FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: Your packages include a large number of seeds, and I am not going to plant them all at once. How do I store the seeds to be able to use them next planting season? I have heard many different answers to this question and want to know which is correct.
A: The reason that there are so many different theories to this extremely common question is that there are so many different seed types and so many different storage conditions that there can be no one difinitive answer or "best practice". There have been countless studies commissioned over the past century which have had so many variables that they have all returned different results. These variables include seed variety, humidity of testing site, various gasses surrounding the seed (oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, etc). Furthermore, these studies take months, if not years, to conduct, so they are not that easy to undertake.
The short answer to the question, though, is that all seed will last longer when kept dry and cool - the drier and colder the better. Each of our seed packages will include a seed handling guideline page, similar to these Seed Storage Guidelines for regular seed storage or frozen seed storage, depending on your purchase type. You may also follow these more detailed guidelines for more information:
- Drying of the seed is critical! Seed should be kept at seed moisture levels of less than 10%. Studies have shown that for every ONE degree (F) reduction in the moisture content of the seed itself (between 5% - 14%), the safe storage time can DOUBLE and still allow for successful germination once planted.
- Use of desiccant is absolutely permitted, even recommended. The best method of using desiccant is to place an equal weight of the desiccant and seeds (in packets) into an airtight sealable jar, and allow to sit for 4-5 days. Once sufficiently dried, a small seed will crack easily between your fingernails, and a larger bean seed will shatter upon impact from a hammer. You may require slightly more desiccant due to your relative humidity where you are drying your seed. You do not have to include your desiccant with the seeds when freezing but should include it when merely refrigerating. It is also best to keep the seeds in their original envelopes, as you can then mix and match seed varieties and not have to worry about mixing them up or them coming into direct contact with the desiccant.
- Freezing of the seed is ideal, as seed can potentially last forever if (and only IF) dried properly and frozen. Hydrated seed of over about 8% moisture content will die due to the expansion of the moisture in the cellular structure of the seed itself once frozen.
- If you are not able to freeze and wish to refrigerate instead, your average seeds can still last for 3-5 years. The exception to these is onion and lettuce, which max out at approximately 2 years each. The important factor here is to be sure to properly dry your seed and, possibly more importantly, to KEEP IT DRY. The average refrigerator is 40% humidity, which is enough to propegate fungus growth if not kept in a dry, airtight container. If you would like further information on handling of food seed, please visit
***We now offer preservation kits, including the useful book Seed Sowing and Saving (which we recommend to everyone!), one pound of FDA-approved food-grade desiccant, and 2 large heat-seal mylar bags. If you wish, you can add this kit to any seed pack, or even have your seed package prepared "freezer ready" for you, where you will receive your seed package already dried and sealed in a double-layer mylar bag, ready to place in the freezer for long-term storage.
To give you ready access to this and other helpful information, we include a hadny seed storage guide with every seed purchase from The Ark. If you seek further research materials into this topic, you may contact the US Department of Agriculture and request their Agricultural Handbook #506 "Principles and Practices of Seed Storage", 1978.
Q: What makes your seeds different than seeds that I can get at my local garden center or retail store?
A: There are a few differences between The Ark Institute seeds and the seeds you get from the "other guys" out there:
- Cost: Quite simply, we provide more seed per dollar than the other seed stores out there. See below for our seed quantity explanation in more depth. At retail stores or garden centers, you may get a packet with a dozen tomato seeds for $3 or $4, whereas we include more than 4 times that, and for much less than that cost. Where the retailers spend more money on their seed racks and brightly colored seed pouches and advertising, we always have and always will pack our seeds in "plain vanilla" manilla envelopes, labeled only with the seed variety and our company information, advertised by reputation and word of mouth, and we pass the low costs to you!
- Quality: Our seeds are all 100% non-hybrid, non-GMO, chemically untreated heirloom seeds. In addition, most of our seeds and storage techniques have been personally tested and proven by Ark founder and Director, Geri Guidetti, for viability. If we can't get it to grow successfully, we won't sell it to you! Many of those store-bought seed packets will produce a plant or two of each variety, a few more if you're lucky. You really cannot be sure if their seed has been stored properly (moisture and heat kill stored seed), so you really cannot be sure that any of them will grow. We at The Ark personally test each variety, and spot check them periodically in our test garden to test seed viability. And with our help and informational literature, we can proudly say that if we can grow it, chances are you can grow it!
