Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Saving seeds

Fermenting cucumber seeds.

Saving seeds is at the heart of our mission to be as self-sufficient as we can be. We learned a bit about doing it in Argentina and have read up more recently. We eye our vegetables closely to see which plant is the perfect specimen worth reproducing the following season.

Potato fruits (with seeds inside)

Each type of vegetable, and more generally, plant family, requires a different method for saving seed. For example, most brassicas (e.g., cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli) cross-pollinate with each other easily (which means if you plant different varieties near each other you may end up with a cross-breed the next generation) and are biennials (which means that their seed is produced in the second year). Being in New York, this makes it hard to save seeds from this family since we have to transplant and overwinter the plant before setting it back out the following spring. Some seeds require fermenting before they are viable (e.g., tomatoes and potatoes; cucumbers). Others just need to dry - on the plant, preferably, or once pulled, hanging upside down (e.g., peas and beans). For leafy vegetables (e.g., lettuce, chard) you have to choose the right plant - one that doesn't bolt too quickly.

Saving Jacob's Cattle drying bean
Saving seeds is certainly a science. And people have been practicing it for centuries. Of course, there are corporate efforts trying to undo our ability to produce food without having to spend money or involve a middleman (e.g., by producing a terminator seed, one that produces plants with sterile seeds). But small farmers and gardeners continue to save away despite lawsuits against them. Here in the Hudson Valley, we purchased some of our first batches of seeds from the Hudson Valley Seed Library, which collects regionally-adapted seeds from its members. Hopefully next season our seed order will be much smaller because we'll be planting our own saved seeds.

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