Seed Saving

Why Bother Saving Seeds?

1) Adaptability

Plants have the ability to adapt to their environment. They can develop resistance to specific pests and diseases over time. Rogueing is the process of removing inferior plants from the population, and is very important to save the best seeds. This prevents undesirable traits from being passed down. You can select plants to save seeds not only for their ability to resist pests and diseases, but also for taste, color,size, fragrance or ripening time.

2) Save Money

Seed packs sell for around $3.00 each. For most gardeners who buy seed, it’s easy to spend at least $30/year. Farmers can easily spend several hundred dollars buying seed each year. It could be argued that spending even $100 a year to grow your own food is a good value, but why spend money when you can learn a traditional skill that only takes a few hours of your time each year.

3) Create Community

Seed saving will strengthen Nashville’s local food system and increase food security, starting with seeds you save from your own garden. Raise awareness around seed issues such as patenting and genetic engineering which threaten the future of many plant varieties. Educate others in your neighborhood and community on how to save seeds, and connect them with their branch of the Nashville Public Library’s Seed Exchange Program so they can give back.

4) Protect Diversity

Since the early 1900’s we have lost vast amounts of plant varieties due to the commercialization of agriculture and the choice to only grow a select few plant varieties. In the 1970’s a serious corn blight destroyed much of the nation’s corn crop due to a lack of genetic diversity. Realizing the potential for catastrophe was quickly approaching, some foresighted farmers took matters into their own hands and sparked a new seed saving movement.

4 Types of Seeds

1) Open Pollinated – Seeds that are produced through a natural transfer of pollen between plants by insects, birds or wind.

2) Heirloom – Open pollinated varieties that have been preserved and passed down within a family or community for generations. An heirloom variety must be open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms.

3) Hybrid – Hybridization can occur naturally through random crosses between different plant varieties, however, most hybrids are created by human intervention and do not reproduce true to type.

4) GM (genetically modified) – Seeds that have been produced in a laboratory setting and that have had changes introduced into their DNA using the methods of genetic engineering. These seeds are patented and it is illegal to save them.

The Key to Good Seed = Good Soil

Only use organic methods in the garden. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides destroy the very environment you are trying to create. Replenish the soil by working in composted manure and composted organic matter. Never add fresh, uncomposted matter to your garden. The composting process takes 6-12 months to complete. Try to not disturb the soil after building your garden beds. Use no till methods and use tools such as garden forks and broad forks loosen soil and work in additional compost year to year.

Steps to Seed Saving

Step 1: Select Plants to Save Seed
First you need to select which plants you want to save seed from. They should be either heirloom or open-pollinated varieties. Open-pollinated varieties create seeds that will reproduce the same traits and qualities. Hybrid seeds will not reproduce true to type. Plants can be roughly divided into three types of pollinators: selfpollinated, windpollinated and insect pollinated. Self pollinating plants such as peppers, beans, tomatoes lettuce, peas and broccoli are the easiest to save seed from because they rarely cross-pollinate. Biennial crops like carrots and beets, are harder to save because they need two seasons to set their seeds. Wind or insect-pollinated crops melons, corn, cucumbers and squash, will easily cross.

Step 2: Harvest the Seeds
For the most part, be sure to only harvest seeds from your best plants. You can choose seeds from plants for a particularly desirable trait. If you want to develop a heat tolerant lettuce variety, collect seeds from plants that were last to bolt. Allow the seed to reach full maturity before collecting. Mature seeds usually have a hard seed coat or a darkened color. When the seeds are ripe, pick and dry the seed as soon as possible. Seeds inside a pod or husk should be left to dry on the plant. Each pod can generally be harvested individually as it dries, but if heavy rains or freezing weather threaten, harvest as many as possible. The entire plant can even be removed from the field and hung inside to complete the maturation process.

Step 3: Clean the Seeds
The two methods for clean seeds are wet processing and dry processing. Wet processed seeds are embedded in the damp flesh of fruits or berries, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons. To clean wet processed seeds, begin by cutting open fruits and scraping seeds out. The seeds, pulp and juice from the fruits may need to go through a fermentation process. During the fermentation process, microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast destroy many of the seed-borne diseases that can affect the next generation of plants. Next, wash the seeds by placing them in a large bowl or bucket. Add water, and stir the mixture vigorously. Viable seeds tend to be denser and will sink to the bottom, while poor quality seeds are more likely to float. Add more water and repeat the process until only clean seeds remain. Pour the seeds into a strainer and washed under running water. Finally, dry the cleaned seeds by spreading as thinly as possible on a flat, dry surface such as a glass or ceramic dish, cookie sheet, window screen, or a piece of plywood. Stir the seeds several times during the day. Dry processed seeds must be separated from husk, flower head, or pod. Seeds that are in pods, may need to be smashed. Once the seeds have been released from the pods or husks, you can separate them from the pods by using hand-screens. Hand-screens are easily to build, and should have a wire gauge that allows to seeds pass through. Once the larger pods are removed, lighter chaff can be separated by winnowing. Keep in mind that damage begins to occur whenever the temperature of seeds rises above 95F. Fans hasten the drying process; ceiling fans are ideal, and placing seeds on window screens is best of all as they allow for excellent air circulation.

Step 4: Store the Seeds
The successful storage of seeds demands cool, dark, and dry conditions. Put seeds into air-tight, glass jars to be stored. At the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Ft. Collins, Colorado, some seeds are stored at 400° F. below zero. However, generally, storage conditions are adequate if seeds are kept below 50° F. Absolute darkness is best. However, seed storage is adequate if direct sunlight or bright, artificial light is avoided. Dryness is the most important factor in the long-term storage of seeds. Optimum levels for most seeds should be about 8% moisture. Most vegetable and flower seeds will store more than one year without special protection. Silica gel can be used for prolonged storage in humid climates.

Adapted from Seed Saving Basics Maud Powell Summer 2009 Vol. IV No.3

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