Our first hard frost is forecast this week, so there is much to be done. In addition to lots of canning and preserving, autumn on a small homestead means saving seeds. We’ve talked about the importance of seed saving previously, and each season we’re working on expanding our seed bank. Never before has it been so important to save our own seeds and thereby take responsibility for our own food supply; as seed companies are again and again snapped up by massive agrochemical conglomerates, our control of our own seeds – our fundamental birthright, and the source of our food supply – becomes ever more tenuous.
Most lettuces and other salad greens encase their seeds in little windblown puffballs.
As I wrote in our previous seed post, “Today, nearly three-quarters of all seeds planted in the U.S. – both unmodified and genetically engineered varieties – are privately owned and controlled by three large agrichemical corporations. Growing food is a basic human right, and we are quickly moving towards a future in which we will no longer own the source of our food. Lack of food leads to hunger, which leads to unrest, which leads to revolution, which leads to profitable wars benefitting those same corporations. Building our own seed banks, even if technically illegal, means we still have some say in our food supply. Seed saving is a small but powerful act of resistance.”
Arugula sets its seed in pods that look like tiny beans.
We save seeds for many reasons here on Quiet Farm; not only do we think it’s essential to build up our own hyperlocal seed bank in the event of environmental disaster or other catastrophe, but saving seeds from our own crops means we’re breeding immunity, drought tolerance and disease resistance for this very specific place. Plus, it helps us become better farmers because saving seed means learning a plant’s life cycle from origin to death and back again. And it means we save money and avoid the environmental costs of shipping, so those are important factors, too! All in all, there’s simply no reason for us not to save seed when possible.
Most seeds aren’t used for cooking; cilantro seed (coriander in the U.S.) is an exception.
Often people think a degree in advanced plant breeding and genetics is required in order to save seed, but it’s much easier than you might expect – most plants simply want to give you seed. Plants we eat are classified as either annuals or perennials, and an annual, as its name implies, will set seed every year in order to perpetuate its line. Some plants do produce seed that’s both easier to see and easier to capture, especially for beginners; lettuce seed, in particular, is exceptionally easy to save, as long as it’s captured before the winds come.
Basil starts to set seed even while the leaves are still usable.
As we’ve discussed previously, one of the most common reasons home gardeners don’t save their own seed is because plants that have “gone to seed” look messy and unkempt, and in the standard suburban backyard this isn’t considered a plus. Plants also need to be left alone for longer, as setting seed typically happens long after any edible crop has been harvested, and in a tight space gardeners may want to tear out those plants to make room for others.
Our fava beans have been saved for years.
In addition to lettuce and other salad greens, legumes, specifically beans and peas, are some of the easiest seeds for home gardeners to save. Simply leave the pods on the plant until they become “rattle-dry,” then store. This is easier said than done in more humid climates, and mold is one of the greatest risks to a seed bank. The best conditions for seed storage are always cool, dark and dry, so if you’re saving your own seeds be sure they’re absolutely dry before they’re stored, and ensure that insects, rodents and other animals can’t get to them. Seed companies put expiration dates on seed packets both to ensure high germination rates and so that you’ll buy more, but your own seeds, if stored properly, can last for years. Just remember that you do need to grow the seeds out and save new seed occasionally, to keep the bank fresh.
A guaranteed supply of basil for next year’s tomatoes!
Consider starting a seed swap if you’re lucky enough to be part of a community of committed home gardeners; most gardeners have more seed than they can ever use, and it’s fun to grow unusual things each year. Our incredible library here in Delta County has a fledgling seed library, where you “check out” seeds at the beginning of the growing season, then ideally return that saved seed plus more to the seed bank for other growers. This means that people get to try new varieties without spending a lot of money, and that we have a locally-adapted seed bank built by us and for us.
N wants me to tell you he didn’t take this phone photo. (Thanks, Sara!)
My sister texted me this photo last night of my nephew proudly displaying their late-season harvest. That gorgeous delicata squash originated at our friend Lara’s farm, up in Lafayette; I saved seeds from her squash last fall and gave them to my nephew for his birthday. (My gifts are generally not the most popular at kids’ parties, strangely.) These uniquely-adapted delicata squash are now grown in my sister’s garden, out here at Quiet Farm, and hopefully in dozens of other gardens on the Front Range. My nephew will learn the importance of saving his own seed so he can grow squash again next year and ideally share those seeds with other gardeners. This is why we save seeds – so the cycle can begin again, and so our food and our knowledge can be passed down from generation to generation.
P.S. For those of you in the Delta County area, I’m teaching a free class on beginning seed saving this Thursday at the Cedaredge Library! The class will be from 5-6PM, and it’s open to the public – no reservations required. I’d love to see you there!