Preserving Traditions and Creating Opportunities Through Seed Saving
by Heather Rothbauer Wanish
Recycling, eating healthy, and carrying on a tradition…While you grow your garden and plan to harvest the results, you can combine all three of these ‘going green’ ideas. Seed saving offers opportunities for everyone to actively participate in, growing healthy food and helping the environment at the same time.
Chippewa Valley residents are focusing on seed saving and how it can positively impact their lives and businesses. Chip Kersten, owner of Pleasant Valley Produce, believes that many people participate in seed saving for a variety of reasons. “There are people that conduct seed saving from local native prairies to save the genetics of the plants and allow new plantings, re-establishing using this seed and keeping the seed genetics local,” Kersten explained. “Today, many people save seeds to ensure that new, open pollinated varieties, as well as varieties with a treasured past, survive into the future.”
Caleb Langworthy, owner of Blue Ox Farm, also believes that seed saving contributes positively to personal gardening knowledge. “By saving seeds from your garden, you gain the knowledge of what plant varietals work best with your specific soil type, lighting situation, and climate; it can be beneficial for getting earlier and better tasting vegetables,” he said. “When moving toward localizing more of our seed production, we gain an element of food security in a way that we didn’t have before.” As seeds are saved locally, the plant-base becomes those crops that do well within the region and everyone within that region becomes less dependent on seed companies that continue to consolidate and release fewer varieties onto the market.
Seed Saving Tips
Before you harvest vegetable seed, it is important to have planned ahead and either planted in blocks to isolate a variety or bagged individual blossoms to ensure the original characteristics and genetics of a variety are maintained and your seed is not cross-pollinated. I also highly recommend doing a germination test well before you plan on using your seed to make sure it is viable. This will save you disappointment with a batch of bad seed that isn’t sprouting in the spring when you are anxious to begin your garden.
Langworthy views the practice of seed saving as a way to maintain some power over one’s food consumption. “I’m very concerned about the ability of larger corporations to patent life and buy up seed varietals; I feel like this gives too much power to essentially unaccountable entities whose focus is profit, rather than the well-being and food security of people.”
Noel Kroeplin is on the worker-owner track at Just Local Food in downtown Eau Claire; she agrees that seed saving provides freedom from reliance on companies that develop hybrid seeds. The local food cooperative works with Seed Savers Exchange, an organization dedicated to saving North America’s diverse garden heritage while educating people about the value of genetic and cultural diversity. Caleb Langworthy also recommends Seed Savers Exchange, as the organization provides seed saving instructions on the back of each packet ordered from them. “They tend to be a bit more expensive than other seed companies, but I find the service they provide is a valuable one and they can offer varieties found nowhere else,” he explained.
Tomato Seed Saving Example from Chip Kersten
The seed inside a tomato has a “gel” surrounding it. This gel contains growth inhibitors to keep the seed from sprouting inside the tomato. The gel needs to be broken down through fermentation to ensure viability of saved seed before it can be cleaned and dried. Some seed savers like to put the seeds through a 10% solution of TSP at this time to help kill organisms on the surface of the seed as well as remove organic oils. A 20 minute bath in 120 degree hot water also works. Next, very thorough drying is needed.
When a plant is grown from a seed whose parent plant is a hybrid, growers may find the resulting plant is not ‘true to type’. And, eventually, the plant will most likely become sterile, not produce seed, and the grower will be forced to purchase additional seed from the company producing the hybrid seeds. “By seed-saving open-pollinated and heirloom seeds, you are saving a stabilized seed, one that has been tested for generations and can be cultivated and saved from the same variety of plant for generations to come, thus reducing dependence on genetically modified seed,” Noel Kroeplin explained.
There are also cost savings associated with seed saving. “In terms of cost, while there is typically an initial investment when one begins saving seeds, you save money in the long run once you no longer need to buy seeds,” Kroeplin said. Chip Kersten agrees that cost saving is a benefit to seed saving. “Even those two-dollar packs of seed can add up if you plant a big garden,” he said. Seed saving is also a ‘green’ technique that means eliminating packaging and transportation costs associated with purchasing seeds commercially each year.
According to Kersten, seed saving can be a fairly easy, but sometimes time-consuming task. Those interested in seed saving need to do some research beforehand and should allocate time to the process. “You need to have an idea of which plants are annuals versus which plants are biennials. You might have to dig up and pot a biennial in this climate and put it in your greenhouse or basement for the winter,” Langworthy explained. It is also beneficial to understand how plants are pollinated and the distance and time needed for spacing out pollination cycles.
As more and more people begin growing their own food and planting gardens, seed saving is a popular trend. “Gardening and seed saving complement each other in both the larger ideal of localized food production, as well as the ethics of producing more of our own needs with acquired skill sets and knowledge,” Langworthy explained. “There are also people saving seed in order to have a supply in the event of a disaster with long-term food supply ramifications,” Kersten added.
Not only is seed saving good for the environment and a potential cost-savings opportunity, it can be a unique way to meet other like-minded individuals. “There are many groups of people saving seed who also like to trade, sell, or give away their seed. It can be a fun and rewarding hobby,” Kersten said. “Many unique varieties can be obtained through these swaps and many new friendships can be started from fellow seed savers around the globe.”
Overall, local growers are pleased with the move toward more seed saving. “Seed saving allows preservation of traditional heritage and ensures a food source that is not genetically modified,” Kroeplin stated. “There is also a certain satisfaction from growing plants from your own saved seed; it just feels good.”
Just Local Food — Seeds Available from Seed Savers
Lemon Boy Tomato: Cherry tomato that produces even in cool, wet climates
America Spinach: Slow growing, slow to bolt, heat and drought resistant
Wisconsin 55 Tomato: Excellent all-purpose tomato bred by JC Walker at the University of Wisconsin in 1940s
Bright Shining One Watermelons: Early maturing variety well-suited for northerly gardens
Scarlet Nantes Carrots: Excellent as baby carrots and good for juicing and freezing
Joan Rutabaga: Good storage rutabaga, dense and crunchy with a delicate sweet flavor
Additional information available at Seed Savers Exchange – www.seedsavers.org