This prepping and survival blog post is about possible alternative sources of gardening seeds for when the SHTF: from readily available foods in your local supermarket. Of course, you are always better off buying gardening seeds sold for the purpose of gardening. The seeds have a known germination rate. You know which variety (cultivar) of plant you are getting. The seeds typically come with some instructions about how to care for the plant, and how long it will take to reach maturity. If you are well-prepped, you should have a wide variety of different gardening seeds to plant and grow your own food.
But what if you did not save up enough seeds, or enough of the right type of seeds? Or what if your seed supply were lost, stolen, or destroyed? If there is a disaster that affects the food supply, commercial sources of gardening seeds will dry up fast. Where else could you obtain seeds for growing your own food? From foods in your local grocery store.
These are foods sold for the purpose of eating, not gardening. The manufacturers and retail stores do not intend or guarantee that they will sprout and grow food. But I’ve found that many foods can be used to sprout and grow plants for the garden. These grocery store sources for gardening seeds are often much less expensive than packets of seed. You get more seeds for planting, for far less money. So here is my run down of grocery store sources of gardening seeds.
Don’t bother trying to use foods that have been cooked or heated as sources of seeds. Any seeds that have been cooked or heated will not germinate. For this reason, when saving seeds to grow the next crop, seeds should never be dried in an oven. Even moderate temperatures (above 96 degrees F) will harm the ability of the seeds to germinate. Also, forget about trying to germinate anything that has been canned. Commercial canning uses high temperatures, above the boiling point of water.
For detailed information on seed saving, I recommend the book: Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth (Decorah, Iowa: Seed Savers Publications, 1991) and the book: Seed Sowing and Saving by Carole B. Turner (Pownal Vermont: Storey Books, 1998).
There are basically two types of grocery store sources of gardening seeds: fresh foods and dried foods.
I bought a “15 Bean” soup packet, which did indeed have 15 different types of legumes, including a small green lentil, green and yellow split peas, chickpeas, and then 11 different types of beans, of various colors, shapes, and sizes. These were all laid out on a damp paper towel in a dish covered with plastic wrap. All of the dried beans germinated. They did best with one damp paper towel below and another one covering them. The dried chickpea and lentil also germinated.
The split peas from this mix did not germinate. But dried split peas that I bought separately, both green and yellow, germinated (at a low rate). When a pea is dried and split, only one half can possibly germinate, so you are starting with a 50% germination rate. Then, too, the fact that you are trying to germinate one half of a seed reduces the germination rate further. But I did get a few pea plants to start growing outside from dried split peas that germinated.
I also bought a whole-grain rice mix, with several types of brown rice and some wild rice. This was a surprise. I did not expect the rice, even though it is whole grain, to germinate. Whole grains are generally hulled, but not milled; milling removes the brain layer. Hulling removes the inedible ‘shell’ around the seed. But grain seed sold for gardening or farming still has the hulls on it. And yet every type of brown rice (4 or 5) germinated well.
The wild rice in the same packet did not germinate at all. I also tried buying wild rice from 2 other food sources separately, and it did not germinate.
Any seeds that have had the hull removed AND have been milled, to remove the bran layer, will not sprout. I tried pearled barley, and there was no germination. However, ordinary barley germinated well, despite having had the hulls removed.
Quinoa: store-bought quinoa sprouted easily. The seeds are small and so you can plant a large area from a single ounce of seed.
Whole Flaxseed: sprouted promptly; good germination rate
I tried some dried legumes in addition to the 15 bean soup mix source. These were simply packages of dried legumes, inexpensive, in 12 oz. or one pound bags from the grocery store shelf.
Dried Beans: germinated well. It is very inexpensive to buy bean seeds in this way, and you generally know which cultivar you are getting by the size, shape, and color of the bean.
Pigeon peas: sprouted easily, just like the other beans.
Dried Chickpeas: sprouted well also.
Lentils: these sprouted very well after only a couple of days.
