As we celebrate World Food Day I’m especially thankful for one of life’s most precious gifts: seeds. Seeds are magical and mysterious in that our future rests in them. Without the thousands of varieties of useful plants we cultivate for their products, human civilization would simply cease. We could no longer feed ourselves nor our animals.
Preventing the extinction of a wide variety of food plants is not just romantic and historically interesting, it’s a matter of ensuring a healthy future for humanity. As industrial agriculture becomes increasingly focused on growing fewer and fewer varieties of food plants, home gardeners play an unexpected important role in propagating and saving old varieties of vegetables, fruit, and herbs by continuing to grow them, sharing the seeds, and providing the seeds to organizations such as Seed Savers Exchange.
Seed Saving Basics
Fall signals the prime time for saving seeds and it is not difficult for many popular garden plants; all you need to know are a few basics. Try starting with easy seeds such as beans, nasturtiums, and basil, for example. First, remember that the plant you intend to save seeds from must be an open pollinated type and not a hybrid. If it is an heirloom type it is open pollinated.
Follow these tips:
1) Make sure you let the seeds stay on the plant until they reach full maturity. Example: if you pick bean pods while they are still green you may as well eat them, because the seeds won’t germinate!
2) Let mature seed pods or flower heads dry on the plant as much as possible. The timing is tricky in some cases because you need to collect the pod or flower head before it begins to release its seeds. Most likely they won’t all dry once, so check them daily.
3) After collection and harvesting the seed pods or flower heads must be allowed dry completely. This is very important to prevent mold and spoilage. Choose a cool dry spot out of direct sunlight in an open container for a week or two.
4) Next, remove the seeds from the pods or seed head being careful not to damage them, and discard any debris. To be on the safe side, let these air dry for another week or two before storing in an airtight container out of direct light away from heat or humidity.
It is a good practice to get in the habit of labeling your seeds with basic information: the exact name of the variety, where you got the parent plant or original seeds, and the year of collection.
Saving seeds allow you to expand the number of plants for next year’s planting season, and to share them with others. You might even create a new variety or cultivar from natural crossbreeding in your garden.
But most importantly, you will be a a part of a growing movement to save our agricultural biodiversity, all from your own home garden.
Read an expanded version of this post.
Photos: Urban Artichoke