Why We Should Be Saving Seeds
Here is a really great article about saving seeds and why we should all be doing it. It is written by Suzanne Richmond the Orlando Gardening Examiner from the Examiner .(dot) com.
Saving and swapping seeds: Creating your own hardy strains
Ever consider the magic that is inside of a little tomato seed? It is the potential to feed millions of people, literally. Yup, that little, tiny seed when germinated and grown to adulthood will produce more seed, thus more seedlings, and that idea grows exponentially into a forest of food from one tiny seed. Saving seeds is a very rewarding thing to become involved in and its fun too. All the varieties that are out there contribute to great diversity of foods that can be grown locally and in your backyard or growing area. And besides, Monsanto and Dupont have had their fingers in the genetically modified pie for way too long. Its time we took a stance against genetically modified food and the exorbitant cost to the entire life population of that ill fated endeavor. You can do that by growing heirlooms also known as ‘open pollinated’, and not hybrids which will never produce offspring just like the parent. Saving your own seed leads to greater self sufficiency and bartering power and it doesn’t cost anything.
When I was growing up, one of the mystical things I learned was how that little bean grew into a large bean plant. Most all of us have done it in grade school. What magic to behold in my little cup with some soil, water, and a bean seed. And it was MINE and was I proud of it! That sense of wonder and accomplishment is still with me, many years later, as a grown up with my own garden, and my wonder has increased with the many varieties of veggies that are available for me to try and to share. Sharing and swapping seeds with others has increased my seed bank account and I have varieties that are unusual, from other places around the world, old heirlooms that have been family grown for centuries, and some types of tomatoes whose taste cannot be beat. Now that is literally a mouth full!
Saving seeds is a pretty simple thing to do. To get seeds that breed true, use heirloom type seeds or seeds that are not hybrids. Some need to be cleaned such as tomato seeds. They need to be ‘fermented’ to remove the slimy coating. Squeeze those into a little bowl of water and leave them for about 4 days. A mold will form and the seeds will sink to the bottom. Pour off the water, rinse till clear, dry on paper towels and store in a paper envelope, label with variety and date it. Keep in a glass jar in the refrigerator or a cool and dark place that is low in humidity. Other seeds don’t need the extra fermenting and are very easy to save such as peppers. These seeds are easily separated and you can place them directly into an envelope. For lettuce or leafy crops like cabbages, let the plant mature to the point of having flowers. Allow the flowers to mature into seed pods and save those in a brown paper bag. The pods will pop open and seeds will be caught in the bag. The book that I most refer to is The New Seed Starters Handbook by Nancy Bubel and it contains everything you would want to know about caring for, saving, and starting seeds.
Some of you are asking, “Why not hybrids?” A hybrid is created by cross fertilizing two different plant breeds. Often, the two breeds being crossed are inbred to create desired characteristics. By crossing, you will get seed that produces an outstanding ‘child’ plant that is better than the parents. This is called ‘hybrid vigor’ and seed produce are called F1 hybrids, meaning first generation. The problem is that plants grown from will revert back to having lackluster properties of the inbred parents, or they are sterile and won’t germinate at all. Did you know that Monsanto and other genetically modified seed producers are not required to tell you that your food or your seed has been genetically modified? And for these reasons, we don’t save seed from hybrids. It can waste a whole growing season for that variety if you were to plant those seeds. And we certainly don’t want to share that or spread that into others gardens.
If you are saving and growing the same seed varieties year after year, you will develop a strain that is hardy to your growing conditions. Chances are that these seeds will have improved yield and disease resistance which is very important in Florida as we have conditions that are hot and humid which tend to promote disease and fungus. Save seed from plants that are thriving. This will ensure that the desirable qualities get passed down to the next generations and it will create a strain that will be more tolerant to your set of growing conditions where it has been replanted over time. That strain will become invaluable to you. It will thrive when other strains won’t. So, saving seed from your thriving plants are more likely to create hardy plants for next growing season. For instance, cucumbers, squash, and watermelon seem to always have a problem with fungus and wilt due in part to their hairy leaves that attract moisture. Save seeds from plants that make it thru our humid and hot summer and actually produce fruit well. Grow these next year and repeat saving the seeds from the hardier plants. You are more likely to grow a ‘strain’ that will grow well under your growing conditions. It’s as simple as that.
