Home Great Gardening Seed Saving in 2020: Securing Our Future

Seed Saving in 2020: Securing Our Future

by Admin

In our Autumn 2020 issue, our resident gardening expert Hans Wieland wrote about the importance of seed saving, and how this can benefit future generations as well as those who are here now. Scroll on below to read it!

Seed Saving in 2020

Securing our future

by Hans Wieland

Six years ago, I wrote about “the importance of seed saving” on these pages, but given the effects the current pandemic has on seed production and supply, I feel it is timely and appropriate to revisit the topic. 

Early in the year, when our movements were drastically curtailed, people in their hundreds – who hadn’t gardened before – took to growing some food at home, and in the process caused the websites of seed suppliers to temporarily crash and close. That, to my knowledge, has never happened before! It also highlighted how fragile the system of seed supplies are, and how dependent Irish gardeners and commercial growers are on imported seeds. This was not always the case.

Seed saving is an integral part of food growing.

Seed saving was an integral part of food growing for our ancestors. For the last 12,000 years, this was the traditional way farms and gardens were maintained. That only changed about 150 years ago, when seed companies emerged, selling seeds and slowly beginning to dominate the market. This development also started the process of losing seed varieties.

At present, the figures are staggering: some 98 per cent of vegetable varieties have disappeared over the past century. Regulations are hastening the decline, according to Garden Organic – an organic charity in the UK, dedicated to researching and promoting organic gardening. (Footnote 1)

Many activists also draw attention to the cultural importance of seed saving practices, especially their role in maintaining traditional plant varieties. Garden Organic says 95 per cent of the vegetables eaten come from just 20 species of plants.

 “Food for tomorrow comes from seeds we save today!”

I learned seed saving from my parents, who always saved seeds from their favourite tomatoes and beans, and also saved tubers from their favourite potato Sieglinde. At Neantog, we keep saving seeds from a tomato called Magda, which my late mum grew in her garden in Germany. We also trial tomato varieties each year from a tomato seed bank by Gerhard Bohl, which has 3000 varieties.

For the last three years, we kept seed potatoes from our favourite crops of blue and purple potatoes, Violetta and Blue Emmalia. We also buy some of our seeds from Brown Envelope Seeds: an organic seed company in Cork, one of the very few Irish seed producers.

Where to start?

The steps are easy. You grow your plants from seed, which need to be heirloom, not F1-Hybrids (Footnote 2). Some seeds are produced in the fruit of the plant, while other plants need to be allowed to mature and flower, letting the seeds ripen.

Many plants give us their seeds freely, because they self-seed easily. Others, we have to guide a little. Annuals are especially easy and ideal for beginner seed savers: peas and beans, dill, nasturtiums and calendula. Saving seeds from vegetable fruits like tomatoes, cucumbers and squash is also straightforward.

The vegetables that need to go to flower in order to produce seeds are more of a challenge. These include carrots, old cabbage varieties and lettuces. For example, if some of your lettuces bolt, let them do so, and use them for saving seeds.

If you want to get your children or grandchildren involved, choose sunflowers. The flower head produces the seeds we like to eat, and anyone who has carved a Halloween pumpkin knows the seeds are all inside. 

The benefits of saving seeds

Saving seeds helps to protect plant biodiversity. We need natural variation in our food plants in order to select the ones that are more heat tolerant, or drought tolerant, or disease resistant, and so on. If all the plants are the same, there is nothing to work with. Seeds saved from plants in your garden are adapted to your micro climate. As we adapt to climate change, selective breeding becomes ever more important.

Saving seeds can reconnect us to nature in ways few other activities can, as we maintain the cycle of growth. Saving seeds is probably the most radical political action for any gardener and growers, as it puts us in control of growing our own food.

Saving seeds saves money.

How to save seeds:

1. Selecting: The most suitable plants for beginners are peas, beans, peppers, tomatoes, dill and coriander. These plants have self-pollinating flowers, produce seed that need little attention before storing and are annual crops that need only one season to produce seed.

2. Harvesting seed: Only save from the most vigorous plants with the tastiest fruit. The trick is to identify and label the best plants for seed saving.

Peas and beans: Allow the pods to ripen on the plant until they are dry and turn brown. Remove the pods from the plant and dry indoors for at least 2 weeks before shelling.

Tomatoes: Take a fully ripe tomato, scoop out the seeds and pulp, place in a jar of water and ferment for a few days, the good seed will sink to the bottom. Rinse the seed in water and let dry on a paper towel.

3. Storing: Best in individual paper envelopes in airtight containers in a dry place. And don’t forget to label them!

Footnote 1: According to a post on the website Regeneration International from 2016: “90 percent of the crop varieties grown 100 years ago are already gone. The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership estimates that 60,000 to 100,000 plant species are in danger of extinction.”

Footnote 2: Seed produced by F1 plants is genetically unstable and cannot be saved for use in following years. Gardeners who use hybrid plant varieties must purchase new seed every year. 

For more information and courses, contact The Irish Seed Savers’ Association in Co. Clare.


061 921856 / 921866

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