Peas, split: despite being split in two, one half will often sprout and grow. Significantly lower germination rate than whole seeds. I was able to get these plants growing, past the seedling stage. The cultivar is one of the ‘leafless’ types, a short plant with few leaves and lots of tendrils, so that the plant support one another upright in the field.
Peanuts were another pleasant surprise. I bought raw peanuts in the shell. Then I removed the shell, and placed the peanuts covered by damp paper towels. They germinated. But if the peanuts are left too damp for too long, they will grow a mold or fungus. Another attempt, planting the raw peanut seeds in a cup with damp soil worked better.
However, when I tried to use raw peanuts taken from a package of raw food trail mix, the peanuts did not germinate. I speculate that some ‘raw’ nuts and seeds have been pasteurized with heat, to kill pathogens and insect eggs, and this also destroys the ability to germinate.
Sunflower seeds (hulled): these seeds were part of a raw nuts and seeds trail mix. They germinated after only a few days, laid on top of a damp paper towel. I planted one of the seeds in a cup with potting soil, and a seedling grew up.
Sesame seeds: these seeds were taken from a spice container of raw seeds. These were not the toasted seeds, which of course won’t germinate because they have been cooked. But these apparently raw seeds did not germinate. It might be the case that the seeds were pasteurized, at some point, to kill pathogens. I have grown sesame seed plants from proper gardening seeds, and they germinate easily and grow well.
In general, for germination, the small dried seeds only needed to be laid on top of the paper towel, whereas the larger seeds needed to have one paper towel above and another one below.
One of the problems I encountered with the fresh food sources of seeds is that some produce foods are actually immature. Some cucumbers are small, and therefore tastier, because they are immature. The seeds are also immature and probably won’t germinate. The same problem occurred with some small squash that I bought. You need produce that was grown to maturity for the seeds to be able to germinate.
For fresh food sources of seeds, I simply purchased the food at a grocery store, and removed the seeds. Some fresh seeds will not germinate unless they have first been dried, and then later exposed to moisture. This makes sense since the seeds are damp inside the fruit, but they don’t germinate there. Other seeds did fine without being dried first.
Cantaloupe: the seeds germinated easily, and did not need to be dried first.
Tomato: these seeds did not germinate until I dried the seeds, and then subsequently attempted germination. The seeds germinated well. You might want to try to find a better variety of tomato than the typical grocery store cultivar, which has a thick skin and not much flavor. Some stores sell heirloom type tomatoes. You next best choice is probably a plum or Roma tomato type.
Bell peppers and hot peppers: I could not get these to germinate, neither fresh, nor after drying. Maybe these peppers were not grown to maturity. I should have tried the red, yellow, or orange types, which have to be left on the plant longer in order to attain those colors.
Potatoes: if you’ve ever left potatoes for too long in the pantry or refrigerator, you know that store-bought potatoes will sprout; but what you probably don’t know is that potatoes are often sprayed with a chemical to delay sprouting. Try organic potatoes for sprouting and growing in the garden.
Sweet Potatoes: see this helpful video blog post from TheDailyPrep.com: How to turn potatoes into plants
Seedless watermelon: Yes, sometimes a seedless watermelon has a few seeds inside. These did not grow or sprout for me, even after I dried them first. The store did not have the regular, seeded watermelons.
Dried foods were much more reliable sources of grocery store gardening seeds than fresh foods. Even hulled grains germinated, along with every type of dried legume, even split peas. Legumes are an excellent garden source of protein. Raw peanuts in the shell can be used to grow your own peanuts, which are a good source of both dietary fat and protein.
Fresh foods were unreliable as a source of gardening seeds. Tubers such as potato and sweet potato, will generally germinate, but they take a long time to sprout. Check the bottom of your refrigerator crisper drawer for some older potatoes that might be ready to grow.
I’ll end on the same note with which I began. You are almost always better off getting your gardening seeds from a commercial source. I would suggest buying even more seeds than you anticipate needing, as these make a great bartering item. They are small and lightweight, easy to store, and should be in high demand if any type of medium to long-term disaster affects the food supply. But if you ever need gardening seeds when the commercial seed sources have run out, check your local grocery store.