Why I Save Seeds

Seed-saving is as ancient as human agriculture. Basically, it is the practice of setting aside a portion of a crop, or the seeds from its produce, for later use. For example, some potatoes are set aside as seed potatoes, or the best corn kernels are put in reserve, or the seeds from inside a cucumber are saved. These seeds are sown at the beginning of the next growing season, yielding the next crop. Seed saving preserves variety and allows growers to choose traits they want to propagate. If you want early-ripening tomatoes, you choose seeds from the earliest ripening plants. Over many seasons of growing, you cultivate your own variety with its own characteristics.

There are a lot of advantages to saving seeds. The most obvious, to me, is self-sufficiency. Seeds aren’t expensive, but the ones from my garden are free. Using them not only saves me money, but it means that I’m not depending on someone else. But that’s on the small scale. On the large scale, the real reason to save seeds is to preserve genetic diversity in food plants.

Beefsteak tomato starts
Tomato plants grown from saved seeds

Books like The 100 Mile Diet and The Omnivore’s Dilemma discuss how we rely on far fewer species for our food than we used to. My own experience bears this out. If I visit the grocery store, there are only 2 or 3 kinds of tomatoes to choose from. If I visit a farmer’s market, where growers practice seed-saving and grow heirloom varieties, I see more than a dozen types of tomatoes.

So what? Do we really need so many different kinds of tomatoes? Yes, we do. Not because we crave variety, although variety is fun. We need all of these different tomato varieties to protect our crops. Genetic diversity protects species. When we depend on very few specific food plants for our entire global diet, we are putting our food supply at risk.

Sugar pie pumpkin starts
Pumpkin leaf from saved seed

To compensate for this increased risk, we use technology. One example of this is genetically-engineered crops, such as corn, soybean and canola. Multi-national conglomerate Monsanto manufactures the pesticide Roundup, and also produces genetically modified ‘Roundup Ready’ seeds that can resist it. This means farmers can spray Roundup on their crops to kill any other plants that might decide to grow there. But this comes at a price – Monsanto owns a patent on their seeds. They expressly forbid farmers from saving their seeds, and require anyone using these seeds to pay a fee. More seed is purchased, more pesticides are used, and more chemicals end up in our environment.

Here in Canada canola farmer Percy Schmeiser was sued by Monsanto for patent infringement. Schmeiser never purchased seed from Monsanto, he saved his own seed for decades. However, some Roundup Ready seed made its way into his crop, from a neighbour’s farm or by other means. And in the US Midwest Monsanto has sued soybean farmers for the same reason. Farmers are being forced to buy their seed from Monsanto, or face crippling lawsuits.

Baby blue hubbard squash starts
Heirloom squash plants

I am not a large-scale grower, but even in my own backyard garden I can see the effects of the way we now breed plants. This is my first year growing saved seeds. I saved seeds from the tomato plants I bought from the farmer’s market, seeds from pumpkins I bought at the farmer’s market, seeds from some cucumbers I bought at the farmer’s market and some from my own garden, and seeds from some ground cherry plants my friend started from an ordinary seed packet. I also planted some squash seeds that a local organic grower saved and passed along.

I just planted the cucumbers, so it’s too early to say how they will do. The pumpkin, squash and tomatoes, which were all sourced from local, organic growers, are doing well. The ground cherries are not. They sprouted, but then the plants just keeled over. It turns out that most commercial seeds are hybrids. Hybrids are bred to produce well in the first year, but do not do well in the second generation. My ground cherries were probably a hybrid, hence their ill health.

Unhappy ground cherries
Sickly ground cherries

The trend towards standardized, hybrid varieties at all levels is disturbing. It emphasizes to me how thoroughly we have washed our hands of our own food. A lot of the stuff that we buy at the grocery store wouldn’t even be recognizable as food to our great-grandparents. I wonder if the current state of affairs is sustainable. If wonder if we can continue to rely on chemicals and technology and a few plants to feed a hungry planet. The prospect scares me more than a little bit, so I save seeds. It’s a small action, but it makes me feel like a revolutionary in my own garden.

Have you ever saved seed? Would you? Or do you think my concerns about limited genetic diversity are alarmist? Please share!

I wrote this post for the Green Moms Carnival, which is being hosted over on Green Talk in mid-April. Head over there then to read some other thoughts on spring and new life.