- Quantity: Our packets are individually hand-filled by Ark Institute staff, which means that we know nearly exactly how many seeds are in each packet. To be precise, we now fill by volume, based on hand-counted quantities performed each time we introduce a new variety. What's more, we provide more useful seed per dollar than anyone else we have seen out there! Many people may advertise that their packages include 10,000 seeds, but most of the time those packages will include a small number of each of the varieties that they advertise, and then they will throw in a bag of 8,000 wheat seed or something else like that of little value and nearly no cost to them, just to raise their seed totals and increase profits. (and don't be impressed with that - that much wheat seed is not enough to feed your family for a season!) Instead, The Ark provides you with an abundance of each variety, enough to plant and replant even large backyard homestead gardens - and even have some to share or store for next year!
Here is what we found when we hand-counted one of our 40-variety packages recently:
|Seed Variety & Seed Count||Seed Variety & Seed Count||Seed Variety & Seed Count||Seed Variety & Seed Count|
|Sweet Spanish Onion||250||Yellow Bush Beans||50||Swiss Chard||100||Red Cabbage||330|
|Italian Parsley||400||Eggplant||530||Spinach||200||Cayenne Pepper||295|
|Anaheim Chili||200||Provider Bush Bean||55||Yellow Summer Squash||50||Green Sweet Pea||70|
|Mesclun Mix||330||Salad Cucumber||150||Snap Peas||75||Cilantro||250|
|Honey Dew Melon||75||Green Cabbage||300||Large Leaf Basil||350||Red Core Carrot||950|
|Heirloom Tomatoes||50||Butterhead Lettuce||650||Roma Tomatoes||400||Jalapeno Pepper||220|
|Watermelon||65||Butternut Squash||55||Red/Green Sweet Pepper||200||Ruby Red Lettuce||450|
|Black Beauty Zucchini||46||Acorn Squash||90||Radishes||300||Pumpkin||44
|Gold Melons||104||Red Romaine Lettuce||1000||Red Beets||355||Broccoli||250|
|Pinto Beans||46||Sweet Corn||150||Green onions||800||Kale||75|
That's a total of approximately 10,000 of our high-quality, good to eat fruits, vegetables and herbs, for a fantastic price!
***Seed packets are measured and filled by volume not individual count, therefore seed quantites are approximate (but very close). The counts above represent the count of seeds which were counted from one package of packets ready to ship.
***These seed quantities are representative for each variety, and seed packets are similar between all packages (except for the "Sampler Package").
Q: What is the best method for starting seeds for planting outdoors?
A: There are many options available nowadays for planting indoors in order to transfer to terra firma outside, including different planting media, different types and configurations of planting containers, and many proven techniques for getting your seed to sprout indoors. The truth is that you really just have to find what works for you and your surroundings, as far as sizes of containers and what you are planting.
The key thing to do to help ensure a succesful planting, no matter which method you use, is to start with the proper planting material. The most critical factors here are that your planting medium be clean and that the medium can properly hold water.
If you decide to use soil, it is best to "sterilize" the soil to kill off any fungi, bacteria or viruses that may have contaminated it already. The best method of doing so is to place the soil or soil compound on a baking sheet or large dish and place it in the oven or even the microwave. "Cook" the soil until the moisture inside the media reaches the boiling point, but stop before you incinerate it. When the soil is good and steamy, remove it from the heat and allow to cool completely. It is now ready for planting.
Instead of sterilizing your own soils, you can purchase commercial soil or soil-free planting mixtures, which are typically comprised of sterilized peat, vermiculite and nutrients. These are all readily available and already microbe-free, but they have a tendency to resist even wetting. It is possible to inhibit even watering by placing the planting mixture into a large dishpan and slowly hand-mixing in enough water to soak - but not overwhelm - the media. Allow it to soak through and then use for planting.<
Q: What are some key factors that I should consider before planting a new garden, specifically dealing with climate and geographical region?
A: The answer depends on how large of a garden you are planning or what varieties you are planting. If you are planting an herb garden or if you are container gardening above-ground, then you have much less to worry about. On the other hand, if you are planning for a self-reliance garden to sustain you and your family in the event of an emergency, you have a lot of things to consider. To make the answer as comprehensive as possible for all areas, I will offer the following list of factors to consider, and try to give a few examples for each. After reading this list and surveying your own specific situation, you can contact us here at The Ark Institute for some specific varieties that should work in your area, and we can build you a custom seed package to suit your needs.
Factors to consider before planning and planting your garden or farm:
- First of all is your geographical region. This is the most simple to determine, but is also the most critical. This can be loosely defined by using the USDA Hardiness Zone Map, or if you would like to get a more specific answer you may ask someone at a local farmers' market or even your local garden center professional. (While don't recommend shopping for your seed here, they are still a good resource for information and gardening supplies...) Determining your region can then help you to plan for your crops with considerations for the length of frost-free gardening season and also the local average rainfall statistics. Typical last frost and first frost of the year are critical for determining how long you have to grow and what varieties can grow in that amount of time, and then when you must plant in order to harvest a ripe crop. The rainfall data includes average rainfall per season and when it is typically more wet and more dry. This can help to determine if you need a drought-resistant seed variety and also help you plan for irrigation needs of your garden, in case it is too large to manually irrigate or in the event of an emergency and you have no municipal water supply to use.
