It’s springtime again and the worms are busy in our garden working the soil into great condition for yet another year of planting. One of the things I do first is go through the seeds I have saved from last year’s harvest to see what I have and what I want to use. Then I order heirloom seeds for what I don’t already have. You might want to consider the future by choosing seeds, like heirloom seed varieties, from which you can save your own seed.
What are Heirloom Seeds?
Our forebears were very resourceful and saved their seeds because if they didn't, they wouldn't have a garden the following year. It is wondrous to consider how many of the succulent vegetables and fruits we enjoy today were once propagated in another land and brought here by our ancestors to keep a taste of home in a new land.
Heirloom seeds are seeds that enable you to collect seeds from the harvest so that you can replant the following year. They are open-pollinated and reproduce after their kind - what you plant is what you'll get...year after year after year. These are seeds from plants that have been carefully cultivated for the purpose of continuing their propagation through their seeds. They are literally vaults of history - and hope for the future. Unfortunately, with the agrichemical conglomerates buying out seed companies which may have offered heirloom varieties specifically adapted to certain localities and pushing hybrids and patents that can bring in more profits, many more of the best home garden seed strains available will be lost forever. GMO seeds and hybrid seeds are engineered so that the buck stops with them - literally. You can’t collect seeds from these types of crops - heck, you may not even *see* any seeds in these vegetables and fruits! Seeds are an indicator of life force. No seeds - no life. When there are seeds, you cannot plant them for another crop. You have to repurchase seeds when you want to plant again. And I might add that the uniformity of genetics in hybrids and GMOS makes them MORE susceptible to disease and pestilence. Heirloom crops might not look so good or produce so heartily, but they are foundational to the sustainability of our world.
What's Wrong With Genetically Engineered Foods?
Some people understandably don't understand why a genetically-modified fruit or vegetable that "looks" good is not good for their body. Our bodies are designed by a Designer to operate efficiently on certain fuels. When these fuels cannot be recognized by the body as food, our bodies go into high alert, seeing what we’ve ingested as toxins and mounting up an attack to get them out! Welcome to the beginnings of auto-immune disorders. A genetically-modified seed results from someone mixing plant DNA with other kinds of DNAs from other kinds of creation - and creating something that our bodies were not designed to recognize as food. Here is a link to an exceptional video done by the author of Seeds of Deception, Jeffery Smith.
Don’t Get Overwhelmed
It is easy to panic when you first learn about all this. The first thing I did was to buy Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth, which is an amazing resource for purposeful planting and seed harvesting - but it is SO technical, I quickly got overwhelmed. Learning all the botanical classifications, the different plant reproduction specifics and the means to keep each variety of plant pure was a colossal chuck of information. It seemed to me to be next to impossible to keep each seed type pure and I had to decide to just do what I could. I started with as many organic, heirloom types of plants as possible and tried to stick with one variety of each so that they wouldn’t cross-pollinate. Then I collected those seeds and added in some new types of plants the following year and so on. I don’t have a huge patch so it’s limited what I can plant and collect. For me, the hardest crop to keep pure seems to be the squashes because they are so sprawling and gangly that they just inevitably wind up cross-pollinating. Ideally - you’d want to have several plots for certain types of plants all located a good distance from one another. We live on clay and rocks and have just one built-up plot, so I don’t have this luxury. But if you have acres of good rich farm property, you should be able to do some great collections of heirloom seeds.
How Do You Collect the Seeds?
Different plants have different patterns for producing seeds. Some seeds come from inside fruits, some emerge after flowers die on a plant. Some really clever gardeners plant different plants at different intervals so that flowers wouldn't be on heads at the same time, thus preventing cross-pollination. That takes some real plant awareness! An example of a flowering pattern you might not expect is carrots. Carrots don't flower during their first year, so if you dig up all your carrots the year you plant the seed, you won't get more seed. But if you wait for the second year and give up some carrots to enabling the root to feed a flowering, seed-producing plant, you will be good to go for the next years. When choosing plants from which to collect seeds, you want to be a good farmer and choose the plant that looks like it has the best hereditary lines to pass on and gather seeds from that plant. Always save extra because not all your saved seed will pollinate. You really do need a great guide, like Seed to Seed or one of the others in the carousel at the bottom of this article to help you learn about each type of plant, when the seeds are produced and where to find them as well as how to store them. As you learn one type of plant then you can move on to another type in another season. I’m all about taking it in bite-sized portions (pun intended) and not getting food anxiety - or seed anxiety in this case!
Store Your Seeds for the Future
After I collect some seeds and dry them(never with artificial heat!), I store them in vacuum-sealed ziplock bags in canning jars in the freezer. Seeds will be voided if you dry them in too high heat, killing the life inside or if you store them where too much moisture can get at them. Seeds stored this way should keep for a good 10 years or even longer. Next best way to save them is to refrigerate them and finally, if you have a nice cool dark root cellar, that is also a way to extend the life of your seeds. Some seeds just naturally store longer than others. Well, I hope I've encouraged you to consider the legacy of saving seeds both for your health and for our families' futures!
If you just want to purchase a seed stash for the future, there are many heirloom collections of seeds available for that purpose.