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Seed Saving and Seed Libraries: Seed Saving-An Introduction

Seed saving is an important tradition that encourages self-reliance, brings communities together, preserves valuable heirloom varieties, and helps to identify and stimulate the development of locally adapted varieties.

Online Resources for Seed Savers

Resources on seed saving are a few to get you started!

The Why, What, + How of Saving Seeds

Why Save Seeds? 

Seed saving is an ancient practice that continues to flourish around the world.  

There are many reasons to save seeds, here are just a few of the 40 reasons listed at Seedsavers Exchange

  • Preserve and increase genetic diversity
  • Increase self-reliance
  • Save money
  • Adapt varieties to your local climate

What seeds should one save? 

When does one harvest seeds? 

How does one save seeds?

So many questions, so much to learn!

Certainly, if a plant makes seed, one can save it, but seed saving can get tricky with certain plant families that might intercross (thus rendering offspring that do not, in the slightest bit, resemble its parent) and bi-enniel plants (beets, chard, etc.) that require a chilling period (and a bit of luck that the cold doesn't kill of the plant entirely). In the latter case, plants need a cold period to produce the flower that is later pollinated and, ultimately, produces seed. Some of the most difficult plants to save seeds from are both crossers and bienniels. Eliminating the crossing of varieties can be accomplished through the practices of distance isolation, plant spacing, and timing your planting so that flowering (and, therefore pollination) will be staggered.

Most seeds fall into one of three categories that correspond to a certain level of expertise: Super Easy (beginner), Easy (experienced), and Difficult (expert). 

Super Easy seeds to save and recommended for beginners can be gleaned from bean, lettuce, tomato, pea and pepper plants.

Easy seeds include corn, cucumber, melon, radish, spinach, squash/pumpkin. 

Difficult seeds include beet/swiss chard, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, escarole/frissee, kale, onion, radicchio/endive, turnip/chinese cabbage

Guidelines on the what, when, and how of seed saving for beginner, intermediate and expert seed savers can be found at the International Seed Saving InstituteSeedsavers exchange and the Organic Seed Alliance

Of course, cross-pollination of plants of the same type can yield some interesting, (if not downright genius) results, so if you are curious and have the time, space, and inclination, who knows what new discovery you can make? 

Sharing the Harvest: Hosting a Seed Swap

Once you've been bitten by the seed saving bug, you'll quickly amasse an amazing quantity of fabulous seeds.Unless you are a farmer or market gardener with acres to plant, chances are very good that you will have more seed than you'll need.

What to do? Host a Seed Swap! Seed Swaps can be highly complex, or as simple as you wish. The point is to share the bounty and to pick up some great varieties that you don't currently have, connect with other gardeners or seedsavers and help build a resilient, self-sustaining community.

The guides below will get you started in organizing your swap and making it an event that you will want to revive year after year.

The Language of Seed Saving

Image result for seed development stages

Like any new world, including the world of seedsaving, it helps to learn the lingo! 

Some basic terminology for starters...Definitions courtesy of the International Seed Saving Institute and Seedsavers Exchange.

There is much more to learn and more can be found at the following sites:

International Seed Saving Institute

Seedsavers Exchange

Annual-a plant that completes its full life cycle—including germination, reproduction, and death—in one growing season

Bienniel-A plant that requires vernalization and usually completes its life cycle in two growing seasons, growing vegetatively during the first season, undergoing vernalization, and producing flowers and seeds and dying during the second season

Cultivar-A plant or group of plants that have been bred or selected to have distinguishable, desirable traits; commonly called a variety

Heirloom-An open-pollinated cultivar that has been grown and shared from generation to generation within a family or community

Hybrid-Varieties resulting from natural or artificial pollination between genetically distinct parents. Commercially, the parents used to produce hybrids are usually inbred for specific characteristics.

Open Pollinated-Stable varieties resulting from the pollination between the same or genetically similar parents. Not hybrid.

Perennial-A plant that can live for more than two years, usually producing flowers and seeds for many years

Pollination-The mother of them all, literally! Without pollination, seed will not be produced. The process of sexual fertilization in plants. The male chromosomes contained in pollen are combined with the female chromosomes contained in the ovules. 

Viability-A viable seed is one that will germinate and produce a vigorous plant. Seeds must not be harvested before they have matured enough to be viable. There is wide variation in the point of maturity at which a seed can be harvested and still be viable.

Quick Start Tips

Learn how to properly save seeds from peppers (and other fruits and vegetables) so that they’ll actually grow when you plant them. | 23 Diagrams That Make Gardening So Much Easier

Library Services

Find books and programs on seed saving.

Search the library catalog for films on seeds and seed saving.

Great Books for Beginner Seed Savers!