All produce have individual examples of this, as each has a different crop lifecycle. But for an example, if you are limited to a 110-day growing season, you would have little problem growing a sweet corn with a 90-day growth cycle, but you would have an extremely difficult time growing a dent corn (for cornmeal) due to its 130-day lifecycle. Knowing how long you have between frosts is CRITICAL to planning and harvesting a succesfull crop.
- Also of great importance is to consider the common local plant diseases in your region and even just on your property. Again, a local garden center or farmers' market can be a good repository of knowledge for such information, as most people are eager to share their experiences and knowledge with a colleague and kindrid spirit. Additionally, when you are planning a self-sustenance garden for you and your family, that isn't the time for trial and error in finding out what diseases you have to work with. There are many types of seed variety that are organically resistant to certain bacterial, fungal and viral diseases that may obliterate crops of non-resistant seed. What's more, one of the inherent benefits of 100% non-hybrid seed is that most heirloom varieties have a very long lineage and therefore a broad range of genetic resistances to such bacterial, fungal and viral diseases. Most of the corporate produce companies and commercial seed growers wouldn't want you to know that! The sick truth is that the newer, hybrid and genetically modified (GMO) seeds do not inlcude such resistances, and if they do it is only because the scientists "stole" the genes from heirloom seeds and genetically spliced them into the new seeds.
- Thirdly, you should consider your local climate for its regular moisture level and relative humidity. Elevated moisture levels can quicly lead to many fungal diseases such as mildew. A good plan for this is to grow a portion of your crop of one variety as a resistant type of the regular variety you are growing. This will help to ensure you bring in a good solid crop at the end of the season, which is critical to self-reliance. There is never an acceptable level of risk when your family's health - and even life - is at stake. The same line of planning holds true for bacterial diseases. I have personally seen an entire field full of ripening tomatoes turn black and die in less than a week's time due to late blight. Now, to combat that, I grow a portion of my crop each year as blight resistant tomatoes (among many other species) to ensure that even if the rest of my crop is lost, I will still have something. You can also investigate some organic-approved fungicides (like copper fungicide) to provide further protection from such killer diseases, but be very careful, as use of fungicides or pesticides can be a very slippery slope even if you start with the best of intentions.
- Another key aspect to consider is your soil types in your planting area. Different types of soils are easy to grow certain varieties of some produce in but nearly impossible to grow others. When growing root vegetables, for example, you should be aware of the geoligical make-up of the planting area and plan accordingly. If you have very heavy soil (clay), you would have trouble trying to grow a nice, long dainty carrot, so you should move to a heavy, chunky broad carrot in such a condition, or even a shallow, round carrot. Conversely, if you have a sandy soil, you could grow nice, long Imperator type carrots. Certain soils may force you to rethink your species of a certain vegetable, but with careful planning, you can overcome such difficulties.
- In conjunction with the climate concern listed above, one also needs to consider soil temperature before planting. Certain corn varieties will rot or otherwise not germinate in cool soils, while certain varieties grow fine there. Same is true for certain beans and other vegetables - one variety may grow fine but another planted next to it will rot in the ground. Likewise certain warmer soils can kill off a seed that is not intended for such conditions.
- It is also important to consider your latitude and length of sunlight in growing season. Certain regions can have very subtle differences in these aspects but could still mean the difference between bulbs and no bulbs.
In summary, there are a lot of variables which can determine your planting plan before you even start deciding what you want to try to grow. But, with the many varieties of each type of produce, it is very easy to find a slightly different version of the vegetable that you intended to grow that is perfectly suited for your conditions. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but I have highlighted many of the most critical aspects to consider. Again, you should always feel free to visit a local farmers' market and ask questions, as most people enjoy helping others succeed in a mutual endeavor such as gardening, farming, or simply self-reliant growing.
Q: Do you charge for shipping, and can you ship anywhere in the world?
A: Yes, and no.
We charge a nominal fee for shipping to the continental U.S., for most orders it's about half. We ask you to share our shipping costs as a way to help keep our seed costs down. (we also don't print big colorful seed catalogs or fancy seed envelopes, also to help keep our costs and your prices down).
If you are ordering from anywhere outside of the continental U.S., we request that you email or call us first to discuss shipping charges - most times these cannot be avoided but we will not ship overseas without shipping charges, where applicable.
In addition, there are many countries which have certain incoming shipping restrictions on some seed or potassium iodate. Many of the restrictions are workable - some even just require a list of seeds in latin names, some just require seeds shipped apart from other books or products - but some actually restrict shipping of certain items. We will not be held responsible for items stuck in customs or refused in shipping, so please contact us before you purchase to discuss ALL shipping issues.
