September 18, 2011

The Importance of Saving Seed

Whereas a growing number of people are becoming interested in where their food comes from and how it is grown, this is not the case for most of the well-fed world.  Many people are too busy with work and family demands and don't have enough time or financial resources to know what is in that box of processed "convenience" food on the supermarket shelf.  But the frightening issue is that even that food source is not secure or necessarily safe.  Fruit and vegetable varieties are becoming extinct at an alarming rate. There was a great article in the July issue of National Geographic about the current state of our food system.

Less variety in our food crops means it hurts that much more if a virulent disease or insect decimates crops the world over. As food production became industrialized and along with the loss of small family farms, food crop varieties were lost as seed companies narrowed down the varieties they offered to increase efficiency and profits.  This situation became worse as companies began to genetically modify their seed so that it could withstand their custom chemical herbicides and pesticides to again increase production on large industrialized farms.

As this particular topic will lead me deep into the myriad of issues in our current food system, I will just leave you with some links and return to the topic of this post:

  • For more information about international seed conglomerates and genetically modified food, see here.
  • For info on toxic chemicals in food, see here.
  • For top ten GM crops facts, see here.

From left:  Appaloosa dry bush beans, Purple podded pole beans,
Trofero filet bush beans and in front are  French Cranberry bush beans

Seed saving is one of the simplest ways that each one of us can help to slow this loss of valuable and important diversity in our food sources, and at the same time take control of our personal food system.  I collected the beans above from my garden a couple weeks ago.  I have amassed a large collection of seed over the last couple of years.  From my own garden, family, friends and during walks around the one usually minds (or notices) if you pull a seed pod off as you walk by....

It is important to only save the seeds from the healthiest of plants, that produce the best quality vegetables, fruit or flowers.  That way the future plants have a higher chance of presenting with the qualities you desire.  Most seeds you can harvest after the seed pods have dried out (but before the first rain!).

Love in the Mist seed pod
Poppy seed pod
Some, like tomato's, you have to do a little extra work.  Take a nice tomato and break it apart and place it in a glass with some water, uncovered.  Leave it there for a few days until it starts to look like a science experiment and the gel like membrane around the seeds has dissolved.  Then rinse the seeds in a strainer and lay them out on a ceramic plate to dry.  When dry store in a dry cool place.

I have a nice area in my basement that my mother set up (when it was her house) with a potting station and a sink with running water.  I keep all my seeds here in little baby food or spice jars with labels of what they are and the year.

It is also important to note that when I purchase seed I almost always buy heirloom, self-pollinating varieties.  Heirloom plants have been grown for many years and in some cases handed down generation to generation and generally remain genetically intact. Hybrid seeds may not be stable and seeds that you save may not create the same plant the next year....they may revert back to the parent plant's characteristics, or the seeds may be sterile. This is one of the ways that large seed companies that supply industrial farms ensure that farmers come back year after year to buy more seed.

I personally sleep a little better at night knowing that somewhere in the Arctic there is a place that is storing the genetic diversity of our global food crops. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault  stores duplicate seeds from seed collections around the world. In addition, the Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing and saving heirloom seeds.

If you live in the Portland metro area, I just learned that Portland Homestead Supply is starting a seed exchange at their store location in Sellwood.

Note: I just found out about a local seed saving organization, SE Portland Seed Bank.  They look to be a great local resource for finding other urban farmers in your neighborhood, learning about seed saving, and connecting with other seed exchange parties and events!

1 comment:

  1. I don't live in the Portland area but I did find this small company offering heirloom seed banks for only $15.00. I bought it last year and all of my seeds grew. I just purchased their herb bank so we will shall see how it goes. Here is their website You can't go wrong