Garden Guide '09: Seeds of the Future

By Katie Lamar Jackson
Garden Guide '09: Seeds of the Future

For 10,000 years or more—ever since humans first began cultivating crops, in fact—people have ensured their gardening future by saving seed from one year's planting to use the following year.

Today, many people rely on seed companies for their annual seed stock so seed saving has become something of a lost art. However, more and more farmers and gardeners interested in preserving heirloom varieties and in protecting the genetic diversity of food and fiber crops are saving and sharing seeds.

Seed savers

Seed savers are people who save seeds or tubers for vegetables, grains, herbs, flowers, nuts and fruits.

Commercial seed companies have done a remarkable job of providing high quality seeds and plant material that produce consistent crops each year. Unfortunately, many of these hybridized seeds do not produce a second generation of seeds that are true to form. The result is that thousands of varieties of vegetables and flowers are being lost from our seed reserves, which in turn depletes the botanical gene pool.

In an effort to preserve this genetic diversity and also hang on to heirloom varieties of plants, seed-saving organizations have sprung up across the world.

Among these is Seed Savers Exchange, a nonprofit organization that has for many years been helping gardeners and farmers save and share heirloom seeds and plants. The Seed Savers Network in Australia is another long-established and highly successful seed saving organization that focuses especially on nations in need of greater, more secure food resources and botanical diversity.

But you don't have to be a professional botanist or an activist to save seeds and, thus, botanical history. It's something you can do in your own backyard by following a few simple steps.

Save only seeds from your best specimen—­the ones that produced the tastiest fruit, the hardiest plants or the most handsome flowers.

Harvest the seed with care (small-seeded crops, such as lettuces, can be shaken into a paper bag for collection), clean off any pulp from the seed and arrange them in a single layer in a glass pan. Place the dish in a sunny and well-ventilated spot for a week or so until the seeds are fully dry. Put the dried seeds in an envelope labeled with the name of the plant and the date of seed harvest, then store these in a cool, dry location.

To find out more about seed saving and exchange groups, visit Seedsaving and Seedsavers' Resources at http://homepage.eircom.net/~merlyn/seedsaving.html. Learn more about Seed Savers Exchange at www.seedsavers.org or Seed Savers Network at www.seedsavers.net.

About the Author

Katie Jackson is a writer, editor and photographer for the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station and Auburn University College of Agriculture, with more than 25 years of experience reporting on science, agriculture and the environment.

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