by Jordan Laio, Networx
Before the era of seed catalogues and garden centers, seed saving was a cornerstone of farming in general and of home gardening in particular. What exactly is seed saving? It is simply letting some of your plants go to seed and then saving those seeds in order to plant next year’s crop.
Seed Saving Today
Today, seed saving is mostly practiced as a tool of empowerment for home gardeners. Like home canning, knitting, and other back-to-the-land type skills, it is a step away from complete dependence on supermarkets and department stores. It also keeps alive some endangered varieties of plants. Some would even argue that home seed saving is one of the last lines of defense in terms of food safety. Should the international network of food transportation break down because of either terrorist acts or natural calamity, it will be those with seeds who will at least be able to grow their own food afterward.
But aside from the practicality of saving seeds from your garden, it is also a more intimate way to connect with your food. Thoreau wrote, “Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.” When you save seed, you are increasing the sense of wonder in your garden.
Managing a Garden for Seed Saving
There are multiple ways to manage your garden to get the most out of seed saving. For some crops, like butternut squash, seed saving is as simple as harvesting a ripe specimen and saving the seeds instead of roasting and eating them. For other crops, like lettuce, you have to let the plant continue to grow past its most delicious stage in order to produce seed. For lettuce, this means letting the plant “bolt,” i.e. grow a few feet tall all of sudden and then produce flowers, and then seeds. Therefore, you could simply choose one lettuce plant to be your “seed saver” plant.
Some people choose to plant a separate “seed saving garden” where all the plants will be allowed to grow to full maturity and ripeness. This is especially useful if you are saving seeds from a very specific plant variety, like an heirloom variety that you don’t want cross-pollinated with another variety. In that case you would make sure that the specific variety is far enough away from other varieties in order not to cross-pollinate. Some even hand-pollinate to ensure purity. However, this is probably not practical for the average home gardener. You’ll do fine to just let a few of your plants go to seed, and then process the seeds.