Collecting seeds from healthy crops ensure a continuous bounty, writes Justin Newcombe.
Shopping is one of the fun things I love about gardening. Buying a new fork, barrow or the latest pruning gizmo is just as much a part of gardening culture as shopping is for the golfer, fisho or budding chef. Even runners are beginning to look like puffed-out astronauts, drooling their way around the streets wrapped up with a heart monitor, iPod, drink bottle waistband, headband, rain-resistant sweat extracting sunhat and the all-important performance enhancing leg shave.
Most gardeners could see the sense in a hydration pack though... if it was filled with espresso that is. One area in gardening where going shopping is not an advantage is when it's for seeds.
Your own seed collection creates a bank of the most successful crops for your region, your neighbourhood and your own particular back yard. If you think logically about your objectives, saving seed from the biggest and best year after year can only improve your overall results, because you'll be selecting plants which do best in your conditions. If you have heavy soils, for example, and your seed merchant propagates and harvests in lighter soils, your success will always be dictated by their conditions. If, on the other hand, you collect the best from your own property, you will be selecting seed on your own terms and this is compounded year after year.
Of course, you need to get some seed to start with and shopping helps here, but you can also swap with local seed savers.
Once a plant goes to seed its physiology changes and parts of the plant become weaker. Weak plants attract pests, so this year we left lettuce to seed near our tomatoes and while the lettuce was infested, the toms were pathogen free.
Some plants come ready-made for seed saving, like sunflowers. Their seeds can be kept on the flower head until next spring.
Larger seeds can be put aside and dried in a cool dark place while smaller seeds like tomatoes can be soaked overnight, (to get the extra tomato off) then placed on a piece of loo paper to dry. The loo paper makes for easy storage, handling and propagating. Some seed like coriander, dill, carrot and parsnip are dry when you harvest them so keep an eye on these and pick the seed head before it falls. A paper bag tied around the drying seed head is a big help here and remember, seed usually requires a little bit of extra drying on a plate or other flat surface.
Politically, seed saving is becoming a hot potato with big corporations modifying seed then enforcing intellectual property rights over any seed collected. Surely though, being able to collect and propagate seed should be a basic human right, like shelter and water. I never thought collecting seed from my garden would have ramifications for social justice.
I just wish I could find that old Che Guevara T-shirt. Perhaps I'll just shop for a new one.
3 of the best: Seeds to save
They come in a handy self-storing unit while also being tasty and easy to propagate.
Excellent ground up and used with lamb, you'll be surprised how many seeds you get off so few plants.
Let a couple go to seed and you'll never have to buy another punnet. Easy to store and reliable for a good year at least.