“Be the change you want to see in the world.” ~ Gandhi
The author of the Kebun Malay-Kadazan girls blog has suggested a "seed week" from the 22nd~29th of January in which anyone interested participates by blogging about their experiences as they are related to seeds, bulbs, tubers, rhizomes or cuttings including the collecting, propagating, growing, and/or how to keep them in tip top shape. You can submit a link to her from an old post or a recent one and this is not limited to one post only. So please join in on her seed week so we can all learn from each others experiences.
My wife and I became seriously involved/obsessed with the saving of our own vegetable seed a few years ago and have experimented with collecting seed from almost every edible plant that we have grown at one time or another, mostly with great success. Because it can be, and has become, such an immense project to save all of our own seeds we have decided to focus the majority of our efforts going forward on the crops that are most important to us, the core crops that we could not live without. Vegetables like beets, parsnips, carrots, potato tubers, turnips, tomatoes, tomatillos, cucurbits, onions, beans, peas, celery, corn, peppers, lettuce and other greens like parsley, kale, and various types of chicory all make the list.
We are working on a plan to continue saving these seeds using a 2-5 year rotation so as not burden ourselves with too much at once, as has been the case the past few years, and to help avoid cross contamination of the many open pollinated varieties like cucurbits and brassicas. While we will continue to save the seed of herbs, flowers, and anything else that catches our fancy it will not be our main focus to do so. Once I finish getting the entire rotation schedule worked out on paper I will try to post it online.
My wife, bagging a Sweet Chocolate pepper flower with a muslin sack to avoid cross pollination as we grow all of our varieties so close to each other.
This chervil seed was ready to be harvested and will be saved every other year as seed older than that seems to have fairly low germination rates.
"Golly Mike, why bother with all of this when the seeds are so readily available via seed catalogues?"
Very simple, my thoughts are that to grow a plant and not know how to save it's seed is a missed opportunity to take part in that plants full life process. More than that I believe it is our right and responsibility to do so or at least, and most importantly, to have some inkling of how to do so in order to maintain our subsistence pattern lifestyle and be able to share the knowledge with future generations. I also have no wish to be under the control of the system. The system being big agribusiness with its rules, regulations and control (GMO), or at the whim of seed companies that may be out of stock, and of course I have some worries over the future availability of non-hybrid seed coupled with the ever increasing expense of it all.
As an example, something I was talking to a fellow blogger about the other day comes to mind. Every year I am in a panic when it comes to certain vegetables whose seed I have yet to start saving on a regular basis...like onion seed. I often have a real dickens of a time getting my onion seed in a timely manner regardless of how soon I order it and the varieties of storage onions that grow well for us are very limited...there's like three of them. I have started ordering a couple years worth of the seed just in case but onion seed has a pretty short term viability of around 1-2 years after which the germination rate decreases significantly. So I feel the strong need to save my own and relieve myself of this yearly allium hysteria. We want to have seed and food sovereignty.
Biennial salsify and scorzonera flower their 2nd year and one must be diligent in saving the seed lest it all float away on a windy day.
That said, I think it is "very" important to support both small and large trustworthy seed companies that will continue to provide us with all of the seeds that we do not save ourselves. Quality companies like Johnny's Select Seeds (?), Territorial(?), Fedco, Bountiful Gardens, Seed Savers Exchange (?), Ed Hume, Annapolis Valley Heritage, and many others that work so diligently to help to preserve our vegetable and herb seed diversity and availability.
“The garden seeds being dropped from the catalogues are the very best vegetable varieties we will ever see.” ~ Kent Whealy, Seed Savers Exchange
There are numerous other reasons to save your own seed, including the possibility of a plant adapting to ones specific environmental conditions over time. This is something we have experienced in our own gardens and has been especially noticeable with our peas and tomatoes becoming much less prone to disease compared to how they were many years ago, we have had no issues at all the past few seasons.
After they are processed our tomato seeds are placed on screens for a couple days until thoroughly dry. These seeds can easily last over ten years if stored properly - cool, dry, dark environment.
Believe me, I totally understand that many people just do not have the leeway for a garden full of plants bolting to seed as it would take up the entire garden area leaving no room at all for the real food crops. We are very fortunate to have enough extra ground for these projects and this post is simply an expression of my thoughts on what we will be working towards going forward as it relates to the saving of our own seed. Besides, it is very empowering, empowerment that is created by knowing that one can depend upon him or herself for their own food. As they say "He who controls the seed also controls the feed."
Valerian seed can be difficult to save as it also so easily flutters away in the breeze once mature.
These are four popular seed growing and saving books that I have collected over the years and am constantly using as references.
Another seedy book that I have yet to run down is "Saving Seeds As If Our Lives Depended On It" by Dan Jason.
Here are two excellent PDF links that cover, in fairly good detail, how to save the seed off many vegetables that are commonly grown in the average garden. ↓
Saving Vegetable Seeds in an Urban Garden
A Seed Saving Guide For Gardeners and Farmers
To learn even more check out this very informative blog on growing and saving seed called Going to Seed: Growing Organic Seed in Eastern Canada.
On the right hand side of this picture you can see (click picture to enlarge) where I replanted a small patch of cilantro but also left a bunch of the original plants tied to a stake in order to grow and produce more seed thus allowing the plant to come full circle.
This seedy row was devoted to a variety of winter density lettuce that survived the cold months.
Beets are another biennial that we overwinter in the root cellar and then replant for seed purposes. Each of the seed clumps pictured below are actually clusters that contain multiple seeds.
Rhubarb is easy to grow and save seed from but the offspring will probably differ from the parent plant...which is what makes it fun. We grew lots of baby rhubarbs this past year.
It is best to leave your carrot seed production to the professionals.:) The carrot our pro (what a ham) is holding was grown this year from a mix of seed saved in 2009 pictured below.Again, full circle. You can read more about how we save carrot seed here.
Once it is harvested and cleaned most of our seed is then put into boxes, bags, or other containers on our porch to finish drying for a few weeks after which we pack the seed away in jars or bottles and store in a cold dry back room. They say that seeds kept in the freezer may remain viable for over 50 years. We prefer to save our seeds in smaller amounts and replenish them often rather than freezing because the environment changes so quickly that I worry seeds stored for extended periods rather than being rotationally saved and replanted will not "learn" to evolve.
Let us not forget:
Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.
~ Chief Seattle, 1854