HUERFANO—A consequential challenge of our time in history is to create and maintain sustainable communities, so that we can satisfy our aspirations without damaging the potentials for future generations. By reusing and recycling, we save resources for next year and the next generation.
Early hominids subsisted by gathering wild plant foods and hunting wild animals. Scholars surmise that actual seed saving and farming first began in West Asia between 9000 and 8000 B.C.E, if not earlier. Seeds co-evolved with human evolution, generation after generation.
Today, seeds are in jeopardy. Over the last few decades, policies and corporations have radically altered the fundamental principle that plants and genetic heritage are part of the shared heritage of mankind. Instead, seed patents and intellectual property rights have been crafted to grant corporations “rights” that life can be owned and commercialized. In fact, the ten largest agrochemical companies now control over half of global proprietary seed. As a result, seed diversity and resiliency have been compromised and control of seed has moved away from farmers and local communities to large corporations. Seed—formerly a free, renewable resource—has become a costly, non-renewable resource for the world’s farmers and threatens food security around the globe (see centerforfoodsafety.org for more information).
Although the responsibility for improving seed has been assumed primarily by seed companies, it is still possible and important for the home gardener to save their own seed. Before saving seed, we must consider whether the seed comes from a hybridized plant and how the plant is pollinated.
Hybridization results from crossing two “parent” plants that are selected for particular desirable characteristics. Seeds collected from a hybrid will not produce plants the same as those from which the seeds are collected. That does not mean you cannot produce a plant from the hybrid seed; the seed is viable and will produce a tomato, for instance, if it came from a tomato plant. But, if the original plant was bred for earliness and largeness, you probably will not get both of those characteristics the following year from saved seed.
Plants pollinate by insects, wind, or any other means by which the pollen from the anthers of one flower is transferred to the stigma of the same or another flower. For the home vegetable gardener, it is important to prevent unwanted cross-pollination so that the variety of vegetable remains “true” to the desired variety.
We have all seen the cross-pollination of different squash varieties when we’ve planted those varieties too close together. Although edible, the resulting squash often appear to be “unknowns” that don’t quite taste like we expected. So, if you are saving squash seeds, for instance, grow only one variety in the garden. In short, when you grow seeds to preserve a variety, great care is required because your goal is to ensure that all the variety’s genes are transmitted from each generation to the next.
In Part 2 of seed saving, I will explore heirloom seed sources and how to sow, harvest, and store your seeds.