Why Save Seed? Selection & Genetic Diversity

Saving lettuce seed couldn't get any easier. Image copyright Jill Henderson ShowMeOz.wordpress.comby Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz

I have been saving seed for almost 20 years.  What started out as a simple way to save a buck, quickly became a passion with very deep roots.  After all these years, it is exciting to see so many people interested in saving their own garden seed.  In fact, saving seed has become quite popular. But there are those who still think it’s just a fad – another hashtag in a world of buzzwords. And perhaps seed saving is just another trend in a long line of trends – like bacon everything, backyard chickens, and kale, but for those of us who have worked towards seed sovereignty and food freedom for years, an American seed saving fetish is just what this country needs!

Thomas Jefferson once said “The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.” If that’s true, then the second greatest service would be to save the seeds of those useful plants.  And I don’t care if you live in a high-rise in New York or a backwoods farm in Oklahoma, everyone can save a few seeds without hardly trying.

But aside from being of service to ourselves and our country, why should we save seed?

The first and most obvious answer to that is, to save money.

Of course, I don’t need to tell you how expensive garden seeds are, especially if they’re organic. You could pay a small fortune to buy the seeds you need in order to grow an average-sized garden. With quality garden seed packs costing around $2.50 each, the cost to outfit a decent garden could easily cost hundreds of dollars.  Now, multiply that yearly, for every single year you garden, and the numbers are staggering.  By saving your own seed, you not only reduce the cost of growing your own food for that year, but possibly for the rest of your life!

If you’ve never saved your own seed, I think you might be surprised by how much seed you can actually save from just one kind of crop.

How many seeds are in a watermelon. The answer - alot.   Image Copyright Jill Henderson ShowMeOz.wordpressHave you ever eaten a watermelon? Can you guess how many seeds are inside of just one medium-sized fruit? That’s a lot of seed to tuck away for your arsenal of self-sufficient food production in a single season.  Learning to save seed is a wonderful hobby and very rewarding, but it’s also about survival. The seed you save from three or four watermelons would be enough to last you, your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers at least several years!  Now, that’s a lot of money!

But, while saving money is a perfectly good reason to save seed, there are several others that are arguably more important.

By saving our own seed, we can preserve or enhance the characteristics of a particularly useful or interesting plant through the process of selection.

Seeds from plants that have grown successfully in a particular environment, such as your garden, are stamped with genetic markers that help them grow better in your garden.  In other words, if you grow a squash successfully in your garden, the next generation of squash grown from those seeds will grow as well or better than the parent plant did.

And when we save seeds of open pollinated and heirloom varieties, we help to ensure that those crops develop and maintain a naturally diverse gene pool.

The great potato famine in Ireland was caused by a blight that affected only potatoes, which were the main vegetable food crop as well as a source of income for many peasant farmers in that country. No potatoes in Ireland were immune from the blight because everyone was growing the same exact variety of potato.

Had there been more varieties of potato being grown, there is a good chance that at least a few would varieties not have been affected by the blight and the people of Ireland would not have had to suffer the way they did.  But because of the limited gene pool of those few popular potato varieties, hundreds of thousands of people suffered in ways unimaginable to us today and many more died of starvation – all for the lack of a diverse gene pool.

Seed really does matter.  Image copyright Jill Henderson ShowMeOz.wordpressThat’s all pretty heavy stuff, but unfortunately it is something we must consider when discussing the reasons why we should save seed. Whether you have a big garden, a little garden, a market garden, farm or a 10 acre food plot for self-sufficiency, knowing how to save your own seeds will save you tons of money, and one day, it might just save your life.

Next week, I will talk about GMO’s and how saving our own seed might just save modern agriculture and the fate of all humanity.

So if saving seed is a buzzword, or a trend, or a fad – I really don’t care.  Because each time someone saves an open pollinated or heirloom variety of seed, the greater the chance that we will increase the genetic diversity of our food crops.  The work that we do with seed right now will have long-lasting implications for the future.

Until next week…happy seed saving!

Don’t forget to check out Part II in this series: Why Save Seed? GMO’s and Your Garden

© 2014 Jill Henderson  Excerpted in part from The Garden Seed Saving Guide.  Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.

The Garden Seed Saving Guide by Jill HendersonThe Garden Seed Saving Guide
Seed Saving for Everyone!

Save money, become more self-sufficient and avoid GMO’s by saving seeds!  This excellent resource for beginning and hobby seed savers takes you step-by-step through every aspect of saving your own seed in plain English.

Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Look inside!

Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.  Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.

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6 responses to “Why Save Seed? Selection & Genetic Diversity

  1. It must be emphasised that the seeds to be saved MUST be heirloom varieties. Most commercial seed these days is hybridised and whilst the first crop will be excellent, since F1 hybrids are bred to be more vigorous and specific characteristics will be maximised, F1 hybrids cannot produce F1 hybrids or pure plants again obviously so most plants grown from such seed will be inferior or even a useless genetic mess. Each successive generation bred this way will become worse and more like it’s wild ancestors. It can take years and a lot of tedious selection and waste to ever obtain decent genetic material to grow from thereafter.

    It is important to learn enough first to understand the different methods of seeding and pollination as well as how to dry and store seed. The concept of hybridisation and crossing varieties also must be understood. None of this is as complex as it sounds, but if you do not you will not only waste your time but you will become a liability for others by introducing inferiors stock to the environment.

  2. More to the above. By ensuring you have pure bred seeds you can then also cross breed these to produce your own F1 hybrids. This will allow you to gain the benefits of genetic selection indefinitely so long as you guard the purebreds and make sure you have sufficient seed stored for at least a second season if the first one fails lest one risk losing the strain.

    • You’re absolutely right, Rabbit. I talk about this ad nauseam in all my seed saving classes and in almost every article I write on how to save seed. It’s imperative that people who save seed understand how the process works so they can save pure seed. On the other hand, intentional (and sometimes unintentional) cross-breeding within a species is sometimes the gateway to producing new open-pollinated varieties. So long as those hybridizations are stabilized to the point where they become true open-pollinated varieties and given their own distinct cultivar names so they are not confused with or promoted as being one of the parent plants, hybridization can be a good thing. But for new and beginning seed savers, careful avoidance of cross-pollination with different varieties within a species should be avoided.

      For those new to seed saving, please check out my article Saving Seeds: Open Pollinated vs. Hybrid to learn more about keeping OP seed pure.

  3. Pingback: Why Save Seed? GMO’s and Your Garden | Show Me Oz

  4. Pingback: Why Save Seed? Selection & Genetic Diversity | Share the Seed

  5. Pingback: Why Save Seed? Patents in the Garden | Show Me Oz

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