I’m not a seed expert, nope, not by any stretch of the imagination. But I am a seed saver; and that, in and of itself should lend some credibility to the subject. So, let me share what I know about seed saving.
First of all, there is a learning curve to this art they call seed saving, and itbegins with the origin of the seed. Whether vegetable, grain, herbs, nuts, fruits, or berries you have to start with a healthy seed from good-stock. Heirloom seeds are the most sought after seeds. These seeds have been handed-down by your grandmother and great-grandmother; and maybe theirs before that, and are the tried and true seed of choice – in other words, what you see is what you get. Also, you want to look for open-pollinated seeds - meaning seeds that produce a flower that do not require a visit from a bee (or bird for that matter) - they can pollinate themselves (don’t ask; just trust me on this one.) The off-spring of these seeds will produce clones exactly like their parents, unlike a “hybrid” seed - the next type of seed - that is anyone’s guess as to what will result from year to year. You know, like will it look like mom or dad?
Hybrid seeds are created by taking two different plants and cross-pollinating them to make a third kind of plant. Kinda like putting vanilla and chocolate ice-cream together to make a swirl cone. And speaking of creating, this leads me to … the GMO seed (que the dark ominous music), the highly-debated “genetically modified” seed. These seeds really are created in a laboratory much like test-tube babies. By adding a little of this and a little of that with a whole bunch of chemicals – the results “supposedly” are a more “hardier” seed. Thankfully; well for those of us who grow our own food, most of these seeds are used in commercial growing – including corn that is in just about anything and everything we consume these days.
Now to earn your junior seed-saver badge, (that’s not really a thing by the way), you might want to begin with the easy-peezy seeds; like say, beans, peas, peppers, and tomatoes; the “self-pollinators” (remember they don’t require a visit from Mr. Beezy?) along with some melons, squash, and cucumbers. With the exception of the cucumbers and squash, most of these seeds can be scraped out of the vegetable, rinsed off really well to get all the slimy coating off and laid out on a glass or ceramic dish to dry. With cucumbers and squash, you want to leave a few of these on the vine until the last of the season – or what is referred to as the maturing – or the senior vegetables if you will, before grabbing their seeds.
Once you have all your seeds washed and dried, you’ll want to have a safe place for them to spend the winter. The key here is to remember that seeds, like us, like to be dry and cool. I place my seeds on a paper coffee filter when dry, then fold the filter into a little rectangle envelope, tape it, write on the tape what kind of seed it is and the year it was harvested and place it in a dated brown paper bag with all the other seeds for that year. But, just like asking people what the color blue looks like, and getting a bazillion answers – the same holds true for how people store their seeds – less the cool and dry part. Some will put their seeds in envelops, make a label and put the variety of seed, where it came from (i.e., a neighbor, a seed packet, from last year’s harvest, etc.), and the month and the date. Some use glass jars. While, others use a mixture of both, adding some powdered milk to the packets as a desiccant to ward off moisture. Some just use good old paper towels. See? It really is up to you how you store your seeds – just remember the cool and dry part.
So, why even bother to save seeds? Wow, where do I begin? Let’s start at the consumer level. Have you purchased a packet of seeds lately? They are ex-pen-sive! And besides, you only get a little bit in each packet. I remember the last time I purchased a packet of seeds. I opened the envelope up and thought I got a reject empty envelope because I didn’t see any seeds. Upon closer inspection, the seeds were actually wedged down in the corner of the packet; 10-12 seeds. Next, why buy seeds when one vegetable alone will yield you more seeds than 20 of those seed packets? Some people actually do “seed swaps” – you know, like I’ll trade you some of our summer squash seeds for some of my watermelon seeds? Just make sure that the person you are trading with only uses heirloom seeds in their garden or you will come out on the short end of the trade. And lastly, the reason you want to save seeds, is preparedness. Gardening is about being more self-sufficient and getting out of the consumer-mind set. Think about this, if there were ever a time when we had to use our food stores, say due to an emergency disaster – and we used up all our food stores and could no longer purchase food at a store; for whatever reason, how would we replenish our food? With seeds you have an alternative means to replenish your food storage.
Now, not to brag, but I am pretty fortunate. Not only do I have access to a greenhouse, which I will discuss in a minute, but I also have access to Rick Austin, author of the bestselling garden design book “Secret Garden of Survival – How to Grow a Camouflage Food Forest”, who just happens to be my husband, and who built my greenhouse. So, I have access to the best of the best! I share this info because you might also want to align yourself with others who may have more knowledge than you on seeds and also what grows best where, and when. This way you can tap into that knowledge and in-turn share your newly acquired knowledge with others as well.
Okay, the greenhouse. Our greenhouse is non-stop growing year round with herbs and vegetables grown from seedlings; that were started from seeds in our “seed bank”. Who said gardening had to be outside, right? At our homestead, in all four seasons there is food growing in the greenhouse. And, I will tell you, there is nothing better than to walk out into the greenhouse to snip a couple leaves of lettuce, cabbage and some Okinawa spinach to make an awesome garden salad for lunch. We can grow melons, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, cabbage, beans, broccoli, peppers and cauliflower and, almost every kind of herb you can think of. As spring approaches the greenhouse is turned into a nursery full - and I mean that literally - of little seedlings all grown from saved seeds, that are getting ready to spread their little wings, er … leaves to the outside food forest.
The greenhouse is also where we keep the dehydrator, which is running almost non-stop with spring and summer harvests. And when I’m not dehydrating fruits and vegetables, I am canning and preserving them. As I peel and clean the garden food, I gather the “scraps” and throw them back out into the garden as addition nutrients for the soil. Even snippets of browned leaves from herbs or plants from the greenhouse are saved in a container to be thrown out into the garden as green mulch. Nothing goes to waste at our homestead. Everything has a purpose.
So, think about this. The next time a friend or neighbor shares a big juicy red tomato with you ask them if it was grown with heirloom seeds, if they say yes, save a few of the seeds; or all of them, before eating the tomato. Remember, it only takes one seed to grow a plant. And that one plant can provide nutrition for your whole family and will also produce more seeds, which will grow even more plants and provide even more nutrition for your family, and then …more seeds, and more plants, and more nutrition. See where I’m going here? The seed you save today can be the meal you eat tomorrow, and next year, and the year after that; and so on and so forth. Just sayin’.
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