Seed saving has become quite a political act in recent years, although canny gardeners have always saved seed from good crops to sow again the following year.
Outlaw Seeds and Listed Seeds
In several countries there are organised seed swaps which aim to safeguard biodiversity by subverting the control of the seed supplies which are largely in the hands of a few mega‐companies.
One complaint against the multi‐national seed sellers is that they prefer the public to buy F1 seeds. F1 hybrids are seeds that cannot be saved as the seed produced by the parent plant is not true to type. This means that new seed must be purchased annually, increasing the profits of the seed companies and adding to the financial pressures felt by farmers in the poorest parts of the world, who must either buy the seed to get the quality of crop demanded by Western buyers, or revert to less impressive crops which can be sown from saved seed but cannot be sold for the best prices. Either way, these farmers lose out financially.
The other complain is directed at EU legislation which intensifies this situation by making it illegal, across the whole of the EU, to sell or buy seeds of any variety that is not listed. Listing is expensive and time‐consuming and has not been undertaken for many thousands of local varieties of seed because there is not enough market to sell the seed so seed companies have no interest in listing it. Some seeds have been listed by activists, but as it takes several years to list a new seed, this process is slow and difficult.
Why Save Seed
First and foremost, seed savers are preserving the genetic raw material that could allow future generations of plants to adapt to climate and conditions in the future.
Second, saving your own seed means you spend less money, and you can help keep alive the ‘outlaw’ seeds that haven’t been listed.
Third, local seed varieties are adapted to local conditions and can outperform nationally sold seed.
How to Save Seed
- Make sure you keep good records. You need to record the name of the seed, when you planted it and where you got the original stock. If you are an ardent saver you might want to keep further notes on germination and planting dates, how look it took to crop, the taste and productivity of the crop and its keeping qualities.
- Always sow more than you think you need to – this means that you can overcome any problems and that if some of your crop ‘sports’ (which means has a surprise genetic mutation), you should have enough of both kinds to save both the original and the sport seed. Who knows, you could have the seed of the future in your garden?
- Remember that seed saving requires space and a bit of a mess. Plants must grow to maturity and a bit beyond to get to seed saving condition – this means big shaggy unpruned or deadheaded plants in your garden or on your allotment.
- Take seed on a dry day, put it in paper envelopes (not plastic which can cause any moisture to rot the seed) and label immediately. Store in a cool, dry, airy place out of direct sunlight and plant next year even if you don’t want to grow that crop. This stops seed deteriorating. It’s not uncommon for people to sow and harvest seed of vegetables they don’t like to eat, so they can swap some of it for new seed, just to keep that seed variety alive.