Saving Seeds

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Wish books!

Wish books!

Planning for the future is always a good idea. It’s reasonable to expect that there will be good times and bad, rain and sun, night and day. You want to be sure you can handle pretty much anything life throws you, so be a good Boy Scout — even if you’re a Girl Scout — and prepare (actually both groups have the same motto, anyway). What would you do if the transportation system in the U.S. collapsed, even temporarily? Or if there was a serious drought in the major food growing regions of the country? Could you grow enough food to feed your family? One way to be assured of a food crop no matter what life throws at you, is to save your own seeds. Just follow a few basic rules.

Volunteer lettuce in the strawberries.

Volunteer lettuce in the strawberries.

First rule of thumb: only grow open-pollinated seeds. Although hybrid seeds might grow, they are unlikely to resemble the plant you started with. That might be a good thing or it might be an unmitigated disaster. Open-pollinated heirlooms offer genetic diversity, which means at least some of your plants will grow and mature no matter what the weather or gardening conditions.

Second rule of thumb: NEVER plant all of your seed. A crop failure means you are SOL. Since nearly all seeds can be saved for several years before planting (onions are a little iffy, but even they can be stored for a couple of years) holding some of your seed over increases the odds that if this year’s crop succumbs to drought, insects, deer or the neighbor’s destructive dog, you can try again next year.

Third rule of thumb: make it easy on yourself. Start with annual seeds from plants that are likely to self-pollinate and easy to save. Beans, for example. The plants usually pollinate themselves before the flowers even open, and saving the seeds is primarily a matter of letting them dry on the vine and shucking them out of the seed pods when completely dry. Cucumbers, on the other hand, must be hand-pollinated and managed to prevent cross-pollination from other cukes in the neighborhood. Corn is notorious for cross-pollinating and the pollen is wind-carried.

Fourth rule of thumb: store and use your seeds properly. Generally, this simply means keeping them cool and dry. Those little desiccant packets that come in prescription pill bottles are great — just tuck one in each seed packet or jar. Seeds must be PROPERLY LABELED — type of seed, variety name and year harvested — and you must plant them often enough to harvest fresh seed every few years.

If you save your own seeds, you are no longer at the mercy of Monsanto or the other mega-seed houses. Ten major seed houses provide 73% of the seeds on the market, and three of those control 57% of the seed market. Monsanto leads the pack at 27%, followed by DuPont and Syngenta. All of them are big on genetic engineering, chemical dependence and patent monopolies (meaning if you buy their seeds you can’t save your own seed unless you want to be sued). For that matter, Monsanto is notorious for suing farmers even if their GMO seed contaminates the farmer’s corn patch, because the farmer is presumed to have “stolen” the patented genes that were blown there by the wind.

Strike a blow for better taste, genetic diversity and freedom (not to mention saving considerable money) by growing and saving your own seeds.

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