One aspect of being a person who is passionate about food is the opportunity (whether you choose to take it or not) to produce what you eat. I have at several times in the past been able to manage a small-scale garden with moderate success. I enjoyed the time I spent maintaining it almost as a kind of therapy, and not only did I enjoy eating what I grew, but it also gave me a sense of accomplishment to literally reap the fruits of my labor. Before the advent of all those wacky inventions like the steam engine, electricity and Pinterest, we were an agrarian society; most everyone gardened or farmed and produced a sizable portion of what they ate. There is a comfort in knowing , particularly in this age of GMOs and mass-produced “faux” food, precisely where your food came from, what was added to it (if anything), and how many hands were involved in its growth. The increase in popularity of farmers’ markets and farm-to-table restaurants speaks to this notion that doesn’t seem to be waning in popularity.
I would only label myself as an amateur gardener, with the regular schedule of my life being far too hectic to allow me the time (and sometimes the means) for even small container gardening. However, for those who are able and willing to grow full or even part-time, there is a rather specific practice of which up until a few weeks ago, I was admittedly ignorant: seed saving. An act that in name alone sounds simple enough, but is a long-standing practice and in certain instances can be complex. I decided to investigate this topic and see what I could dig up. Sorry, I’ll try to keep the gardening puns to a minimum.
I decided to look a little more specifically at the seed saving of heirloom fruits and vegetables. Not only do I think they are beautiful and have interesting flavors, but I hold a special place in my heart for anything remotely historic. Seed saving is closely tied in with the idea of genetics and cross-breeding. While some feel that heirlooms should be kept “pure” i.e., not crossed with other varieties of the same vegetable, others feel there is no harm in allowing cross-pollination. This can be determined not only by the location and spacing of plants in a garden, but also by the actual fruit or vegetable itself. Here are a few tips I learned in my reading:
1)Gardeners can select what they wish to grow by the seeding pattern of the plant. Annuals will produce seeds the first year they are planted, while biennials do not seed until the second year. Biennials include things like carrots, onions and brussel sprouts.
2)Seeds are harvested by differing methods depending on the plant. Pumpkins and squash can be fairly easy to harvest, as well as beans. Tomatoes, spinach and lettuces on the other hand, require a bit more time and effort.
3)Seeds should only be harvested from “dominant” fruits and vegetables, meaning you only want to take seed from the healthiest-looking, most abundant plants. It is important to “rogue” your plants early on, meaning that you should remove any undesirable, sickly-looking plants from the garden.
4)Once seeds are removed from the produce, it is important to rinse them thoroughly, separate them according to variety and dry them properly, depending on what fruit or vegetable they come from. Seeds are best stored in glass jars in a place where they can be kept cool, like a refrigerator.
5)While most seeds should be planted the next season, some can be good for up to five years.
I found the whole process extremely interesting, while a little daunting, and I admire the people who take the time and effort to ensure that these foods are preserved for the benefit of others. Whether gardening is merely a hobby or an effort to maintain personal health, seed saving is a great facet of the practice that I hope will continue to gain in popularity.
Are you a gardener? Do you practice seed saving and if so, has it been a successful venture? Comment below with any other tips or advice on the practice!