This article is the firies about seed saving. I’ll show you how to do it, and why to do it… because many modern seeds don’t grow well year after year. This means that if you value your independence or self-sufficiency, you have to buy new seed to plant every year.
This is good for seed companies’ bottom line, but it’s bad for both your independence and your pocketbook. If you needed seed and the seed company wasn’t around to supply you, where would you go? Where would you get seed for the next growing season? What if the seed company didn’t have a variety suited to your climate or region?
What if the seed companies ceased to exist?While some people feel comfortable buying seed year after year, many others have begun to save and share seed. Learning how to save your own seeds, especially from heirloom and locally adapted crops, frees you from dependence on seed companies. This gives you power over the future of your garden, the food you consume, and your ability to feed your family
Seed saving is a very ancient tradition
In fact, saving seed is the very thing that made agriculture possible. Today, producing seed and saving seed is done by big business. In the past it was done by primitive people, who noticed which crop plants grew the best, and shook some of that plants seed into a bag.
They would save this seed to plant the next season. Because many modern crops are very complicated, it’s easy to forget that the practice is just as simple and powerful as it was for our primitive forefathers.
Seed saving is an important skill both for the survival of people and the survival of the many crops that were bred over the centuries- “heirloom” varieties uniquely adapted to the conditions and stresses of the environment in which they originated.
These crops typically breed true and offer unique solutions to nature’s problems; problems like drought, blight, insects, frosts, soil alkalinity, etc. Many of these crops represent thousands of years of careful observation and cultivation, and the primary way they have been, and will be preserved is through seed saving.
An accomplished seed saver will consistently have his own seed, uniquely adapted to his garden to plant year after year. If seed is selected and saved carefully, many gardeners can develop their own unique gene pools that are resilient, appropriate and productive.
Almost all crops can be cultivated from seed. Some are easy to select, harvest and save, while others are more difficult. To begin saving seed, a gardener must understand a few things:
Different crops live and reproduce on different timelines.
Annuals have short life-spans, germinating from seed, growing and reproducing in the course of a single summer. These crops are usually much easier to collect seed from year after year. There are many annual garden crops, including tomatoes, squash, corn, beans and lettuce.
Biennial crops germinate from seed one year, growing over the course of a growing season (this is called vegetative growth), overwintering, and then flowering and going to seed the following year. Good examples of biennials are beets and chard.
Perennial crops often survive for many years, and may flower and produce seeds every year once the crop is sexually mature. Many garden herbs, berries and fruits fall into this category.
This is important to understand what type of crop you are growing, because if you are waiting for a beet to flower the first year you will be very disappointed!
Seeds are produced by sexual reproduction.
This means that the offspring that result from seeds from a parent plant don’t always resemble the parent plant! Pollen from another type of plant may have fertilized the flowers on the parent plant, leading to strange looking crops. This is especially important to remember with crops like melons, cucumbers and squash as well as the many different varieties of peppers.
Different varieties in these groups of plants cross readily. So, in order to control what kind of a plant the seed will grow, the pollination of some crops must be controlled by planting them far apart, or putting a screen around them to keep insects out.
Hybrid crops will typically not breed true.
Many modern crops are hybrids. Hybrids are stronger and bigger in the first generation because they have lots of genes. But, if two hybrids cross, then all of those genes cause the offspring to be very different from the parents. This means that the seed from hybrids is pretty useless, because you don’t know what you will get if you grow it.
Seeds are alive!
This means that seeds can be killed if they are not cared for properly. You must be careful with how you collect, dry and store your seeds or you will kill them.
Watch this free survival video and Learn How to Make the Ultimate Survival Food: Pemmican was light, compact, high in protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and if done properly can last anywhere from a few years (decades) up to a lifetime without refrigeration!
Collecting the seeds is a fairly simple procedure- the seed pods should be picked, or seeds stripped from the plant by hand. Because there are so many different types of seed pods, this procedure can be different for different plants.
