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Luckily for us and the planet, these days there is a lot of talk about sustainability, and the implication of growing food at home, on a small-scale, is on the rise. Useless lawns are being converted into lush vegetable patches and food forests. Communities (check out the Food Is Free Project, Guerilla Gardening.org, and LA’s Ron Finley) are rallying behind this cry, joining together to get fresh food growing right in their neighborhoods. It’s amazing, inspiring, and important.
However, there are practicalities to planting and moving towards sustainability, and seeds are amongst the many mundane, simple elements that must be addressed. While it’s possible to buy new seeds each season, a fiscally fit gardener knows that cultivating his or her own seeds is nearly as relevant as cultivating the food in their kitchen. It’s part of being more self-sufficient, to realizing what can easily be done at home rather than relying on a company.
Starting a seed bank is easy.
Reasons to Do It
- It’s free. Why would we want to continue paying for seeds when, with minimal effort, we could create more than we could ever use ourselves? A few organic seed packets can add up pretty quickly.
- It’ll piss Monsanto off. This is exactly what Big Ag does not want us doing, and in fact, in the case of some seeds, namely those GMO crops, it’s illegal. That’s why we go organic and GMO-free.
- It’s another way of binding communities because everyone gets their own specific little natural permeations of seeds, which they can share and trade with one another, creating more diverse and abundant gardens for everyone.
- It’s fun. Ever collected cards or stickers, stamps or coins? Collecting seeds can turn into full-on hobby, compiling an extensive collection of local flora or tomato varieties.
- It’s environmentally friendly. Many heirloom varieties of seeds, the long-standing and proven successes of natural selection, have suffered at the hands of Big Ag. Saving seeds helps maintain these varieties.
- It’s sustainable. Just like it behooves to grow some of our own vegetables, it makes sense to not run to the garden center every time we want to grow some squash.
Where to Get Your Seeds?
Obviously, to begin a seed collection, seeds have to come from somewhere. For this, it’s useful to contact local seed exchanges and see what they recommend, as well as what they might be able to contribute to the effort. Find out what wild, edible and/or medicinal plants are possibly easy to attain sensibly from the surrounding environment. Also, save seeds from organic fruit and veg bought at the market. As well, the one-time purchase of heirlooms makes perfect sense, but it’s imperative to allow some fruit from them to go to seed for building the collection.
Cultivating seeds is how the heart of most agricultural seed collections form, and that makes sense: We want to eat certain fruits and vegetables, so we cultivate those but make the effort to use some for seed rather than fodder. The methods for doing so varies, but here are some basics to follow:
- Dry seeds: If they grow in husks, such as legumes or corn, then the basic principle is to let the pod mature on the plant, dry up, and collect the seeds at the very end. This also works for basil, onions, carrots, and many flowering plants.
- Wet seeds: In the case of wet seeds, such as with tomatoes and several squashes, the seeds will have to be cleaned free of pulp by soaking them in water before drying. Often times, the seeds benefit from fermenting for a couple of days before being dried out on flat surface.
Store, Use, Repeat
Most seeds we deal with in the garden can be dried and stored for quite some time, often years, without loosing much of their fertility. The rule of thumb for doing this is that seeds are not meant to be dried completely but, more so, to about 30 percent humidity. Too dry means the seeds will die. As well, if seeds are too moist, they’ll sweat and mildew in storage and be rendered useless. It can all sound fairly complicated; however, in essence, it’s just a matter of watching the seeds in the beginning and adjusting appropriately.
Planting saved seeds regularly also makes for more adaptive crops. Once again, it’s a matter of natural selection, as opposed to genetic modification. The healthiest fruits survive and thrive, and so the seeds from them are more likely to do equally well. Then, the seeds from the next generation will do even better. And, so it goes. Fruits, vegetables and other plants have the ability to adapt to their surroundings and produce strains that are more and more suitable.
So, keep saving, keep repeating, and keep eating.
Lead image source: CIAT/Flickr