Seed-saving seems like a bit of a pain. Scratch that: it IS a bit of a pain; and in the case of some plants, it’s a serious pain. Yet, like many things that are a pain (staying fit, staying married, giving birth, eating well, saving money), it’s a good thing to do.
Why? Here are five reasons, for starters.
Reason #1: You’re gonna want seeds if things get bad.
If you’re a gardener and don’t save at least a few seeds, you’re on thin ice. You’re counting on seeds being available every year. But what if they aren’t? As a small example, one of my favorite seed companies recently lost a bunch of their stock in a fire. Some varieties simply weren’t available this year – and may not be next year, either. If we have a major crash, will you have the seed on-hand to keep growing food? This is a serious consideration. Stored seed only lasts so long. It’s a great idea to keep extra seeds on hand in tins, etc. – but it’s even safer to continually grow and save seed.
Reason #2: Genetic acclimation
I gave a lecture the other night on survival gardening. When I took a break for questions, a woman told me she and her husband grew tomatoes, but had decided to stay away from hybrid and GMO seeds this last year. Instead, they planted all heirloom varieties… and their garden failed. She told me they had problems they’d never encountered before and were really bummed out. My answer was this: seeds and varieties are often climate specific, and many of the heirlooms offered in seed catalogs are from Oregon and California, since those areas have taken the lead in organic gardening. Unfortunately, that means they may not be suited to your farm in Minnesota. Or mine in Florida. If you try a bunch of varieties, then save seeds from the plants that work… and plant them again, and save seeds from the plants the work… and repeat this year after year, you develop strains that thrive in your climate. You may not have time to do this later – do it now.
Reason #3: Finding out what works
Reason #2 leads into this point. If it works, save the seeds. If a neighbor is growing something and it’s thriving, ask them about it and start growing your own. Basically, if a plant is healthy and reaches adulthood, bears fruit and makes seeds, it’s been at least somewhat successful. You really have no idea how well something is going to do until you plant it a few different years. For instance, I decided to trial four different grain corn varieties this year to see what would thrive and produce in the Florida heat without irrigation. Usually the spring here is dry and hot. This year it was wet and hot. Out of my four corn varieties, only one did well. The others produced small ears, some rotted, some were consumed by insects, etc. Next year, however, it may be a different story. Only long-term experience can teach us; by saving seeds, we’re also allowing the plants themselves to learn.
Reason #4: Being ready to share/barter
Here’s something we often overlook: even inside the small circle of “prepared” individuals, not everyone has prepared for the same things. Some folks may be brilliant at tactical planning; some may know how to wild forage. One gal might be brilliant with food preservation; another guy may have stockpiled plenty of ammo. It’s hard to do everything. When you stockpile seeds, you’re putting aside something that will be quite valuable in a long crisis. Do you remember Robinson Crusoe? His discovery of old feed grains – seed! – after running aground was viewed as a gift from Providence. Your stockpile may literally be lifesaving for an entire community. Unless you didn’t bother with beans and corn because you were too busy breeding a lavender nasturtium. In that case, you’re totally zombie fodder.
Reason #5: Saving the world
Now this is something that goes beyond preparing for the here and now – this is about preparing for the generations of humanity stretching out in front of us. The same kind of morons that decided centrally planned government was a good idea also run the food supply. In some cases, we’ve gone from thousands and millions of local varieties of grain and seeds down to handfuls of genetically modified varieties. Worse, those GMO crops have crossed with many old varieties and contaminated their genes, ruining the work of hundreds or thousands of years of seed savers. Varieties have been lost at a staggering rate and we have no idea where this train is going to end. By streamlining everything for maximum yields and creating patented varieties – some of which cannot reproduce themselves – government-enabled corporations have built a very unstable system that’s stacked on the availability of high technology, oil, shipping, irrigation, pesticides and continued gene-splicing. If any one of a number of bricks in this scheme crumbles, a lot of people are going to be in big trouble. Without gardeners and farmers who save the genetic diversity of the past, there may be no future for some vegetables.
Finally, if you’re not sure how to save your own seeds, the book Seed to Seed is a really great place to learn. It only takes a small space in your garden to get started… so get started. Now!