GARDENING: Seeds: Save them, it’s worth it!

By Sara Moran, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Horticulture Agent for Midland and Ector Counties

Anytime is a good time to save seeds. Seed savings is a sustainable agricultural practice vital to human food production for thousands of years. Seed saving is collecting, storing, and replanting seeds from plants to grow new crops in subsequent growing seasons.

I attended a Seed School workshop in Denver, CO, by Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance a few years ago. The workshop lasted about a week, and it was enlightening. Since then, I have not stopped saving my seeds. But why save seeds? Here are some key points:

1. Preservation of Genetic Diversity: By saving seeds from plants that have performed well in a specific environment, gardeners can preserve and potentially enhance the genetic diversity of crops.

2. Adaptation to Local Conditions: Over time, saved seeds can adapt to specific conditions (soil types, climate, pests) of the location where they are grown, leading to better crop performance.

3. Cost Savings: Seed saving can reduce the cost of purchasing new seeds yearly. One plant can produce enough seeds for you and share!

4. Sustainability: Seed saving is environmentally friendly because it reduces the energy and resources required to produce, package, and distribute commercial seeds.

5. Cultural and Traditional Practices: Seed saving has cultural and historical significance in many societies. It’s a way of passing down knowledge from one generation to the next.

Please note that some seed varieties, such as plant patents, are protected by intellectual property laws, which may restrict and prohibit seed saving and distribution. Always, always read the seed catalog carefully. The information provided will indicate whether a seed is an intellectual property.

Consider the following aspects when starting to save your seeds:

1. Plant Selection: Choose healthy and vigorous plants with the traits you want to preserve (color, size, flavor, texture, pest resistance, etc.). Select open-pollinated or heirloom varieties since seeds from hybrid plants may not produce offspring with the same characteristics.

2. Pollination: Understand the pollination method of the plant (e.g., self-pollinating, cross-pollinating) as this affects the isolation requirements to prevent unwanted crossbreeding.

3. Isolation: To avoid cross-pollination between different plant varieties, you may need to separate them physically—for example, plant seedlings at a certain distance from each other. You can also use barriers like nets or paper bags to isolate the flower only. Another option is to time planting, so they don’t flower simultaneously.

4. Harvesting: Allow the seeds to ripen and mature before harvesting. Leave the fruits or flowers on the plant longer than you would for consumption or harvest.

5. Drying: Ensure the seeds are thoroughly dried to prevent mold and spoilage. Proper airflow and low humidity are essential during this stage.

6. Cleaning: Remove seeds from the plant and clean them of plant debris. It is usually done by hand and with the help of tools. After crumbling the dry pods or husks, screening and winnowing are some methods to clean seeds.

7. Storage: Store seeds in a cool, dark, and dry place. Airtight containers like glass jars with desiccants can help extend their viability. Coin envelopes are also a good alternative.

8. Labeling: Always label your saved seeds with the plant variety, harvest date, and other pertinent information.

9. Viability Testing: Over time, the viability of seeds can decrease. Periodically test a small sample to check if they can still germinate. You can find the seed viability test method online with step-by-step details.

Seed saving is a valuable practice for gardeners. It plays a role in biodiversity conservation and can be essential to sustainable and resilient food systems. Additionally, it allows individuals to take more control over their food production and adapt to local growing conditions. Give it a try; save some seeds. It’s worth it!

If you have questions or want more information, contact your Texas A&M County Extension Office in Midland (432-686-4700) and Ector (432-498-4071) counties. You can also send an email to [email protected].