What is seed saving

Seed saving is the practices and culture of selecting, harvesting, cleaning and storing seed for planting in future seasons. It is a millenia-old partnership between people and plants which is an essential part of agriculture. 

By selecting, harvesting and replanting seeds from plants with desirable characteristics (true to variety, taste, colour, productivity etc.), we help to preserve (and in some cases improve) plant varieties. By allowing plants to live long enough to produce seeds that we can save and replant, we are harvesting the endlessly renewable and abundant source of our food. By cooperating with others growers, we can share and swap the seeds we produce ourselves, building our community and making more varieties of seed more freely available to more people.

Heirloom varieties of seed are the result of generations of seed savers selecting, harvesting and replanting seeds season after season. Over the generations, thousands and thousands of varieties of plants have been stewarded by seed savers ensuring that they are available for generations to come. In recent decades, the number of heirloom varieties available has drastically reduced.

The elements of seed saving

Anyone can be a seed saver with a little bit of easily acquired knowledge and skill. At it’s simplest, seed saving can be just letting a plant live to a happy old age and produce seeds and letting the plant drop its seeds on the ground, ready to grow next season! For more deliberate seed saving that lets you control which plant’s seeds are saved for replanting and where an when that happens, the elements of seed saving are: 

  • planning planting so that seeds will genetically mix but still protecting varietal purity (isolation and populations)
  • growing happy and healthy plants until they produce seed
  • selecting and protecting the best plants or vegetables or fruit to save their seeds
  • harvesting seeds at the right time
  • cleaning and storing seeds to share and replant

For each of these elements, there are some basic points to learn and skills to develop but its not complicated. Being part of a seed saving group or doing it with others is a great way to learn how to be a seed saver.

Contributors: Arian McVeigh

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