Saving and Caring for Seeds

A guide for seed storage, testing, growing, plant population planning, and more.


| October 2017



thermometer

Inexpensive thermometer/hygrometer.

Photo by Cindy Conner

In Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of People (New Society Publishers, 2014), author Cindy Conner reveals to readers how seed companies have monopolized the seed market and thus harmed small businesses and the abundance of plant varieties. Conner calls on gardeners to move away from the big businesses and save their own seeds in order to expand the available stock of heritage and heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables through community-based projects. Here, she explains more in-depth about how you can save seeds by creating a library for seed storage, testing collections of seeds, planning for the future of plant populations, and more.

You can purchase this book from the Capper’s Farmer store: Seed Libraries.

Seeds are basic to life. They have the potential to not only grow into food, flowers, bushes, and trees, but to reproduce themselves abundantly. Some cultures hold them sacred, as all cultures should. If we don’t value our seeds, we don’t value all of life surrounding us. Seeds connect us with our past and with our future. City dwellers may find it hard to imagine just how important seeds are if they never see the food they eat or the flowers they bring home actually growing in the ground and producing seeds. The closest many people come to confronting seeds is when they clean out a pumpkin for Halloween. If that is your experience, take a moment to hold those seeds in your hands and picture the people who once depended on winter squash as a major food source. Think about how they would clean the seeds and store them until the next growing season. Notice the difference in the seeds themselves. You could sort the seeds according to their size and plumpness, then do a germination test on each group of seeds. The results of those tests would teach you what to look for when saving seeds of not only squash, but other crops as well. (More about germination tests later in this chapter.) The book Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden is good to read if you are pondering pumpkin seeds. It relates the agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians, featuring sunflowers, corn, beans, and squash; the story is told by an elderly Hidatsa woman who kept to as many of the old ways as she could later in life.

When native lands were taken over by newcomers, one of the ways of controlling the natives was to control their food. This is still going on today, but now it is the corporations who are controlling the food — YOUR FOOD — but only if you let them. We are all eaters. Even if you never grow anything, what you choose to eat determines whether you continue on the corporate-controlled route, or you get back to your roots. If you have always lived with a food supply brought to you by the governing corporations and don’t recognize any roots or heritage food, now is the time to change that. When you plant seeds, particularly when they are given to you by someone else, you are putting down both kinds of roots. Even if you move, you can take them with you — both the seeds and the memories. If you move to a different climate, the old seeds may or may not do well. Look at it as an opportunity to find out what grows well in the new place and to make new friends to share seeds with.

In our melting pot of a nation, even before the boats first floated to the shores, people have relied on the seeds that they grew up with. Unfortunately, when the newcomers came to America, they didn’t recognize the importance of the indigenous crops that the natives were growing. They didn’t recognize the importance of the natives, either, and pushed them off their ancestral lands. If you are not a grower but are searching for a root heritage, buy your food from growers who understand this and have established their own roots. They will bring you into the fold.

Where to Find Seeds

When you start a seed library, you will need a quantity of seeds to get the ball rolling. If you are patient and plan far enough ahead when setting up your project, you can contact gardeners and farmers at the beginning of a growing season and ask them to save seeds for you. That way, you will be starting with varieties that grow well in your region. I wrote about the importance of saving seeds that do well in your particular area in Chapter 2. I will not be telling you how to save seeds, since there are already many books and web resources available that do that. You will find some of them listed in the “Resources” chapter. Have as many of these resources available to your potential seed growers as possible. Make sure the donated seed is not designated as PVP or protected by a utility patent (I explained PVP and utility patents in Chapter 1). Seed catalogs usually have that information in their variety descriptions.





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