Save your seedsFeb 27, 2023 10:49AM ● By Bryan Reed
Sustainability outlines a practice that does not deplete, pollute or destroy a natural resource. Closed loop gardening overlaps that philosophy with a desire to create your own resources and utilize products from one season to the next.
We do this with composting, and we can do it by saving our seeds. This option saves money, keeps genetic lines pure and provides consistent varieties of seeds.
It was only a couple generations ago that gardeners saved their own seed because they didn’t have garden centers, supermarkets and seed websites. They traded them with their neighbors, and in the process, grew varieties of crops year after year that naturalized to their specific climate.
Growing the same varieties will make our crops and seeds stronger and more resilient with each generation. Here are some ways to preserve heirloom seeds.
For thousands of years, seed savers have been the stewards of genetic heritage. There have been concerns of losing those proven varieties and the crop nutrients they contain, which is why it is important to save seeds that grow heirloom crops.
Heirloom seeds have been around for generations and provide the true genetic characteristics of vigor, nutrients and viability. They tend to taste better and be better for your body too.
Though there are many seed suppliers, we need to look for original genetic varieties.
Too often crops are hybridized for their disease resistance, uniform maturation or ease of use in a restaurant food slicer. Each genetic modification breeds a trait and simultaneously removes a previous trait. We risk ending up with crops that lack the vitamins and enzymes they once had.
Keep the pollen isolated so that the seeds we harvest are not cross- pollinated by other varieties nearby.
Many of us have had the experience of growing a bell pepper next to a jalapeño and eating a really spicy bell pepper.
There are three strategies to isolating pollen:
• Provide distance. Do some research to verify how much distance your crops need. Windbreaks or physical structures (like a house) can help. When I managed a seed farm, we couldn’t grow corn because its pollen could drift up to two miles and we had neighbors growing it just down the road! John Navazio’s book “The Organic Seed Grower” has comprehensive details on isolation distances.
• Use physical barriers. Professionals use fine mesh netting that pollen can’t get through but sunlight does. Paper bags are a good option for small seed crops. After the plant blooms and is pollinated, the bag can also catch the seeds before they release onto the ground and disappear.
• Time the blossoms. Timing the blossom set can allow for multiple plants to be grown side by side. A short season crop like lettuce is ideal. Spacing each variety three weeks apart allows for each to bloom freely without cross-pollinating the others.
HOW TO SAVE YOUR SEEDS
For seed saving, select the plants with the best traits. Plants exhibiting any unusual growth patterns, odd fruit set or diseases should be pulled out so they don’t cross-pollinate. We want the seed from the strongest, best plants.
After harvesting the seeds, be sure to dry them out thoroughly. Professional growers will dip the seeds in a bleach solution after harvest to kill any surface pathogens that may be present. Then dry the seeds, which is easy to do, especially in our climate.
I always do a germination test and label the storage container with which crop, what variety, where I grew it and the date produced.
Then be sure to store your seeds between 50-80 degrees. Never store seeds in a shed or garage, as the temperature swings are far too great and can harm the viability of the seeds. Under the bed or in a closet inside the house are great spots.
Did you know? Mesa County Libraries’ Central Branch is installing a seed library! It will be a hub for leaving and borrowing seeds grown in our area at no charge.
Don’t miss Bryan’s FREE presentation on seed saving at Mesa County Libraries’ Central Branch on Tuesday, March 7 at 6 p.m. He will also cover topics relating to harvesting, cleaning seeds and more.