Sourcing and saving seeds

Seeds at risk

Did you know there are more than 600 varieties of tomatoes, in a wide array of sizes, colours, shapes, textures and tastes? The preservation of seed diversity begins with individuals and communities choosing to safeguard these varieties through seed saving.

In the last century, we’ve lost over 90% of the varieties of our food-producing seeds, and it will take collective initiative to preserve the varieties that remain. Our rich genetic food heritage was developed and safeguarded over centuries by gardeners and farmers. More recently, certain trends have resulted in significant losses of seed varieties. Firstly, fewer gardeners and farmers save their seeds, relying instead on seed producers who don’t have the capacity to safeguard the vast multitude of varieties that exist. Secondly, commercial seed production has moved away from heirloom varieties, toward hybrids and GMO’s which don’t offer a reasonable possibility of seed saving. And lastly, in recent decades there has been a massive buy-out of seed companies by multinational corporations that are driven by a profit motive. Over half of the seed supply in the world is now controlled by multinational corporations like Monsanto and Dupont, who offer increasingly limited selections of heirloom seeds.

The best way to preserve seed diversity is for citizens to actively keep heirloom varieties alive, by growing, preserving and sharing seeds... as well as supporting independent seed producers who are selling heritage varieties. Seed banks are a useful safeguard, but they should remain public, and they do not replace the need for citizen involvement in maintaining these genetic lines in a living state.

A few definitions: types of seeds

Types of seed Description Impact
Heirloom

- Seeds that have been preserved for generations

- Our heritage varieties

- True to seed: the offspring will resemble the mother plant

(not always organic)

- Helps preserve seed diversity

- Hardiness and adaptation to the local environment

- Preserves food self-sufficiency

- We can keep the seeds from year to year

Hybrid

- Produced by deliberately crossing two varieties that are dissimilar from each other with the intention of creating hardier offspring

(could be treated, untreated, GMO or organic)

- Higher yields and/or disease resistance

- Higher yields may be dependant on significant fertilizer use

- The preservation of the seed is possible, but gives random results because there are two distinct parental lines. Farmers purchase hybrid seeds each year.

Open pollinated

- Seeds that can reproduce through natural means of pollination (insects, wind, birds, etc.), contrasted with hybridized varieties which are cross-pollinated with human intervention.

(not always organic)

- Anyone can reproduce the seeds and the result will be similar to the mother plants (provided that minimum distances are respected to avoid cross-pollination with other varieties)

Organic

- Grown in organic soil for at least 3 years (ex. without chemical fertilizers or pesticides)

- Untreated, non-GMO and certified (but can be hybrid)

- Respects the ecosystem

Veganic

- Mother plants grown without animal inputs (manure, blood, bone...)

- Growing techniques support surrounding ecology

- Respects the ecosystem

GMO

- Genetically modified organism

- The DNA of the plant is modified in a laboratory

- Uncertain impact on the health of humans and animals

- Taints the food supply through cross-pollination

- Generates superweeds (resistant to many herbicides)

- Patenting of GMO’s leads to corporate monopoly and control over seeds

Treated

- The seeds themselves are coated with a powder of coloured chemicals (insecticides, fungicides, etc.)

- Chemicals banned for other agricultural uses may still be permitted for treated seeds

- Contaminate the soil in the long term

- Threaten bees and other insects

- High rate of soil and water pollution

Non-treated

- The seeds themselves are not enveloped in a chemical powder



- We know nothing else about how the seeds were produced (i.e. chemical pesticides could still have been used on the parent plants)

Veganic seed producers

- Ark gardens is a small veganic farm in Alberta, Canada that also produces seeds for sale. They specialize in producing heirloom tomato seeds. Visit http://arkgardens.com/heirloom&opseeds.html to purchase seed.

- One Degree Organics is a food company that sells grains sourced from plant-based fields. Although these seeds are intended for consumption and not for re-planting, some of the varieties may prove to be viable. Feel like experimenting with lentils, flax or spelt? Let us know if it works!

As the veganic movement is still relatively young, there are few sources of seeds produced from veganically-grown plants, and the varieties currently available are extremely limited. We hope that more veganic seed producers will become established. In the meantime, buying organic seeds is a way of minimizing the environmental impact associated with commercial seed production. Or better yet, save many of your own seeds from your veganic farm or garden, and share them with others.

