Seed saving is something we’ve been doing since the dawn of agriculture.
And yet never before has it been such a vital task and never before so political.
Seed saving is vital for biodiversity. Biodiversity is important for ensuring our future food supply.
Many heirloom plants are dying out or have already become extinct – saving seed ensures genetic diversity.
For example, at the beginning of the 20th Century there were over 100 varieties of potato commonly eaten. Now we commonly eat only about four varieties.
Seeds saved from your garden are adapted to your local climate, soil and pests without reducing the reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
And of course, seed saving means that you can plant next year’s garden, and future years for free.
getting started in seed saving
You can start collecting seed by saving it from the food that you have purchased to eat.
When choosing seeds to grow, avoid supermarket variety fruit and vegetables, as it is usually hybridized for yield and pest control not taste. Instead collect seed from fruit, vegetables that are grown locally and preferably organically, from your local farmer’s market.
Choose the best quality plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables from which to save seeds. Look for great flavour. Next year’s plants will only be as good as this year’s seed.
Harvest seeds either when the pod has dried on the plant or when the fruit or vegetable is fully ripe.
For root vegetables or herbs, ensure that the fruit and seed is very ripe, pull the whole plant up from the roots, cover with a paper bag and hang upside down in a cool, dry place.
When growing plants with seed saving in mind, be aware of cross pollination. Some plants are self pollinators, so this isn’t an issue, others cross-pollinate with other varieties, so the great tasting cucumber of this year may not taste so good next year (or may taste better, cross pollination isn’t necessarily bad!)
To prevent cross pollination, plant different species of cross pollinating plants at different times or at a distance from one and other. Check out this article for more information on cross pollination.
Remember to leave some plants in the ground to ‘go to seed’, so that you can collect it. Or you can use the lazy gardening method of letting the plants self-seed.
When storing seeds ensure that the seeds are completely dry and as much pulp removed or they will go mouldy. The pulp may need to be washed off and the seeds dried before storing.
Seeds are dry when you can’t bend them or dent them with a fingernail or tooth. Store in a paper bag or envelope labelling it with the variety and date. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
For information on how to collect and store the seeds of specific plants, see the Seed Saver’s Handbook (Australian resource).
For more in depth information regarding seed saving see The Family Seed Saving Book (free PDF resource).
Do you save your seeds? What method do you use?