Seed Saving Principles: Saving Seed in The Garden Serves Many Purposes As This Article Explains. From Saving Money & Genetic Diversity To Coping With Climate Change, Locally Saved Seeds Are A Way To Ensure Food Security.
There was a time when every gardener saved their own vegetable seeds. Some they used themselves and some they shared with neighbours. This resulted in local races (landraces) of the common vegetables we all now grow.
Seed was only saved from the best plants, those that performed best in the local conditions. Which meant we had the best strains of seed being grown in the right places. This resulted in thousands of strains of vegetables that performed very well.
Some seed varieties were so good that they spread to nearby villages. Then, a few hundred years ago in the UK and elsewhere, business were set up that sold the best seeds. This lead to the heritage varieties we now see in every country of the world.
In the UK we still grow heritage varieties such as Moneymaker tomatoes which was first sold in 1913. Bunyards Exhibition Broad Bean was first sold in the UK in 1894 and, in the USA there is a variety of bean that goes back to 1500 … though I doubt it was sold commercially in those days, it might have been bartered though.
Why Save Seeds?
There are two main reasons to save vegetable seeds.
- To Save Money
- To Protect Genetic Diversity
Let’s look at these in detail.
Saving Seeds To Save Money
Seeds can be expensive. Especially if we use F1 seed.
It takes little effort to save seed and the skills needed are easily learnt. I’ll explain them for each crop in future articles.
Saving money is something many of us want to do.
However we need to be aware that we cannot save seed from F1 crops as they don’t breed true. It would be a false economy to try to. I explain more about F1 seeds in an article about Gregor Mendel and his three laws of genetics, but if you want the simple answer about saving seeds for home use you can ignore the linked Mendel article and take my word not to to save seed from F1 plants.
How Home Saved Seeds Protects Genetic Diversity
Some edible crops, such as the Cavendish banana, which is the main one eaten in the West, are clones of a single plant. They aren’t grown from seed and they are all genetically identical. So if one plant gets infected with a virus or similar, we know every other clone can get affected. They could all be wiped out, globally, very quickly.
Vegetables aren’t normally cloned. And if we all grew the same variety we would have crops with very limited genetic potential. And if they didn’t like the conditions in our area they would not thrive and yield well.
But if we have a lot of locally saved vegetable seed strains we have a huger genetic pool to choose from. And if conditions change we are much more likely to find one that copes better in the new conditions.
Seeds That Can Cope with Global Change
The greater the genetic variety we have in our crops the more likely we are to find some that cope with environmental change. It’s not just higher temperatures. We are also experiencing drought, higher concentrations of CO2 and other changes. When a variety is no longer saved we can’t use any useful characteristics it possessed in our future breeding programmes.
Seeds That Cope With Fewer Chemicals
Many new seed varieties have been bred to yield well when grown with hight chemical inputs. But as we see the sense in cutting back on the expensive oil based fertiliser and pesticide products these crops no longer yield as well. So we need the older, heritage varieties to fall back on.
More Seed Variety Means More Choice
The more local saved seeds we have the bigger the genetic pool available and the more choice we have for the future. Old varieties have persisted because they had many useful characteristics. From drought resistance and better flavour to pest and disease resistance we still have these older varieties because they perform well.
Saving Seeds Gives More Food Security
When we have a large genetic pool of plants to chose from we have more choices and greater long term food security. And on a day to day basis when we have saved seed we have the certainty of the seed being available for the next season.
Seed Saving Options
In many countries there are organisations that are collecting and saving seed in seed banks. Every few years they use the seed to grow more plants to produce more seed to save for the future. This is excellent in that it keeps rare races of seed alive. But it has limitations. They only grew a handful of seeds, often in one location, every few years and that limits the genetic pool.
The better answer is where people in every village saves some seed and grow it every year. This means the seed varieties are dynamic and respond to a change in conditions over time. They evolve as the conditions change and that is something a seed bank can’t achieve. Local people saving local seed is the preferred way to save and evolve our heritage seeds.
More On How To Save Seeds
This is just the first part of a series on how and why we should save seeds. In future articles I will cover the basic principles and then write articles on saving the seed of specific vegetables.
Future Posts On Saving Vegetable Seeds
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Tag: How To Save Seeds.