What excitement there is when a group of like minded seed savers gets together to swap seeds. One is telling of great properties of a certain variety of tomatoes. Another tells of the incredible size or yields of this strain. And yet another brings unusual varieties that claim to grow well in your area. Wow. That is only a small part of what happens at a seed swap. By swapping your seed you are ensuring the life of those hardy strains and you are getting to know your plants better. There is strength and unity that occurs from saving and swapping seeds which leads to inspirational excitement for the next growing season.
A great sense of pride comes from saving your seeds. Besides, no matter what happens to the economy, or the price of gas, or postage, or whatever, your little stash of hardy seeds can feed you and a lot of others for a long time. After a few growing seasons to prove your strains, you can even give them a new name! I have always imagined a nice, big, purplish, disease resistant tomato that bears fruit even at 100 Fahrenheit, that I will name the Soozapalooza. I am on my way but I am not there yet!
And for more of Suzannes articles visit Orlando Gardening Examiner
You make it so exiting. I never looked at it that way.. Seed Swapping.
Neat blog! I have been digging through it and gathering every little detail I can. I am very new to gardening, and honestly started “planning” a garden a couple days ago on paper. I want to save seeds and have a self sustaining garden using natural controls for pests/disease through processes like crop rotation, companion planting and organic treatments. I am still very early in the researching stage and learning constantly. I tell you all that just to explain my possible lack of intelligence in my next question.
You say not to save hybrid seeds because they revert back to the negative properties of the parents or they will be sterile and not germinate.
Later you say that you plant your strains for several seasons and you can name it when it gets proven.
Both of those statements make sense to me in their own right. However, what is the difference between hybrid and strain in these contexts? They seem to me to be saying contradictory things.
Thanks for your comment Lucy. This article was written by Suzanne Richmond. I posted her article because it is useful and mostly accurate.
Hybrid seeds are great for the season that you plant them. After that you don’t know what you will get if that plant re-seeds itself. For instance, I used to buy seeds for the hybrid cherry tomato called Sweet 100. It grew amazingly sweet cherry tomatoes and lots of them. I got many, the birds got some too, and the next season I had baby tomato plants coming up all over my property from the seeds the birds had spread. They were cherry tomatoes, and they were tasteless. That is the primary problem with growing hybrids. It is possible to get a good plant from the seed of an hybrid, but it is a crap shoot. It could go either way. Now if you did get a good seed from a hybrid and were able to keep saving seeds from its progeny, and you got the same good crop over and over again you could say your hybrid reverted to an earlier desirable strain of plant and it has therefore become an heirloom plant. Heirloom plants come true to seed.
These days I grow only heirloom tomatoes, and I only eat heirloom tomatoes. This ensures that what comes up as a volunteer in my garden will be worth the space in which it grows. I have found that the tomatoes that volunteer on my property do better than the tomatoes I plant myself. They thrive in the location in which they germinated, and do this without any special tending by me.
Another word for heirloom is “open pollinated”. An heirloom or open pollinated plant is not static. Where ever it grows the plant learns about its environment, and passes this information to the seed. This is a type of evolution, or you could call it a genetic memory.
This is why when we save seeds we save from the strongest and most delicious fruiting plants and we save the best bean or tomato seeds from that super strong and healthy plant. We are hoping to develop the best tasting and strongest plants for our particular environment.
Genetically Modified Organisms or GMO’s are a whole other creation. These seeds have had their genes actually spliced to change the plant. They do this to make plants immune to a widely used herbicide so that it can be sprayed nearby without killing the GMO plant. They also splice genes to make plants toxic to pest insects that normally chew on that plant. These are very bad practices and have created unexpected anomalous results such as insects that are immune to the built in pesticide (super bugs they are calling them), and because of cross pollination, weeds and nearby plants that are now immune to the popular herbicide round up. To date there are no laws that require food producers to label their products that contain GMOs. I am hoping that will soon change. GMO seeds, plants and foods from them are banned in many other countries.
I hope this helps you to better understand the difference between Heirloom or Open Pollinated and Hybridized seeds, and GMOs