Seed saving and exchange networks

Seed saving and exchange networks are the cornerstone of protecting genetic diversity in our food supply. Each gardener and farmer can help safeguard several varieties of plants - and a large network of gardeners and farmers can collectively ensure the future for thousands of varieties of plants. Even if you’re not planning to save seeds yourself, you can become a member of the organizations to support their important work.

- Canada, Seeds of Diversity: www.seeds.ca

- United States, Seed Savers Exchange: www.seedsavers.org

How to save seeds: the basics

Keeping it simple

Seed saving can be quite complicated. To produce a plant that has the same characteristics as its parent, a great deal of care is needed to avoid cross-pollination between cultivars (as cross-pollination can produce somewhat random results).

However, seed saving can also be quite simple. Remember that the generations of people who came before us saved their seeds using relatively simple techniques: grow the plant, save the seed. The development of a colorful and biodiverse food supply can give its thanks in part to the random results of open pollination. However, when we let cross-pollination take its course, it’s normal that the results will not always be satisfactory.

Here are some tips for simple seed saving:

- Start with easy varieties, especially those that tend to self-pollinate within their own flowers (i.e. beans, tomatoes). The International Seed Saving Institute has an online guide for saving your own seeds. The guide is divided into "beginner" seed saving (bean, lettuce, pea, pepper, tomato), as well as "experienced" and "expert", allowing people to progress as they gain experience. http://www.seedsave.org/issi/issi_904.html

- Choose to propogate plants that can reproduce without seeds, such as plants that reproduce through their tubers (potatoes, jerusalem artichokes), through bulbs (garlic), with runners (strawberries) or plants that can be divided (rhubarb, thym, rosemary...). While this isn’t "seed saving", it fulfills the role of propagating a plant variety, and is much simpler for beginners.

Planning in advance - distances between plants

- Most plants need to be kept a certain distance from other plants of the same species to avoid cross-pollination (simply allowing the plants to open-pollinate is another legitimate option for seed saving, though the results will be different than the parent varieties and the traits are difficut to anticipate from generation to generation).

- The distances required to maintain the purity of a plant variety can vary dramatically depending on the species (i.e. only 3 metres of separation is required between different varieties of soybean, yet 3 kilometers is needed between different varieties of corn).

- Gardeners and farmers can choose which varieties of seed to save based on the opportunities and restrictions that their land presents. Gardeners who are working with small plots can concentrate on self-pollinating varieties (beans, lettuce) or asexual propagation, like tubers. Those with larger plots of land may choose to spread their garden over their property, rather than concentrating the garden in one area, in order to easily keep varieties isolated from one another. Physical barriers can also be used to allow true-to-type seed saving in small spaces.

Further information about necessary distances:
- http://howtosaveseeds.com/table.php

Harvest
- It’s important to harvest seeds on healthy plants; some diseases can be transmitted via seeds.
- We must avoid seeds that could pass on genetically undesirable traits, such as early bolting lettuce or spinach, or seeds from small woody radishes.
- Most seeds are harvested after the seed has passed from a softer green state to a harder darker state (often brown), and seeds generally self-detach easily when mature. This is the case for peas, lettuce, brocolli, oregano, etc.
- Seeds found in moist fruits (tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, etc.) should be harvested when the fruit is fully ripe, beyond the point when we would normally eat the fruit.

Preservation
- Seeds have variable longevity, depending on the species. Cucumber seeds can be preserved for ten years, while onion seeds will have a very low germination rate after two years.
- Seeds should be dried away from direct sunlight. When dry, the seeds are kept in paper envelopes or tight containers, in a cool place away from light.
- Variations in temperature, humidity and light greatly reduce the germination rate of the seeds.

Identification
Seeds need to be well identified. Here’s what we should note :
- Cultivar name
- Scientific name
- Plant familiy
- Planting date
- Harvest date (to keep track of the viability of the seeds)
- A short description : colour, flowering date, number of days before maturity, size/height of the plant, type of plant (ie. determinate, indeterminate), etc.

Example:
Cultivar : "Groleau" cress, (Lepidiumus sativum)
Flowering :
Harvest date : summer 2010
Description :

Resources

- How To Save Seeds: howtosaveseeds.com

- Seed Savers: Vegetable planting and seed saving instructions

- Native Seed Search: http://www.nativeseeds.org/resources/seedsaving

How to Save Your Own Seeds, a 48-page handbook from the organization Seeds of Diversity: http://www.seeds.ca/vend/forsale.ph...

Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners, a 228-page book published by the organization Seed Savers Exchange: http://www.seedsavers.org/Details.a...


23 December 2013
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