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  1. Hillary Boucher says:

    You know if the shit hit the fan–she with the most seeds becomes the richest woman on the earth 😉

  2. loving your gardening posts as I am determined to grow more this year. There must be a green finger hiding somewhere in me. So keep them coming, will be saving some seeds from my crop. I bought most of my seed from the organic farm shop…
    .-= Mel´s last post ..Thankful Friday and the mojo is back =-.

  3. My husband and I troll around streets and alleyways collecting seeds throughout the summer. If we see a glorious lupine, we go back when it goes to seed and collect the pods. If we see anything at all going to seed, we collect it. We have so many seeds, we have to give them away. We do it partially because it’s easy and makes sense.

    Tip from a “pro”: Mark your seed packets so you know what’s inside next season!

    Friends also donate perennials that have gone crazy in their gardens.

    Second comment – I think I deserve a prize.
    .-= harriet Fancott´s last post ..Weekly Update =-.

  4. Jasie VanGesen says:

    what Hillary said!

  5. Growing up on a large Manitoba grain farm, our vegetable garden was the size of many urban housing lots. My mom saved seeds. I especially remember her saving beans and potatoes, though I suppose there were more. What is embarrassing is that I, a child of this, do not garden. I feel guilty about this every spring. I have a post in the works about gardening guilt.

    Happy planting!
    .-= Ironic Mom´s last post ..5 Reasons I Hate Crafts =-.

  6. Good for you! We’re amateur gardeners here since this is our first year of actually planting in ground – every other year was in pots and we never had much luck. My grandmother was a big seed collector. We do buy heirloom seeds…and non-gen modded ones. That “round up ready” is SO disgusting. Sure, the plants are genetically modified to survive mass doses of round up…but WE aren’t! I don’t want to eat plats soaked in Round Up. This freaks me out.
    .-= AmberDusick´s last post ..My Secret to Happiness…Get Dressed? =-.

  7. All right, you’ve inspired me! How exactly do you do it? Is that a dumb question? I mean, is there a specific time you get the tomato seeds, for instance — when the fruit is fully ripened, before, after?
    .-= Lauren @ Hobo Mama´s last post ..Follow a child’s lead in play =-.

    • If you run an internet search on ‘seed saving’ you’ll get far more thorough information than I can offer. But I can tell you that I found saving seeds to be super-easy. When I harvested a nice-looking tomato last year (ie – as I ate it) I just fished out some of the biggest seeds, rinsed them and left them on a tea towel to dry for a couple of days. Then I put them in a paper envelope in my garage. The whole process took me like 3 minutes of actual effort. With the pumpkins, I was already removing seeds when I prepared them, so it was even less effort. It feels very liberating to have done it. And it’s really exciting when your own seeds come up!

  8. Groundcherries like it hot, maybe that is why they are ill? Steve Solomon (organic gardening guru, founder of Territorial Seed) has said that he created open-pollinated varieties out of hybrids by saving seed from hybrids grown next to a similar OP variety, it took about three generations to get it to spout well, buts it nice to know we can “reclaim” food security to an extent. I am a big seed saver too, really getting into this year…. I just learned we need to be careful and let enough of each type go to seed (with some plants, like brassicas) to make sure we get enough genetic diversity to keep the strain healthy. Doesn’t matter for peas and tomatoes, but a few plants can get horribly depressed vigor due to in-breeding if we don’t look out. Also some species will hybridize like mad (field and sweet corn, or kale and cauliflower, garden carrots and wild carrots, for example) on their own. The books Seed to Seed comes highly recommended to me, there is more to it than I realized, so for those of you seeking seed independence, do your research! The gardening books by Steve Solomon (Vegetable Growing west of the Cascades, and Gardening When it Counts) also have great information on seed saving in the how to grow it sections.

  9. Interesting! I’d never thought about this before. That whole Roundup thing is ridiculous! We just today planted our little garden, and we are hoping it’ll be our first successful one. My husband is always saving seeds from things and we rarely use them, but we are trying to get into gardening and spend more time outside.

  10. I love your seed saving. Reading about things like having practically the whole global banana crop being the same variety exposes the real risk of scientific crops.
    .-= Lady M´s last post ..Experiments that One Finds in Bathroom Cupboards =-.

  11. SatriJoy says:

    I love this post Amber. I grew up with lots of seed saving…..mom excited about the heirloom seeds she picked up at the seed savers meetings and then leaving one big healthy specimen in the garden for “seed.” We always had rows of seeds drying in the backroom in the fall. I have always known of the “evils” of hybrids and genetically modified crops.