Q: What is the difference between a garden and a farm, and what do I need in size and variety to grow for my family?
A: You ask a very loaded, but very relevant question.
In general, the consensus difference between garden and farm is based on 3 keys: size, equipment used, and purpose of harvest, but these are all really subjective and, quite frankly, are just semantics. But to answer the question: A garden is basically anything less than about half an acre, is farmed using hand-tools (maybe a tiller or small lawn tractor), and is farmed for personal use growing a wide range of produce. A "Market Garden" is basically one that is about an acre in size, uses some light equipment, farms a wide variety of produce and any extra harvest is either shared with neighbors or sold at market. An "according to Hoyle" farm is generally considered to be anything over a few acres, uses heavy farming equipment tractors and plows (or horse and plow, if you want to do it the Amish way), and is primarily used to take produce to market. But nowadays these farms are trending towards the mono-growth varieties, where they will focus on just a few varieties of similar produce and benefit from the economy of scale and expertise. Again, this is really just a semantic argument, as it doesn't matter what you call your growing area, just that you grow enough of what you need.
As for what you need for your family, that depends on how many people you are providing for. I have personally grown a quarter-acre garden of mixed varieties of vegetables and small fruits to feed a family of 4 for a year. If you want to play it safe, always err on the side of caution and grow more, which you can preserve by freezing or canning if not consumed immediately, and last through the off seasons, or sell or trade at market. One very easy yet sufficient method of preserving lots of vegetables for the off seasons is to cook them into a large vegetable soup or stew and then freeze them in quart-sized containers. Another great way to prepare for the future and utilize your over-production is to use your tomatoes, zucchini, squash, green and red peppers, onions, garlic, basil and other herbs into a good homemade pasta sauce, then freeze it in quart-size containers. Store up some uncooked pasta and you can have delicious, nourishing food for weeks or more. We can provide some good recipes if you need them (we are working on a recipe book - stay tuned!). It is always wise to maintain sufficient supply of about 6-12 months worth of preserved, stored food just in case the worst happens and you don't get a crop next year due to drought, fire, natural disaster, vegetable disease, or forced relocation due to any number of reasons. Preparedness can't prevent these emergencies, but it can prevent the negative effects if done right!
In addition to planning your garden for layout and size, you also need to factor in the amount of water you have ready access to, and what you will have access to in the event of an emergency. Building an irrigation system is obviously the best option during the good times, but can be expensive and depends on a forced water supply. If it is possible to locate hose bibs throughout the garden, you can water by hand or by a movable sprinkler. But water sources should be considered in case an emergency hits and you have no more municipal water supply, if your well runs dry, if drought conditions limit water resources, etc. A free and easy way to do this is to place collection vessels around your property to collect rain water. This can be large vessels or even just some water-tight wash tubs or trash cans. To increase the effeciency of your collection, you can place them under a downspout of your home roof gutter system, or even build a collection system of your own using simple materials. Also, you can use mulches to decrease the required amount of water to feed your garden.
One thing that is also overlooked when planning a garden is the human resources to tend it and harvest your crops. I have personally managed my own garden above well into middle-age, but have scaled back a little as I have aged. But it must be noted that I have always been in fairly good shape for my age and being a female. Your own physical condition is definitely a consideration in planning a garden, as you may be required to spend 2-4 hours a day during peak harvest times (or more depending on the size of your garden). If you need some help, enlist the help of family, or even work with a neighbor and offer them a share of the crop in exchange for their help. Also, remember to do your garden work in the early hours of the day to avoid the mid-day heat and the late afternoon insects. This will help you to stay hydrated, but you should also be very aware to drink lots of water while working outdoors. If you don't already have a wide-brimmed straw hat, go ahead and buy a couple. They are not the fashion accessory that you want them to be, but they do the job.
Q: Do you guarantee that all of your seed is non-hybrid or non-GMO?
A: I wish very much that I could answer "yes", but I can't. The truth is that nobody really can, and if anyone tells you otherwise, be wary of them. Unless they grow their plants in a sealed environment and they have been passing their seed down from generation to generation, they really cannot guarantee perfectly clean heirloom seeds.
The reason for this is pollination, since any insect or even just a regular breeze could theoretically transmit pollen from a hybridized or GM plant to one that has been meticulously maintained as non-hybrid and non-GM. This is not easily done and is not common, but here at The Ark Institute, we prefer to be open and honest with our customers as is humanly possible. We are fairly certain that all of our seed is absolutely non-hybrid and non-GM, but we cannot state any such guarantee.
The same basic principle holds true for organics - nobody can sell guaranteed organic seed or produce, since there is really no way of telling what may have drifted onto your garden from outside sources.