Out & About: Learn How to Collect, Store Seeds

  • Try roasted green beans or creamed green beans and onions as an accompaniment for your turkey and stuffing. (Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

  • Three types of spring peas, from left: English peas, sugar snap peas and snow peas. (Susan Tusa/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

  • 'Butter crunch' lettuce grows at Hollyhill Hummingbird Sustainable Farm in Cupertino, California, December 5, 2012. (Patrick Tehan/San Jose Mercury News/MCT)

  • August brings mixed feelings to the garden: We’re thrilled to see plump, ripe tomatoes clinging to their vines, and perennials in full bloom, but we know we've reached the apex and the road ahead is downhill. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Valley News Correspondent
Wednesday, December 05, 2018

This is the time of year many gardeners love: the hard work of the harvest is over, the garden has been put to bed and there’s nothing to do except pore over colorful seed catalogs, and dream about what to order for next year.

But some gardeners don’t buy all their seeds from catalogs. Instead, they collect and store seeds from each season’s crops and plant them the following year. One advantage of this approach is cost savings, but there are many other reasons to save vegetable seeds, according to organic gardener Sylvia Davatz, of Hartland.

Davatz, who grows and preserves most of her own food, will teach a workshop on the hows and whys of seed saving this Saturday from 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. at Building a Local Economy (BALE) in South Royalton. The cost is a $5 donation to the nonprofit organization. The class will be followed by a community seed swap. Pre-registration is encouraged; email jessica.taffet@gmail.com.

In an email Q&A, Davatz explained why seed saving makes sense.

Question: What are a few reasons gardeners save seeds instead of just buying new ones each year?

Answer: Saving your own seeds means you can preserve varieties that have personal meaning for you, either through your connection to family and community, or to place or culture. Seeds learn from their “mother” plant, so they will have begun adapting to your growing region and conditions already within the first generation.

Grown carefully, they will have a higher germination rate and greater vitality than purchased seeds. They will have been grown, harvested, cleaned and stored under optimal conditions, reducing the consumption of fossil fuels in their production and transport. Also, you will know exactly where your seeds come from and how they were grown. And you will have seeds to share with friends and neighbors.

Q: Can you think of instances when seed savers have been instrumental in preserving varieties that might have otherwise disappeared?

A: Every day all over the world, dedicated seed savers are keeping rare and precious varieties from disappearing altogether. Sometimes this is the person who has been growing a beloved variety for decades in a backyard; sometimes this is one of the many international seed preservation nonprofits that work tirelessly to keep endangered varieties available to everyone.

Personally, I have had the most gratifying experience of being able to return seed to the person from whom I originally obtained the variety after they had a crop failure and lost their seed. All the varieties we still have available to us today are preserved, thanks to the work of generations of seed savers who came before us.

Q: What are some of the steps involved in saving seeds for the next season?

A: The most important thing is to start with open-pollinated seeds. These are seeds that will produce plants identical to the parents, or come “true to type.” You can’t save seeds from hybrids, which are sometimes sterile or will produce plants with completely different characteristics than the parent plants. Then, it’s important to know whether the species is self-pollinating or cross-pollinating.

It can get complicated if you want to be sure your seed remains pure. But there are countless reliable resources available to draw on, both books and websites, so the key is to start slowly with the easier crops, and gradually get the education you need for good results. The work is so gratifying, you will surely get pulled deeper in!

Q: Which vegetable seeds are easiest for beginners to start with?

A: The easiest species are the annual self-pollinated ones. Beans, peas, lettuce and tomatoes are the easiest. Another important consideration is learning to grow seed of whatever it is that you most love to eat. That way you’ll be really invested in the results.

Q: What are some problems seed savers might encounter?

A: The two greatest challenges are preventing unwanted cross-pollination and not having enough plants from which to take seed so that all the genetic diversity is passed on to the next generation. There are, of course, insects and diseases, but one of our main issues these days is climate change.

Once-predictable weather patterns are shifting and that can mean that a variety you were able to grow reliably in the past will no longer do well. At the same time, this can mean that it is now possible to grow crops we weren’t able to in the past.