Seed Saving 101

By Deb Denzer Seed saving has been going on for the eons of human history. Since the beginning of agriculture, farmers have been saving the seeds of the best of the best; those crops that offer the best attributes for food. Seeds would be saved to be replanted and harvested over and over again. According to the history I learned in grade school, it was this very process that defined the advent of human civilization and agriculture.

Why save seeds you ask? According to the International Seed Saving Institute; “We are on the verge of losing in one generation, much of the agricultural diversity it took humankind 10,000 years to create. As late as 1900, food for the planet's hungry was provided by as many as 1,500 different plants, each further represented by thousands of different cultivated varieties. Today over 90% of the world's nutrition is provided by 30 different plants and only four (wheat, rice, corn and soybeans) provide 75% of the calories consumed by man. Where once diverse strains strengthened each local ecosystem, currently, a handful of "green revolution", super-hybrid varieties are "mono-cropping" farms and gardens worldwide… For example, the genetic center for wheat found in Turkey is in danger of being planted completely with hybrids by the end of the decade. Thousands of native and heirloom wheat varieties are disappearing and will be unavailable to botanists looking for varieties resistant to the plant diseases of the future. The modern world is facing the prospect of feeding hungry billions with a genetically uniform agriculture and little or no diversity to sustain it.”

One possible challenge we face is reduced food security due to a loss of the genetic diversity of our crops. We as individual gardeners have the ability to help save the rich heritage of at least 10,000 years of genetic history. I believe it is our moral obligation to do so to preserve the rich diversity of global food crops. This can be accomplished in a few ways, purchasing those seeds which help maintain a rich genetic heritage, collect seeds from our own gardens, share seeds with others in our community at Mead Library’s seed library. Who knows, the seeds you collect from your garden may offer a genetic advantage by being resistant to specific insect pests or disease!

These following plants are very easy for gardeners to collect seeds and are considered the “beginners” seed saving plants; tomatoes, beans, lettuce, peppers, and peas. This is because they are mostly self-pollinating and a gardener new to seed saving does not need to worry about cross pollination. Seed saving difficulty increases with these plants; corn, cucumber, muskmelon, radish, spinach, squash, pumpkin. These crops require separation from other varieties in the same species to keep them from cross-pollinating. And finally, for those of you who are experts, these are the super challenging crops; beets, swiss chard, cabbage, carrot, escarole, onion, radicchio, and turnips. These vegetables require more than one year for seed production and separation is absolutely necessary to prevent cross-pollination.

For more infomation or for seeds to give or take, visit Sheboygan's Mead Seed Library at Mead Public Libary: http://www.meadpl.org/content/meadseedlibrary