Seed saving is an ancient tradition that stretches back to the end of the last ice age at the beginning of agricultural communities. There are many reasons WHY this ancient art has regained popularity in recent years. Such as, an increasing interest in general health and nutrition, an expansive awareness of our natural roots and shifting weather patterns, as well as the threat our Mother Earth faces in the corruption of GMO foods at the hand of Monsato corporation. However, my intention is not to point any fingers or make a string- along game out of the difficult issues present in our world today. This article is to show you how to practice an important survival skill in the hands of an artistic movement. I call this movement, The Art of Seed Saving.
How to collect seeds
October is a time of change when trees are shedding their leaves and the warm Summer begins its transformation into the cold hibernation of Winter. Farmers follow these seasons closely, while paying special attention to the Moon’s phase. Just as the best time to sow seeds in the Spring is during a New Moon and to transplant seedlings is during a Full Moon, we harvest during the Waning Moon.
Harvesting seeds is very different from harvesting food. Select your prize winning veggies for seed saving, so that what you grow next year will be of the best quality. It is extra important to make sure the seeds are fully mature, or they will not sprout when you plant them. Allow vegetables to fully ripen before you pick them. Often it is best to allow foods like cucumbers to overly ripen past edibility, but make sure they are not rotten.
Experts recommend soaking tomato, melon and cucumber seeds in water for 5-10 days to remove the mucilaginous layer. This mimics the natural composting process that would occur outside over winter. I simply remove the seeds while preparing a meal. I like to wipe the seeds off the cutting board with a semi-used paper napkin (I save mine from restaurants) and set it aside for later. After soaking, rinse, then dry the seeds in a cool moisture-free area, preferably on a small screen. You can also use old newspapers & napkins, or cheese cloth for larger seeds. If you do not want to soak your seeds (which can be a messy, moldy fiasco) then I have found success in planting the dried napkin in early spring, before the frost has finished, to allow the natural composting process to take effect.
For foods like leafy greens and herbs, allow the plant to bolt. After the flowering cycle has finished, you will find beautiful seed pods. Wait for these to turn a golden brown and harvest when they are ready to fly away on the wind.
Squash, beans, corn and peppers are perhaps the easiest to identify at full maturity. When the food is ripe, allow it to continue growing just until it is too tough to eat. Remove the seeds from the skin (this is called shucking) and allow to dry in a cool, dark, dry area.
Grains are extracted through a process called winnowing. Cut the grains when golden, dry and seeds are about to fly off their stem. The simplest winnowing technique requires a 5 gallon bucket and a shallow basket. Put your seeds tops in the bucket and move in a circular motion with the edge of the bucket tilted downward. When the larger plant matter is ‘winnowed’ out, transfer to the smaller basket. Using this same circular motion (much like gold panning) allow the heavier seeds to move to the bottom and the light leafy plant matter to fall onto the ground.
How to store seeds
Like any artistic project, Seed Saving requires a bit of mindfulness as you select and acquire supplies for your purpose. You will need to find reusable containers which diffuse direct light and allow air to breath. I recommend reusing paper envelopes from discarded mail, small ziplock bags from bead supply purchases and even small paper bags left over from bulk goods at the grocery.
Seed Saving begins as an idea and takes physical form through the aspirations of the artist. A large part of The Art of Seed Saving is remembering that this is something we do to prepare for the future. Keeping in mind that our future includes other people as well, we begin to find great asset in organizing local seed swaps. Not only is this a great way to keep non-GMO seeds circulating, but it also provides a way for us to begin adapting seed varieties to our immediate region.
When you prepare for a seed swap, it is fun to add some artistic flare to your envelopes. There are other ways to get crafty and avoid GMO foods too.
It is important to make sure you include as much valuable information as you can with the seeds you pass on. Such as, writing the seed variety name & Latin name on the label. Other information for consideration is where the seed was grown, when it was grown & harvested, tips for growing and saving the seed, as well as any other stories you’re interested in recording and passing on. Some resources for learning more about local seed swapping are Sierra Seed Cooperative and the Organic Seed Alliance. You can also visit Online seed swap to find seeds people are saving from other regions.
After you have collected and processed all your seeds, find a special place to keep them until it is time to plant. I prefer to keep all my seed envelops in a basket, in a cool, dark and dry cupboard. While seeds are most potent the first year after harvesting, properly dried seeds will remain viable for at least 15 years! What seeds will you be putting into your basket?