Saving seeds from one crop to another is one of the oldest agriculture methods known. Seed pouches and baskets for storing seeds have been found in some of the oldest archeological digs around the globe.
The practice is still is essential to our food chain and has never been more important, as corporations take over food production and the small farmer is selling out.
The home gardener (and diner, or cook) can certainly benefit from what our grandmothers and grandfathers did long ago – preserve the best of what we eat and grow.
John Forti is a garden historian and advocate for Slow Foods and the Ark of Taste – a project where seeds from the best-tasting heritage foods from around the world are being preserved. He gave an inspiring talk at the Growing Green Communities event at the Pine Jog Environmental Center yesterday and urged diners, cooks and gardeners to save their seeds, and plant their own foods.
“My grandfather saved seeds from tomatoes he liked from his garden. He’d smear the cut tomato on a paper sack to get the seeds.” The smeared tomato dried out on the paper overnight and the seeds stuck to the paper. An easy way to keep seeds.
“It’s essential that we preserve our heritage foods,” he said. “But let’s make sure they’re great tasting, too.”
In other words, just because it’s an old variety doesn’t mean it’s the best-tasting old variety, he said – so choose wisely.
Why save seeds?
I did this with seeds from a Cherokee chocolate heirloom tomato grown in Homestead that I tasted at the lunch yesterday. It was not only delicious, but it will grow well in South Florida.
Therein is one of the biggest reasons to save seeds from local gardens. Most of the seeds packed to ship from catalogs or that you buy at your local store are homogenous – they’re bred to grow in 70 percent of the gardens around the U.S.
Anyone who’s ever grown anything in South Florida – lawns, flowers, fruits or vegetables – can tell you we are on the fringe of gardening books and probably account for more gardens given up after the first year than anywhere else. Without winter, bugs and fungi flourish; it’s easy to feel defeated if you’re trying to grow organic.
Mangoes love us – but require work. Peppers love us. Asparagus and green English peas think we’re nuts. Nematodes adore us and set up shop anytime they see a garden hoe. You learn, eventually, but it takes some doing.
Saving seeds from supermarket foods is a bad idea – especially those imported from Zone 3 or 4. We’re Zone 10 and 11, with an asterisk. We don’t have clay and loam. We have sand – coral rock, even. We don’t have 45 to 50-degree nights – ours are in the high 60s.
Save seeds with a sense of place
So saving seeds from plants that grow where you are, with your soil and weather conditions, means you’ll get the best of the best – and will be saving the “bests” for others, as well.
It’s as simple as carving out a pepper core, and drying the seeds on the paper bag. Letting a dill plant go to seed (and you can eat the seeds!). Sticking an avocado pit in a jar of water (you do this with great avocados, right?). Even coconuts and palm trees can be grown from the nuts – a seed, actually. Drying beans and letting them rest a year.
It’s who we are
Keeping foods that grow here here is the other reason to save seeds. We have a specific pumpkin called the Seminole pumpkin (some discussion about which it really is) here in Florida. It’s been nominated to the Ark of Taste. A certain variety of cranberry bean, Forti said, were saved and have become a staple in the Northeast.
Just do it
Garden or not, save your best seeds, and help us preserve our foods. Then let a local gardener have them if you don’t want them – we’re out here and willing to take them.
Here’s a how-to save seeds guide from Mother Earth News.
For more information about our national Seed Savers project and tips how to save seeds from specific vegetables and fruits, and planting – go to SeedSavers.org.