Crops like lettuce that send up a spike can be hung to dry over paper bags or cookie trays to catch the drying seed. Some crops like tomatoes and cucumbers may need some extra work to get the seed cleaned up and ready to store.
For many greens and crops like beans, the seed is ready when it is dry. Bean pods should be dry and hard when the beans are harvested, and the beans should have dried down so that they rattle in the shell. These seeds are already dry, so they typically don’t need a long drying period.
These seeds are also fairly simple to remove from the seed pods- either by rubbing the pods between your hands, crushing, or cracking the pods by hand. Many other seeds must be processed and rinsed before they can be saved and stored. Here are a few:
Tips for Collecting Seed From Specific Crops
Peppers: When peppers are very ripe, they can be cut open and the seed removed from the central cone. The seed should scrape easily from the flesh of the pepper. The seed can begin the drying process immediately without rinsing.
Eggplant: Several eggplant fruit should be left on the plant. When they harden and begin to shrivel slightly, the eggplant can be cut open and the seeds removed. The seeds can be treated the same way as peppers.
Tomatoes: Tomatoes are tricky because the seeds have a fleshy, gelatinous sack around them that needs to be removed before the seed can be dried for storage. To remove this sack the traditional way, squeeze or scoop the seed from the ripe tomatoes into a bowl or jar. If there isn’t much seed, add a little water to the seed mass.
Cover the bowl or jar with a cloth and allow the jar to sit to sit at room temperature, out of direct light for several days. Stir the seeds once or twice a day. Soon you will begin to see mold or fungus grow on the surface of the seed mass. This mold will essentially eat the slimy coat around the seeds.
This sack is nature’s way of preventing the seeds from germinating inside the tomato, and the fermentation of this coat is the tomato plants way of removing the coat so that the seeds can germinate, but also using fermentation and the fungus to produce antibiotics that destroy viruses and bacteria that would otherwise infect the seed.
After several days, pour some water into the jar. Bad and immature seed as well as the decomposing sacks will float to the surface and can be poured down the drain. The good seed will sink to the bottom of the jar. You may need to pour water into the jar several times, but you will eventually end up with pulp-free, good tomato seed that you can strain out and dry for storage.
Squash and pumpkin: Squash and pumpkin seed should not be harvested until it is very ripe- squashes should be left on the vine until they harden up. Chop the fruit open and scoop out the seed- wash the filaments and flesh from the seed using slightly warm water.
Dry seed in a cool dry place over the course of several days- dry seed will be brittle rather than flexible. Do not dry seed in an oven as the heat will kill the seeds.
Once the seeds are dry they can be stored. Beans, peas and other legumes prefer to “breathe,” and should be placed in a plastic bag with some air exchange. Most other seed can be stored in mason jars, or in plastic bags inside of mason jars.
Seed must be stored in a dry, cool, dark location to keep it viable. A dry cellar out of light is the best type of location. In humid environments it pays to purchase silica gel packets (or recycle ones from products you purchase) to include in the seed storage jars. This will keep humidity low and prolong the shelf life of your seed.
Most seed will last for several years if stored in this manner.
Seed saving can be a huge benefit to anyone interested in self-sufficiency. For many gardeners, seed saving allows crops to adapt and respond to local conditions, resulting in productive, resilient crops over time.
The diversity of crops grown on this planet has plummeted over the last 100 years, and with it the resilience of agricultural systems. In this regard, saving seed helps reduce the losses of ancient, well-adapted crops to the onslaught of commercial seed companies and monocultural systems.
Seed savers are not only providing for their families and preserving a legacy thousands of years old, but also protesting the new, unsustainable ways of producing food. Saving seed is not only a wise thing to do, but a fun thing to do as a family! Kids love helping save seed, and teaching them how to be more independent and live sustainably is an incredibly fun and rewarding activity.
Now you have the information you need to get started. You have the ability and knowledge to begin harvesting, cleaning and storing seed from year to year, saving money, growing better crops, and living more independently. Have fun as you put this information to use and start down the road to seed independence.
by Nate Storey, PhD for Survivopedia