We have talked about starting seeds to supply plants for your garden and about sharing seeds through a seed library, but there is a critical step in between that can allow us to engage in this process every year. In order to share, save, and develop our own seeds, we must first gather and store them properly for the next season.
Why is there such a focus on seeds? Isn’t the fresh produce more important? Well, eating fresh fruits and vegetables is vital to our health, but without seeds, where would we get more fruits and vegetables? Although there are foods we can eat that don’t come from seeds, plants make up the base of the food chain and contribute directly and indirectly to our well-being. Humans inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, which we call “breathing”. Plants, on the other hand, transpire. They take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, and thus keep us alive in more ways than one. In the plant kingdom, the goal is to reproduce and create offspring in the hopes that at least one will repeat the process successfully. We show our appreciation to our foliated friends by helping their offspring continue the family legacy. We save seeds for nourishment, to provide oxygen with the plants they produce, and to create more plants and seeds, thereby continuing a symbiotic relationship. Seeds are life.
In our blog on starting seeds, we talked about the advantages of taking ownership of the gardening process by growing from seeds rather than buying plants. Saving seeds takes food sovereignty a step further by giving you control over where your seeds come from and freeing you from dependence on seed companies. As much fun as it is to buy seeds from a seed catalog, you are limited to what is available. By saving the seeds from your plants, you guarantee that you’ll have access to seeds of the varieties, cultivars, and species that you want. You could even be part of developing something new, since this is how varieties, cultivars, or species become associated with particular regions of the world. Plants with desirable traits are prized and thus, those seeds become valued. The seeds we save are adapted to the conditions in which they were grown, since the most successful plants made it through the season, so their seeds are primed to do better next season. Our connection to particular fruits and vegetables can be sustained by saving their seeds and growing them to produce even more in the years that follow. We pass down our culture and values to our children through the seeds we share with them. Seeds that have adapted to our soil and growing conditions mean that feeding ourselves will probably be less of a struggle than taking a chance on seeds that matured in a very different climate than our own. We are creating a means towards our food security by providing our own food source and asserting our food sovereignty with these seeds and plants which simultaneously keep our bellies full. The keeper of the seeds can free us or hold us hostage.
Saving seeds is easier than most garden novices and growers think. Some seeds are definitely easier to collect than others and there is a learning curve, but it is a practice worth perfecting. It is important to choose the plants that have a taste, smell, look, or other quality that pleases you. Most seeds fall into two categories and once you figure out which is which, the process is very similar, if not the same, for other seeds in the same category. The “dry seeds” are left to dessicate either on the plant at the end of the plant’s life cycle or in a place with good air circulation. Seeds that are “wet” require a little bit more direct attention than their counterparts.
How to Save Seeds
- How To Save Your Own Seed at Home
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Seed Saving Guides
- Gardening and Seed Saving Resources – Seed Savers Exchange
- Extraction, wet-processing, drying and sorting of seed
- Saving [Tomato] Seeds
These resources are meant to help you get started. Your local cooperative extension office and the public library are great resources already at your fingertips.
As was previously stated, saving seeds is easy, but there are other considerations in the process of planning your garden that can ensure the very best seeds. What types of seeds were used to grow the plant? Is it an heirloom, hybrid, or open-pollination? You’ll probably hear that you should never save the offspring of plants grown with hybrid seeds, but it’s entirely up to you. You will probably not get plants that are exactly like the one you grew initially, but you will get something interesting no matter what. Experiment. What have you got to lose? If you learn something, the experience is always worth it. You will need to consider the spacing between plants of the same genus, species, and variety, known as the isolation distance. To reduce the possibility of cross-pollination, it is advised to adhere to minimum isolation distances, but there is little guarantee that the pollinators will not surprise you with their travel routes. At the end of the day, if you can get seeds that produce edible roots, shoots, leaves, or fruit, you’re already winning.
A critical part of saving seeds is to keep them from sprouting until the time is right next season. It is very important to choose the proper container and location to store your seeds. Seed Savers Exchange says:
All seeds need to germinate is sufficient water and temperatures that are favorable for plant growth. Make sure your seeds don’t sprout by storing them in a spot that isn’t humid and ensure the seeds are dry before sealing them in a container. Moisture is an especially important factor if you are freezing or refrigerating your seeds. If seeds are too wet, they can rot in the refrigerator or suffer frost damage in the freezer. If you store seeds in the refrigerator or freezer, place the packets in an air-tight container and ensure the seeds are properly dried to begin with.
To save seeds from one season to the next, seed envelopes can suffice. Make sure you include all relevant information on the envelope for future reference. You can learn to make your own—a seed envelope made from a quarter sheet of US-Letter or A4 paper can usually hold a season’s worth of seeds from one vegetable plant—or use one of the many seed envelopes available online to flex your creative muscles. Seed envelopes are a great way to re-imagine scrap paper and junk mail. Once you have a place for your seeds, those envelopes can be stored in a glass jar, if you only have a few, or a seed storage box for a larger collection to keep everything together and organized. Three things to remember about seed storage: cool, dry, dark.
Saving and storing seeds enables you to have food security, food sovereignty, and a legacy to share with others. The only surefire way to preserve the culture and stories of your seeds is to grow them and pass them on so others may grow them as well. Tell the stories and write them down. Share seeds. Pass it on.
For God, who gives seed to the farmer to plant, and later on good crops to harvest and eat, will give you more and more seed to plant and will make it grow so that you can give away more and more fruit from your harvest.
- The Basics of Starting Your Own Seeds
- Seed Libraries – Preserving the Past for the Future
- Health and well-being benefits of plants
- Plan Your Plate
- How to Store Seeds
- Paper packets for spores
- Free DIY Seed Envelope Search Results
- Seed Ambassadors Project Seed Saving Guide
- 46: Ira Wallace on Seed Saving
- 2020 Black, Indigenous, and People of Color led – How To Videos, Gardening Projects, Educational Resources