why save seed?

natural cycles / diversity / sidestepping monoculture / breeding your own

n a t u r a l    c y c l e s

To grow something and not save it’s seed is a missed opportunity to fully engage in the cycle of life. Only in these recent times of technological growth and mechanisation have humans tried to extract themselves from these natural cycles, depending instead on increasingly large companies for their food and seed. The result is a population dependent on commercial seed, bought yearly from a rapidly decreasing number of varieties and doused with chemicals.

d i v e r s i t y

Any ecologist will tell you diversity is a good thing. Seed saving encourages diversity by preserving that already found in land races and heritage varieties and saving more ‘normal’ commercial varieties from obscurity, when they are dropped by seed companies favouring profit over choice. Saving and planting seed from year to year is also likely to select plants better suited to local conditions, so over time, new varieties will evolve.

t o    s i d e s t e p     m o n o c u l t u r e

Saving seed resists the increasing monoculture of seed, plant and food supply. Open pollinated plants adapted to local conditions are more likely to survive traumatic experiences such as disease or freak weather and produce a dependable crop. Most commercial varieties are hybrids which although often full of ‘hybrid vigour’ do not breed true, which means planting saved seed next year for a crop is unreliable if not pointless.

More immediately for the small scale gardener, varieties developed for mass harvest are bred for:

  • Uniformity in time: harvesting can only happen once, so everything has to ripen simultaneously.
  • Uniformity in shape and size: sorting and packaging machinery can’t cope with diversity very well, nor can large supermarkets and fast food outlets who need to maintain consistent products.
  • More weight: many crops are bred to have a higher water content so they weigh more and are therefore more profitable, unfortunatley this is often at the expense of taste.
  • Thick/durable skins: other plants, such as tomatoes, are bred to have more fibre and less flavoursome juice for easy transportation.

Most gardeners picking by hand are likely to want a steady stream of food throughout the harvest season and will probably want a variety of tastes, shapes and textures. Most commercial varieties have been bred with the exact opposite in mind.

b r e e d i n g     y o u r    o w n

The last reason is perhaps the most exciting, saving seed is the first step in purposely selecting for new varieties yourself. Reasons to do this could be pure interest and enjoyment value, hankering after a particular flavour or shape you’ve never seen, actively adapting varieties to your local conditions or trying to develop whole new plants. Indeed many of the food crops we take for granted today were developed by amateur gardeners from wild species, and there are still many, many more of the wilder species to be crossed and bred, who knows what we could be eating in the future?

You will find a practical guide to seedsaving in the gardening zone.