Basic Seedsaving for Beginners

Acknowledgement: A big thanks to the good folk at the Real Seeds company for allowing us to use this content. This content is from the Real Seeds Catalogue website and is published under a Creative Commons licence, so you can copy and distribute it as much as you like - for example at seed-swaps - providing you do not charge for it, or modify it, and that you give Real Seeds credit for writing it.

Until recently, every gardener in the world saved their own seed. And every gardener was, therefore, a plant breeder. They simply saved the seed of the plants that did best for them, and which they liked most. Although simple, this was efficient.

Each gardener was maintaining a slightly different strain of each vegetable, and this made for a huge living genebank that was very resilient against disease or climate change. If things changed so that your cabbages didn't do well, someone down the road had a slightly different one that would cope. This has worked very well for the past 11,000 years. That includes the Bronze Age, the building of the Pyramids, the rise and fall of all the major empires. Every year, without even thinking about it, millions of people added to the achievements of their ancestors to maintain and improve the previous years' varieties. Because their seed was real, open-pollinated seed, every seed was a bit different, so it was widely adapted, but also adaptable - it could cope with all sorts of change. Now, we have thrown this all away.

In the past 40 years, almost all these adaptable local strains have been lost. Gardeners have forgotten how to save their own seed. They are sold hybrids, where every seed is identical, in every packet, year after year - no adaptability for different soils, or for changes in climate over time. And because these hybrid seeds are all the same in every field in every country, people have to bludgeon the environment into some sort of ‘standard' growing medium with fertilisers and chemicals, to grow their standardised seeds.

Should the climate change, or the supply of cheap oil (to make all these chemicals) dry up, then these hybrids will do badly, and there will be no real seeds left to breed from. Profits for the seed companies now, but disaster in the future . . . real farming is a project that has been ongoing for millennia, but now in the height of our tiny period of cheap oil, we think we know better and have turned it into just another industrial process.

Peoples food should represent stored sunlight and water, but 90% of its calories come from oil these days - for the ploughing, spraying, fertiliser, transport. When the oil runs out, who will have the real seeds that can grow without it? Seed-saving is easy. You'll get better seed, better food, and help preserve 11,000 years of work for the future!

Happy seedsaving! Kate & Ben (www.realseeds.co.uk)

Related references

The following books are available to purchase from http://www.realseeds.co.uk/, they also provide amazing open-pollinated seeds.

"Back Garden Seedsaving" by Sue Stickland (ISBN 1899233091) is an excellent reference with a good intro to seedsaving plus details about each individual crop.

"Seed to Seed" by Suzanne Ashworth. (ISBN 1882424581) tells you simply and clearly what you need to do to save seed of any veg you care to mention using materials you have at home.

"The Seed Savers Handbook" Jeremy Cherfas, (Grover Books, 1996) is also good and also talks in more detail about the reasons that you might want to save your own seeds.

"Breed your own Vegetable Varieties" by Carol Deppe ( Chelsea Green Pub Co; ISBN: 1890132721) is a good introduction to vegetable breeding for the interested amateur. Until 50 years ago, all gardeners were plant breeders - it's not difficult, you just need to know how to do it, and the tradition has been lost. This book will give you the basics, and then if you're interested, the nitty-gritty too.


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