As the summer days shorten and give way to signs of fall, our mature gardens wind down as well. It’s this time of the year that gardeners begin saving seeds from their own gardens or someone else’s (with permission, of course!).
Why save seeds? We asked our friends at Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, to share some insights on this topic. Founded in 1975, Seed Savers Exchange is a leader in saving America’s culturally diverse and endangered garden and food crop legacy for current and future generations.
Seed Savers Exchange preservation director, Michael Washburn, shared his perspective.
Heirloom seeds are a historical record of continuous human intentions to nourish and feed one another. The seeds carry values that cultures selected for. Much of our given food culture is commonly based around nourishment, healing, and basic human caring. Yet genetic diversity is necessary to maintain those common cultural values due to the extreme disparities in climate and growing conditions across the globe. Maintaining genetic diversity by continuing to select and save our own seeds is adhering to a cross-cultural life strategy. Seeds are the keys to continued existence.
We look to Seed Savers Exchange as a trusted seed source and as a resource for how to garden for seed-saving for beginning to master gardeners. Here’s a list of reasons why we think it's important to garden with open-pollinated varieties and garden for seed saving.
- Preserve Genetic Diversity. Lots of great varieties will never see the pages of a commercial seed catalog. Many unique plants only exist in the hands of one or two gardeners. Lend a hand and save some of those seeds that are in danger of disappearing! Better yet, share those seeds you save with others too! Explore The Exchange, an online seed swap facilitated by Seed Savers Exchange.
- Flavor. Ever find the best-tasting tomato from a seed catalog one year only to discover you can’t buy it anywhere the following year? Seed savers don’t have this problem!
- Connect with Your Garden Heritage. Every seed holds a connection to the future and the past. From ‘Grandpa Ott’s’ Morning Glory passed down to Seed Savers Exchange’s co-founder, Diane Ott Whealy, by her grandfather and traceable back to ancestors who emigrated with the seeds from Bavaria, Germany, in the late 19th century—to the rogue tomato plant that you’ve saved seeds from and will pass on to your children, the stories of seeds connect us to our history, our culture, our family, and our sense of who we are.
- Help #SaveTheBees. Many pollinators are in decline. While you wait around for your flowers to produce seeds, they are providing blooms and invaluable food for bees, butterflies, beetles, and other insects that help secure our food supply.
- Build Community. Seed saving and seed sharing go hand-in-hand. Share with a neighbor, help a community garden become more self-sufficient, or take a few new gardeners under your wing and teach them how to save their own seeds. By saving and sharing seeds, you are also bolstering biodiversity.
- Save Money. A typical package of 50 pepper seeds costs $3 or more, while transplants can cost $5 each! By growing food from seeds you have saved, you can significantly reduce the cost of producing healthy food.
Want to learn more about gardening for seed saving? Check out the many resources available from Seed Savers Exchange at their website, including the 20-page Growing from Seed Handbook plus resources from the MSHS MN SEED Project.
Want to learn more about seed saving with some hands-on experience? Join others of all levels of experience at several hands-on metro-area demonstration and processing events presented by the MN SEED Project (Saving Essential Edibles and Diversity). You’ll learn when seeds are ready to collect and how to gather, clean, process and store them.
MN SEED Project is a collaboration among the St. Paul Seed Circle, Como Community Seed Library and MSHS. The MN SEED Project is open to anyone interested in saving seeds from vegetables, fruits and native plants.
Here are some tips from MN SEED for responsible seed collecting:
- Confirm your plan and seed identification.
- Always get permission from those who manage or own the site garden.
- Only take 20 percent or every fifth seed head/pad.
- Collect from as many different plants as possible.
- Use paper envelopes or bags to collect your seed in.
- Label! Label! Label! Make sure to note the common name, scientific name, date it was collected, and location, try to indicate how many plants were collected from, and add your initials as harvester.
- If possible, stay on a path or walkway and out of the plantings. Who knows what little friends could be underfoot in the garden including new seedlings.
- When done collecting seed, clean up the site so there’s no evidence you were there.
State Fair Special Promotion! When you join or renew as a Society member of the hort at our booth at the Minnesota State Fair, receive a lime green market tote made from recycled water bottles, a packet of 'Darki' parsley seeds which are a delicious and cold-tolerant variety exclusively available from the Seed Savers Exchange Members Growing Club and a special discount offer from Seed Savers Exchange!
To learn more, join a webinar or workshop...