Our current situation with the pandemic is proving the importance of our seed bank. I have seen an almost panicked run on our seed bank as supplies of seeds and seedlings from places like Bunnings disappear from the shelves. The Permaculture Noosa Seed Bank has sold hundreds of dollars worth of seed and seedlings.
It has got me thinking that our seed bank is even more important than I thought as most seed supplies from commercial outlets come to us from overseas. What’s going to happen to our imported seeds is that they are all to be irradiated including the organic ones, in the near future as countries around the world close their borders to avoid the spread of this pandemic. Our seed supplies could be in short supply for quite a while. This is where you can be part of the solution.
If you have bought seed from our seed bank why not spend some of this beautiful downtime we have had forced on us, thinking about which seed you are going to start your new seed saving adventure with! How to do this?
- Make sure you have clearly labeled what seed you have planted where. Believe me, you won’t remember. I tried that already!
- Decide on which plants you would like to save seed from. Reasons for your choice could be: they grew more strongly and produced fruit before the other seedlings, the flavour or size of the fruit were outstanding, or simply that this seedling was the one the pests didn’t attack. Disease free is really important!
- Mark and label your choices. Tie a pink bow around the chosen ones. Lucky you if you have a garden full of pretty pink bows because this improves the diversity of your personal seed collection.
- Check your seed choice to see if it cross pollinates. If it does, it is really important to grow only one variety of that species at a time. Otherwise, be prepared to keep it covered with exclusion netting and hand pollinate. It is probably a sound idea to choose a self-pollinating seed variety for your first seed saving adventure. If you are unsure ask for help or do what I do, Google it. Learning how your plants pollinate will help avoid accidental crosses. Michel and Jude Fanton’s book “The Seed Savers’ Handbook” is a wonderful resource for all this information.
- If you are using seed from another source check to see if it’s a hybrid. They will not produce seed true to type in the original plant. Choose open source seed or heirloom seed to collect from.
- The next consideration is choosing annual or biennials to save seed from. Annuals are the easiest to start with as they complete their breeding cycle in one season or within a single year. However, if you choose biennials you will have to be prepared to allocate that patch of the garden for a two year cycle – not easy if you only have a small patch!
- Now you have passed the thinking, observation, and growing stages, it’s time to start doing!
- Save the seed from dry ‘pod’ seed heads – this includes peas, beans, brassica, and most flowers.
- The first step is to allow the seed to develop and mature on the plant for as long as possible or until they go brown and dry. It is best to place a paper bag over your seed head to protect the seed and allow it to dry naturally if weather permits, it can take up to 2 weeks. Use a food dryer if it’s too humid. You can pull the plants, bagged seed heads included, from the garden and hang upside down in a warm dry place if you need the garden space.
- DRY POD SEEDS – The next step for dry pod seeds is the winnowing process; just another word for cleaning the seed. The idea is to clean all the dead leaves and debris from the seed heads leaving just clean seed ready for storage. You can bring your seed along to seed savers and use our help and equipment to achieve this; we would love you to share your seed saving adventure and seed.
- WET FLESHY FRUITS – To save the seed of wet fleshy fruits – this includes melons, tomatoes, cucumber, squash and pumpkins: the first step is to remove the seed from the fruit and place in a clean, preferably, glass container. Glass is best so you can see what’s happening. Cover the seed with plenty of water and leave to ferment for a few days at room temperature. The surface of the water will become frothy which means the fermentation is happening as it’s supposed to. You will begin to see the seed separate, with the best seed settling on the bottom of your container and the pulp and non viable seed floating on the surface. You can repeat this process a few times pouring off the floaters and adding fresh water until you have clean seed. Tip the clean seed into a metal colander and leave to dry. Note: If you put the seeds on paper to dry they will stick. The colander allows the airflow and it’s easy to stir the seeds around daily to separate them as they dry. You don’t want them drying in clumps. Do not dry in direct sun as too much heat will reduce the viability of your seed.
- Finally – Storage. This is the most important part of the seed saving process because if not stored correctly your seed will not remain viable for very long which would be a sad waste of all your efforts. Place seed in paper envelopes, clearly marked with description, date harvested, original seed source and place all together in an airtight container, preferably glass for the best results. Before you store the seed permanently it’s a good idea to place the seed in the freezer for a couple of days to kill any lurking pests. The best long-term storage temperature is 4º C or the crisper of your refrigerator. Extended periods of heat will reduce the viability of your seed dramatically, so all care taken with this part of the process will be your reward one way or the other.
You may wish to make use of this time of crisis and use it as an opportunity to make changes that can improve your food security and long-term health from organically grown seed, fruit and veggies. I am choosing to look for all the positives in our current pandemic situation and saving our seeds is highlighting one of those positives. It’s something anyone can do and a bit of backyard self-sufficiency never hurt anybody.
The Cooroy Community Permaculture Garden is the new part of Permaculture Noosa’s seed saving adventure as it will be a major resource for growing and collecting the seed for the seed bank. If you are interested, join us in the community garden and become part of this adventure and exciting learning process. This adventure starts with the first step.
Sue Anderson is the Seed Savers Coordinator for Permaculture Noosa
Note: during this time of social distancing, the Cooroy Community Permaculture Gardens are being managed by a small group of dedicated volunteers, working two at a time. We hope to return to normal in the not-too-distant future, but if you are interested in coming along during the current restrictions, please email Sue at email@example.com.