    I was in a family of organic gardeners and it is in my blood. I have, however, not gardened for over 10 years as I do not have a space here in the city. I look forward to when I can get my hands dirty again. Good for you!! I love the sweet seedling pictures:)

  12. I’m proud of you for living what you believe. I wanted to be a seed saver, but now I cannot garden (no land or sun for containers). Nothing tastes as good as home-grown food!
    .-= Trece´s last post ..You think that you can do these things, Nemo =-.

  13. I have only saved a few seeds, peas and beans, my tomatoes didn’t survive a snap cold spell last year, late spring. This year though I plan to save as much as I can.

  14. My little veggie patch should be ready for planting within a week or so…do you make housecalls for consultation?

  15. This is a very interesting topic. Personally I hardly ever save seeds. I mainly save seeds from plants that I can’t find here (like a variety of very unusual US heirloom purple sunflowers – I bought the original seeds about 9 years ago, but every year they grow smaller and smaller). In my area local heirloom varieties are still widely grown, but it is hard to find seeds or plants that aren’t either heirloom or plain common (dill or coriander for instance). About hybrid seeds, I once went to a conference on celiac disease where it was said that it’s wheat hybrid F1 (or something) now universally used to cause gluten intolerance, which would explain why it’s a recent disease and why spelt, a type of wheat which contains gluten, doesn’t appear to cause problems. It’s a complex topic that deserves attention.
    .-= Francesca´s last post ..Vintage worlds on our plates =-.

  16. Hippo Brigade says:

    We just saved the pit of an avacado. Don’t quite know what we’re doing with it, but it’s facinating to my daughter to watch it sprout. So that’s fun. Maybe we’ll plant it…who knows.
    .-= Hippo Brigade´s last post ..I have arguments with my own brain. =-.

  17. I love seed saving and I love to support companies that sell saved seeds. There are generally (as much as possible) the only kinds of seeds I buy. There was something about saving my own seeds one year that was really satisfying too. Like I was helping myself to be self-sufficient. A cool feeling.
    .-= Melodie´s last post ..Review and Giveaway: Bravado Bliss Nursing Bra =-.

  18. Very eloquently put. My grandfather has been saving seeds as long as I can remember and always has a wonderful harvest. As soon as we have enough space to have a garden, we’ll also save seeds for the same reasons you do.

    Love your blog by the way – check out this post to see how much!
    .-= Chrystal @ Happy Mothering´s last post ..Curious Toddler + Unattended Laptop = ? =-.

  19. Gardening is a green area I’m still working on. I can grow flowers really well but so far food is not my thing lol. I’m working on it though. Maybe some day I will get to the point of saving seeds and all that awesome stuff. 🙂
    .-= Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green´s last post ..Happy Earth Day Celebration Week! =-.

  20. My father has been saving seeds as long as I can remember and always has a wonderful harvest.

  21. i saved alot of seeds last year, but mainly tomatoes as thats what really took off. I did do some watermelons, even though they never quite produced super well. But I expect each time to get better. Using seeds from outside your region means the plant is not use to your climate,soil, etc. So seed saving is very good!

    I am not sure if I will garden much next year or not (need a break, lol!) but I have learned alot and I feel such pride knowing I have my own seeds. I have a love/hate relationship with seed saving. It’s harder if you have alot of varieties and need to ferment them since some varieties do better that way.

    I also learned to container garden. I had much success with that, not ground gardening!

    And I used a heating blanket to help my tomato seeds sprout. Some things don’t sprout as easily from seeds. Took me 25 seeds to get 1 oregano plant. I nursed it all summer and finally have something worth showing off. I am hoping it will get enough sun to make it through the winter inside my house because 25/1 is not a good ratio!

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  1. […] also have been scouting the internet and read some blogs with interest, my far away mate Amber has posted about seed-saving and this was so interesting. My grandmother would save lots of seeds […]

  2. […] Amber at Strocel.com tells us why she saves seeds.  She writes, “There are a lot of advantages to saving seeds. The most obvious, to me, is self-sufficiency. Seeds aren’t expensive, but the ones from my garden are free. Using them not only saves me money, but it means that I’m not depending on someone else. But that’s on the small scale. On the large scale, the real reason to save seeds is to preserve genetic diversity in food plants.” […]

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