SEED SAVING : Preserving Diversity For the Future
Article by: ELIZABETH FIEND
Genetic diversity is the biological basis of world food security
In just one generation we’re on the verge of losing the agricultural diversity it took humankind 10,000 years to create. The UN estimates that in the past 100 years 75% of the genetic diversity of crops has been lost. Diverse and localized ecosystems have been replaced with mono-crop farms which grow a few super-hybrid varieties. To make it worse, seeds and plants are now patented by giant companies who then own exclusive ‘rights’ to these plants. Since the world now depends on such a narrow base for food, it’s vital that we preserve wild and semi-domesticated edible plants as well as ‘heirloom plants.’ Heirloom plants are cultivated plants that predate the current seed production system.
Seed saving is a ritual as old as civilization. To save peas and beans: pick the pods after they’ve dried on the vine; flowers: pick the flowers when fully mature, but before the seeds drop; greens: collect the seeds after the plant has flowered; fruits and vegetables: scrape out the seeds and dry them, or simply place the produce on the ground where you want it to grow – let it decompose over the winter and in the spring help it along by burying whatever is left – a new plant will grow!
Dryness is the most important factor in storing seeds. Air dry thoroughly then store in a cool, dark, dry place until ready to plant. Most seeds will be viable for several years if stored properly. Package up any leftovers in envelopes to share with friends. If you have even more seeds, ‘Guerrilla Garden’ by throwing the seeds in empty lots right before it rains.
You as a gardener can play a role in preserving genetic diversity for the future by growing heirlooms and saving seeds from your own mini-ecosystems. You’ll save money too by relying on the plants themselves instead of big corporations!
Prehistoric peoples ate 1,500 wild plants.
Ancient farmers grew at least 500 major vegetables.
Today we eat about 30 plants with only 4 – wheat, rice, corn and soybeans – accounting for 75% of our calories.