By: Ash Lloyd, EcoHouse Green Gardening Volunteer
Seed saving is an incredibly useful and important skill, even in modern times. In terms of basic survival skills, I believe it is on the same level as knowing how to start a fire or find clean water. Seed saving was common in many rural communities because it was a normal practice among farmers and backyard food growers. Unfortunately, it has become less common and there is a loss of heritage varieties of fruits and vegetables. But as the environmental crisis becomes an increasingly large fixture in today’s world, seed saving has reappeared with a growing number of public seed libraries and community seed exchanges popping up in cities and towns. With this in mind, let us explore what makes seed saving so important and why you should consider adding it to your personal toolbox of skills.
One big benefit of saving seeds from your garden or community is that plants naturally adapt to the environment they grow in. If you plant multiple specimens of the same plant one year, you can save all the seeds from the plant that produces the most bountiful harvest. This great trait is likely to be passed on through the seeds. This technique is a form of forced selection, which humans have used for thousands of years. It is how we turned a type of grass into corn, and small fruits into big tomatoes and eggplants! By practicing it yourself, you can have better harvests compared to store bought seeds. And best of all, it is FREE after your first year! Specially selecting plants for a long time can even produce your own local variety, sometimes referred to as a “landrace”.
The nature of reproduction in plants means that, assuming your plants grow to maturity, you will always have significantly more seeds than you planted. As a result, you will be able to continuously plant your own plants year after year and still have enough leftover to share with your friends. You can also donate extra seeds to a local seed library or bring them to a seed exchange. Learning the various tricks and techniques to seed saving means you will not need to pick up store-bought seeds as often.
Saving your own seeds and sharing them with friends and neighbours is a great way to build a sense of community. Anyone who grows their own plants will likely be delighted by the gift of saved seeds, assuming they have the room to grow them of course. Having community events like seed exchanges can also be a great way to get new people into the practice of gardening and seed saving.
With many native species of plants under threat from habitat loss, invasive species, and unpredictable climate change, there are many plants at risk of extirpation or even extinction. These species are usually important building blocks of our local ecosystem and their presence adds immeasurably to the richness of our natural world. Sadly, many of these species remain unknown to the general public and cannot be found at garden centres – often carrying non-native ornamental species because they are in high demand. Aside from putting pressure on garden centres to carry native species, you and your community can also work to build up your own local population of endangered plants. You can usually find seeds from endangered plants in your area online or from local growers, who already have a captive population. You should avoid collecting rare seeds from the wild as you run the risk of doing more harm than good. This preservation work should be left to the experts. That being said, you can always contact your local government specialist in charge of at-risk species or local academic institutions with a botanical or horticultural department, as they may have their own conservation programs you can participate in.
Seed saving is a very useful skill and can be incredibly rewarding practice! I hope this brief introduction to the practice will inspire you to get involved with your local seed saving community. If you live in the Hamilton area, you should check out the yearly Seedy Saturday seed exchange as well as the numerous others that have begun to pop up at local farmers markets and community centres throughout the year. Thanks for reading and happy seed saving!
Photo 1: cityseedsaving by Erika Burgess CC Les Moustaches
Photo 2: saving-seeds-for-beginners-square by Seed Savers Exchange © 2019 Seed Savers Exchange