I have successfully used a plastic “clam shell” container that lettuce comes in from the store. The seeds need to be kept moist for the first few days until they sprout. After that, experts will tell you that the seeds/sprouts need to be washed daily in fresh water. This is true, however in a pinch you can also just mist with water or rinse once a day or every other day if you don’t have access to enough water.

Choose seeds that are fast growing and have a flavor you like. Experiment a little to find ones that you really like to eat. Having a bag full of several types of sprouting seeds and beans can give3 you the versatility of making fresh sprouts or growing an actual crop when you can.

Here’s what we recommend having on hand for microgreens and sprouts:

Mung beans – these make the traditional “bean sprout” that is often used in Asian stir fry, nice and crunchy

Alfalfa – what people commonly think of as “sprouts”

Beets – sprouts in 4 to 6 days

Mustard – sprouts in 3 to 4 days

Radish – sprouts in 3 to 4 days

Broccoli – sprouts in 3 to 4 days

All lettuces are good choices for microgreens

Even some grains and seeds can be sprouted, such as quinoa and sunflower seeds. We recommend experimenting first with these before you stock up on them as they can be more tricky.

Let’s face it, we’re not all gardeners. Some of us have green thumbs and some of us don’t. I personally am in the camp of the person who wants to have a green thumb but it doesn’t come naturally. I didn’t grow up in a household that gardened, unfortunately, and my mother only grows flowers. Which are nice, but in general, you can’t eat ’em.

So when I wanted to get a garden going at my own home, I had to do a lot of research. I was surprised at some of the basic things about gardening that I didn’t know. For instance, the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes. The first few years of my gardening I never paid attention to the tags that came with the garden starts I bought, so I was always surprised with the mixed results I got.

Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes

To explain that difference, determinate tomatoes are often called “bush” tomatoes because they grow to about 3 or 4 feet high. This is the type to plant if you are into canning, drying or freezing because the plant produces the entire crop within a one to two week period. These types don’t need cages or staking, although it is fine to use it. This is also an easy to care for plant because you shouldn’t remove the suckers from these types of tomato plants. Because they are compact and more “bushy” these are a good type of plant for a container. Most hybrid tomatoes and early varieties are determinates, because commercial growers like the ability to harvest all at once.

Indeterminate tomatoes are often called “vine” tomatoes and these grow to about 6 feet tall. The last time I tried to grow an indeterminate tomato in one of those flimsy little tomato cages, the cage darn near broke in half. These plants will produce crops all season long, until it gets too cold. They like the suckers removed, because it helps them focus their energy on the fruit-setting. Because these plants grow so large, they are not a good choice for containers. Most heirloom varieties are indeterminate tomatoes.

There are some semi-determinate tomatoes, that as you might guess have characteristics in between the two types. Now, about hybrids….

Why You Should Only Save Heirloom Seeds

Choosing seeds for the garden, particularly for the survival garden, is different than just selecting seeds based on growing a nice looking vegetable. You can choose from three varieties of seeds: open-pollinated, hybrid, and heirloom seed varieties. Each of these seed types has something to offer, but for the survival garden, you should choose heirlooms, and here’s why.

Many of the seeds that are commercially available are from hybrid plants. Hybrids are plants that have had the parent plants chosen because of some qualities that the grower wants to pass on in the next generation of plants. Seeds saved from hybrid plants will not be true to type, meaning they are genetically not going to produce you the same type of plant you saved it from. The genetics of what plants result from your seeds will not be predictable. Farmers who grow hybrid plants have to buy new seeds each year because the artificial pollination results in seeds that will either not produce the type of plant you were expecting or may nor product a plant at all.

Open-pollinated plants produce fruit when some pollination happens from natural sources such as bugs or wind. These plants can easily cross pollinate, which can cause a great variety of resulting fruit, particularly among things that cross-pollinate easily, like squash. If pollen is shared among different varieties, as in a small garden plot, your seeds will not be true to type. Again, this means that seeds you save from these plants will not produce the same type of plant you saved them from.

Heirloom varieties are seeds that were passed down because they were particularly good at what they do, whether growing in a particular area, producing an abundance, being cold tolerant, bug tolerant, drought tolerant, or some other good quality. Gardeners saved these seeds because they were reliable and good tasting. Heirloom seeds will give you the same type of plant as the parent plant. In some cases, particularly squash, in order to avoid open cross pollination, you should grow the plants in separate areas.

And here’s another tip….we don’t recommend buying survival seed packages, even though the advertisements can make these deals sound too good to pass up. Thousands of seeds for hardly any money and all that. The reason we don’t recommend this is because the varieties are chosen for you. There are numerous different garden “zones” based on weather and some varieties will not grow in zones other than the ones they are well suited for. Varieties that grow well in Florida will not grow well in Oregon. Your best bet is to get in touch with a nursery that is close to you and get a list of varieties that are tested and proven to do well in your growing area. Buy those, because they’ll be more likely to perform wherever you are. Also, selecting your own seeds means you can get the seeds that you and your family will actually want to eat. If no one likes radishes, even though these are super easy to grow, do you really want 1,000 radish seeds?