Anyone with access to a garden can save seeds. It’s easy and there are numerous reasons as to why it’s important to do so.
Once upon a time gardeners would have to save their own seed if they were to keep growing their favourite vegetables, flowers and herbs. Under this rich tradition a vast diversity of local varieties were circulated in communities around the globe. Nowadays the domain of seed keeping has gradually been handed over to big companies that largely determine what’s available. Their selection criteria is primarily based objectives such as production, appearance and storability with qualities like taste, smell, colour and resilience further down the list.
Unfortunately we have already lost the majority of our old varieties along the way. It’s time to reinstate a seed growing revolution in the backyard.
Isn’t it amazing that these little plant offspring packages contain all the genetic information to grow into a fully functioning plant, harnessing nothing but the surrounding sun, air, water and soil minerals.
We now know that, like us, plant seeds also have a microbiome. That’s right, plants growing in association with beneficial microbes deposit a ready to go microbe population in their seed so that when it eventually germinates, no time is wasted on getting a healthy plant-microbe system underway.
If you plant a wide diversity of different seeds in new ground, you introduce a beneficial population of microbes and start a diverse plant community, which is just what’s needed to support an active and diverse microbial community. Commercial seeds that are produced in more sterile conditions are found wanting in this department.
When we save our own seed we also get to choose what traits we prefer and select those that suit our growing conditions. Admittedly there are successes and failures along the way but it’s well worth having a go and over time you build on your successes.
By simply saving seeds, we play a part in the preserving some of the great diversity this living world has on offer and ensuring a wide choice of tasty varieties for the generations to come.
Asexual Reproduction – By this mechanism complete new plants can grow from vegetative parts of parent plant material provided they have enough supplies to stay alive whilst establishing themselves. The new plants are essentially clones as their genetic makeup is identical to the parent they came from.
Sexual Reproduction – Sexual reproduction only happens between organisms of the same species. In certain species the individual is either male or female, in others they can be of both sexes and some species actually change sex in their lifetime. There is a range of pollination strategies, some species only pollinate themselves and others use wind and animals to spread their pollen further afield. Those that are predominantly self-fertile or localised are adapted to get by on a narrower gene pool. Those that get around have evolved with a wider gene pool that needs to be maintained if they are to not become inbred. With these you need to ensure that you either save seed from a reasonable representation of plants or bring in new genetics occasionally to maintain healthy populations.
Selecting, Collecting, Sorting and Storing Seed
In nature, plants have been reproducing themselves for millennia. With some basic observation, we can see how each species goes about it.
Once you’ve worked out what plants you want to save seed from it’s usually just a matter of allowing the reproductive part of the plant, be it a fruit, a pod or head to reach maturity in order to obtain viable seeds. You can then collect an adequate representation of these from healthy plants that meet your criteria.
After harvesting, the seed needs to be sorted, this may involve removal from fruiting bodies, cleaning if necessary, removing any poor specimens and then drying thoroughly, away from pests.
Dried seed is then packaged and labelled so you remember what’s what, and stored in airtight containers under dry, dark and cool conditions.