Even though it seems like we have many choices, most of the seeds in this country are owned by a handful of huge seed companies. These seeds are grown thousands of miles away from where they’re finally purchased. We don’t know the details of how they’re grown or their impact on the place they’re grown. It’s likely the seeds aren’t adapted to the area they’re ultimately planted, and the diversity of available varieties is low.
Seed saving is the solution, both to the seed industry’s impact on the climate (production and transportation, for example) and to our gardens’ ability to adapt to climate change.
When we save seeds, we've allowed plants to fully mature beyond the eating stage, into their reproductive stage when they set their seeds. Seeds are then selected from plants that have desired traits such as drought and disease resistance, flavor, size, or abundance. It only takes one generation for seeds to be imbedded with this ecological and cultural knowledge. As climate change creates unpredictable weather, our gardens and farms become more vulnerable. The health of our gardens depends on saved seeds that have generations of coding specific to our local and changing weather patterns.
Saving seeds is a powerful act, but it’s also simple to get started. Think of it as the final stage in a season of gardening, when we allow plants to grow to their mature stage and let seeds form. The following are easy, beginner-level vegetables for you to bring seed saving to your own Climate Victory Garden:
- Select a variety that prefers local precipitation levels, maintains good leaf growth, doesn't go to seed early, and has a desirable flavor.
- Pull out all the plants with undesirable traits.
- Allow the remaining plants to mature, and you'll notice that the leaves start to head up (get more elongated, pointed, and more vertical growth).
- Flowers will begin to form at the top of the stem. When a majority of the flowers are dry, pull the plant out of the ground and cut off the upper stem with the flowers.
- Store this top of the stem in a cool dry place until you have the time to sort and clean the seeds.
- Strip the flowers off the stems and crumble them. Then winnow (separate) the chaff from the seed.
- Store in glass, paper bags, or envelopes.
- Select for flavor, size, color, water needs, and strength of the plant.
- Pick a tomato that is fully ripe. Cut in half and squeeze the juice and seeds into a small glass jar or cup. Make sure it's a juicy liquid. If it's a tomato that’s inherently not juicy, then add a small amount of water so that the seeds are suspended.
- Allow this to sit at room temperature three to four days. A mold will likely form on the top.
- The viable seeds will sink to the bottom, and the protective gel around the seed will break down in this fermentation process.
- Skim off the mold first, then pour the rest into a strainer and run the seeds under water until they are clean.
- Put the clean seeds on a dish to fully dry, then store in a glass jar, paper bag or envelope.
Always store your seeds in a cool, dark, dry space. Label with the name of the plant, date, location, and growing conditions. Consider adding any other pertinent information regarding the growing season that may be helpful to the future. And, if you have a special story that goes with those specific seeds you might want to include that as well.
Ready to take the next step in seed saving? Check out this Seed Saving Guide from the Organic Seed Alliance.
Written by Wendy Weiner, a gardener by trade, graduate of Seed School, and one of the founding members of the Salida Seed Library in Salida, Colorado.