I was first introduced to the act of seed saving back in 2014 when I had the pleasure of attending a seed saving workshop at what was then Hudson Valley Seed Library (they have since changed their name to Hudson Valley Seed Company). It was a beautiful September day, and they were celebrating the opening of their new seed shop building. We were able to walk the garden beds and see all of the fantastic varieties that were being grown for seed and were also treated to a wonderfully insightful seed saving demonstration. It was a wonderful experience that opened my eyes to the world of seed saving.
In preparation for the event, participants were given a chance to grow a vegetable variety and bring the saved seeds to the workshop. The type I was tasked with was the stunning purple Sugar Magnolia snap pea. We were given instructions on how to grow our varieties and how to save their seeds. They encouraged us to enjoy our crop as well as keep some for seed. I delighted in this beautiful and unique pea variety and, as per the instructions, saved a few on the vine to dry. It was so exciting to open the dried pods and see the seeds that would grow next season’s crop. My contribution was relatively small, just under 100 seeds, but I was so proud when I shared my seeds at the event. I had done it; I had succeeded at my first attempt at saving seed. It felt great.
Despite my initial success, I was still nervous about the process of saving my seed. It seemed complicated and wrought with obstacles, yet it intrigued me. I decided to start by saving seed from my garlic, and in 2016 I planted my first crop of garlic from seed I had grown myself the previous season. The crop was successful, and I was elated. I have grown garlic every year since with my own saved seed, and it has been gratifying. However, I was still intimidated by the act of saving seeds other than garlic. There seemed to be so many factors that needed to be carefully considered to ensure a true seed that kept the varietal purity. Potential isolation to prevent cross-pollination, using only open-pollinated seeds, and making sure the fruit was fully mature when harvesting seed were just a few of the factors that intimidated me. How would I know if I was doing it correctly? What if I messed up and accidentally grew some crazy, cross-pollinated, behemoth bean? Then it struck me: so what if I did? It would be an adventure! Besides, some of the new varieties grown today came from happy accidents.
So, I decided to continue my seed saving adventure. I began to collect books on the topic, and meticulously poured over them while taking detailed notes. It is imperative to me to succeed, as I revere the work seed savers do. As gardeners, we are on the front lines of the battle to save plant diversity and history. Seed savers are not just seed collectors; they are historians and storytellers. They single-handedly can determine whether a variety thrives and is passed down for future generations to enjoy or whether it is lost forever.
Studies have shown that between 1903 and 1983, we lost a staggering 93% of our seed diversity! For example, in 1903, there were 500 varieties of lettuce, and by 1983, we had only 36 varieties left. Over 400 types were lost forever. This trend expanded across all of our food crops, significantly reducing diversity among varieties from cucumbers, melons, corn, beets, peas, and tomatoes. This trend is due in large part to our farming system becoming an agribusiness where monocultures reign supreme. Privatization and patenting of seeds as well as seed consolidation by large corporations has put our food system in danger. Varieties were no longer appreciated for their taste but were prized only for their disease resistance and shelf life. One of the prominent dangers of lack of diversity comes from the prospect of the varieties we have left succumbing to disease or pest pressure. By increasing diversity among our crops, we increase their survival chances, thus strengthening our food security.
Luckily, seed savers from across the globe stepped up and have saved many varieties that would have been lost. Seeds with significant family or cultural significance and history have been brought back from the brink of extinction. By growing out and saving seed from their small farms and home gardens, they bring back seed diversity, something that is of the utmost importance for the future of our food security. In short, in my eyes, seed savers are heroes, and I wanted to help the cause.
This year, I had the opportunity to take an online seed saving class, and I jumped at the chance. I learned about choosing varieties, growing, preparing dry and wet seeds, storing seeds, germination testing, seed longevity, and labeling. By educating myself through books and classes, I finally felt ready to try my hand at saving seeds from my garden. I started small, saving seeds from several flowers, beans, and peppers this year to start, besides my garlic, of course. Next growing season, when I plant these seeds, I will discover whether or not I succeeded as a seed saver. Hopefully, my saved seeds will germinate and will begin to grow the next season’s seed crop. But if not, I will not be discouraged, as I am enjoying the adventure. I will continue to learn and make attempts until I meet with success.
Eventually, my ultimate goal as a seed saver will be to share the seeds I have grown with others so that they too can enjoy them. I want to make sure that the story connected to the seeds I save continues. Sharing is perhaps the most crucial role of a seed saver, to spread the story of the seeds we grow. Seed saving is essential and comes with a solemn obligation, but it is a noble cause. The future of our food system rests on the shoulders of those who save seeds. In my humble opinion, it is the work of heroes.
Please consider supporting seed libraries, seed swaps, and seed saver organizations to ensure that our food system’s diversity is not lost. And if you save your seeds, share them with others to ensure that their story continues.
Photographs (top to bottom): Feature image: Butterfly Weed Going to Seed, 1-4: Photos From My Experience at What Was Then Hudson Valley Seed Library 5: Dried Sugar Magnolia Snap Pea Seeds 6-8: More Photos From What Was Then Hudson Valley Seed Library, 9: Drying Butterfly Weed Pods Prior to Seed Extraction, 10: Drying Truffula Pink Globe Amaranth Prior to Seed Extraction, 11: My Dried Haudenosaunee Skunk Pole Bean Seeds