I’ve flirted with and tested out countless cheap and cheerful seed organization systems through the years. From plastic storage bins, to glass jars, wicker baskets, and vintage index card boxes — I’ve tried out every affordable option I could think of and then some. As my rag-tag seed bank has grown, I have had to conjure up new and smarter ways to keep on top of countless little packets.
A few weekends ago I realized that once again my seed collection was out of control and needed to be revamped. Years of experience has made it clear to me that I require three systems: One for the plants that are started indoors underneath lights, another for the seeds that are direct sown, and a third for tomatoes.
Seeds That Are Sown Indoors:
This includes long-season vegetables such as eggplant and peppers, annual flowers, perennials, herbs, and assorted cacti, succulents, etc.
Seeds that are started indoors are fine when kept in a permanent system as I find that they do not need to be accessed very often and can be easily retuned to the drawer once I am done sowing.
I have a metal filing drawer next to my desk that I use to hold some of my collection and while the system works fairly well, it is not nearly large enough to contain my seed stash.Last fall, on a road trip to visit Margaret, we stopped at a Salvation Army along a country road where I found two, vintage, twin-drawer metal index card filing systems for $4. As you can see in the above photo, I have organized the four drawers around plant types. Unfortunately I am not sure how long this system will suffice without another drawer unit as all of the drawers save “Various” are full.
Since I did not have index card-sized dividers, I made my own by affixing small, peel and stick tags to regular index cards and construction paper cut down to size. Within each drawer, plants are divided alphabetically or by type.
Seeds That Are Directly Sown Outside:
Back when I did the bulk of my gardening on a rooftop, I kept the direct sown seeds in a basket next to the door where I could grab them at will for easy planting. That system worked; however, now-a-days I have a lot more seeds and do not have the space by my current door to house several baskets.
Instead, I’ve been using these plastic storage bins that are just wide enough to hold one row of seed packets. Some of the bins were purchased at the dollar store and have handles, making them super easy to take outside and bring back in. This year I have had to add more bins, so I decided to divide them up by type: root vegetables, greens, beans, peas, and a few extras to hold my self-saved overflow.
Inside each bin are dividers that break down the larger category further by subcategories.
For example: Root Vegetables are divided up further to include radishes, carrots, beets, turnips, and miscellany. The dividers are simply index cards turned sideways with sticker labels affixed to the top. Both the index cards and the labels were only a few bucks at the dollar store.
So far I have found it very easy to find what I am looking for, and the hope is that when I need to sow beets, I will simply grab the bin, head outdoors, sow the seeds, and return them to their place within the bin. No more misplaced seed packets that I find months later stuffed inside coat pockets and junk drawers. Or worse still, like the case of the missing lettuce when it took me over a year to locate a tin that held 50 lettuce varieties!
Tomatoes are a category onto their own simply because I have so many of them! I prefer that they are portable since it is easier to keep track of the large number of varieties that I sow in just a few batches.
Someday — some magical, glorious day — I would like to improve my system overall by plugging each plant into an Excel document. But since that requires free time that I don’t have and having to actually use Excel (which I abhor), I think this step will have to be left in the realm of fantasy.
Update (Feb 2014): Now that I’ve been living with these systems for some time I thought it necessary to update with further thoughts. Aesthetically, the filing cabinet is the best, and while it is useful, it comes with one negative: temperature regulation. I keep the cabinets in my office and away from direct light, so it doesn’t suffer too many highs except for a few days in the summer. In the positive, they breath better than plastic does. I haven’t noticed any issues with humidity. Still, I am careful about the seeds I keep in it. On the other hand, the plastic bins are great because I can easily shift them around the house with the seasons. They go in the cool basement in the summer and to a cool, but not freezing location through the winter months. For this reason, I keep my self-saved seed in their own bins. Since I often use those seeds for sale or trade, I am most concerned that they are not subjected to too much heat or humidity.