“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.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
I’m slightly obsessed with seeds. Actually, I have occasionally wondered if I may have a bit of a problem. When I need a mental break, I browse seed websites and catalogs to chill out. When I want to treat myself, I’ll go on a bit of a seed buying bender.
Sometimes, I get swept up in the minimalism thing and think I should have less stuff. But my seed bank has to be an exception.
I think all obsessions, appropriately curated, become legacies. And my seed bank is so much more awesome than a pair of heirloom diamond earrings or gold pocket watch. It’s a continuing gift of life and sustenance.
When we bought this house almost 10 years ago, I started out collecting my seeds in an old photo album, the kind you slot the photo into.
Then one photo album quickly became two. Then three. Then, those kinds of photo albums became harder to find as digital photos took over in popularity.
So, I consolidated my seed collection into a plastic CD storage tub. Then just as that was getting full, I serendipitously discovered a treasure lurking in the classifieds…
I found a 72 drawer library catalog car system, that became my prize possession. Husband eagerly demonstrated that each drawer neatly holds a bottle of wine, but no, the library drawers were destined to become my seed bank.
It weighs a tonne. Last year, I packed it all up and put it in storage when we renovated and for a few months, I was without my seeds. I couldn’t wait to unpack it. And when I did, I semi-sorted through my seedy stash and discovered I had multiples of the same variety, and a handful of “expired” seeds and a few bags of stuff I had saved but hadn’t labeled properly.
I needed to get my seedy act together and I’ve decided the best time to do that is now. February.
It’s usually stinking hot this time of year, too hot to garden. Seed sorting is one of those activities that can be done inside, parked under the fan with a long tall cold glass of delicious ginger beer!
Yet, as I write, we have had a bit of a summer glitch, and it has rained solidly for the last three days, breaking a 17-year record for soggiest January. We have also had our coldest January day in over 10 years, it got down to a chilly 20C. I plan to get out and plant some seeds into the lovely soaked soil and maybe get a jump on my autumn planting or squeeze another summer crop. A few days rain is like getting a shot of optimism in the arm!
So anyway, why bother collecting your own seeds when you can buy them at the shop for a few bucks a packet?
Quite simply, over time, each generation of seed you harvest will be better adapted to your own, unique environment. Which means an improvement in seed germination and improvement in the overall plant productivity and health.
Ironically, this is exactly what defendants of Genetically Modified food say to justify their work, “Plant breeding has been practiced for generations!” which is actually true.
Selective breeding of the best heirloom varieties has been done since the start of agriculture in pursuit of the best flavor, resilience, and productivity. Our seed heritage is not splicing genes into plants to make them more resistant to pesticides, creating plants that are licensed to, or products of, corporations, or to ensure the resulting offspring seed from the said plant is sterile. (As is the case with so-called terminator or suicide seeds)
Buying new seed each season will also cost you in the long run. It makes much more economic sense to collect your own. I am always stunned at how much seed one flower can produce, be it a sunflower, a chia bloom, or poppy. You remember the 364 seed sunflower? I also once collected over 300 seeds from a single sponge loofa. Obviously, when you gather your own seed, you will find you will likely have plenty to share, swap or sell.
Share the seedy love!
BUT! All seed is not created equal!
I only purchase heirloom varieties, which ensure that (with some careful precautions) the seed I gather will remain “true to type” or in other words, the next generation will look like its parent. Nobody “owns” heirloom seeds, they are open source, for want of a better expression. Heirloom seeds are, quite literally, our birthright.
Hybrid seeds (you can usually identify these on the packet with an F1) are two plants crossed with each other, with a resulting variety that has the traits of both plants combined. But, if you collect seed from the F1 offspring, most likely will look nothing like the parent plant.
So next post, I’ll have a chat about how I have set up my seed bank including how I store and classify my collection. Later this month, I’ll also let you know how to source seeds for your collection, and how to harvest seeds from your garden (or from friends and family’s garden!)
Do you have a seed bank, or contibute to a community seed bank? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below…