Have seed saving in mind when you plant your garden this year! With many predicting a food shortage, the importance of having the ability to produce your own food from high quality, royalty-free seeds has never been more important. However, seeds will not keep forever, lasting between 2 and 5 years on average. This article will outline the types of seeds, and the seeds that are best for seed saving.
In the past, seeds have been worth their weight in gold, and seed saving was a must. Seeds cannot be created from scratch, yet they do self-replicate, and they offer plant life in its most compact form. Many of our ancestors sewed seeds (literally) into the lining of their clothing to avoid having them be detected and confiscated during immigration. This allowed them to maintain heirloom varieties their families had often kept for generations.
The pesticide industry has been buying up the seed industry at an aggressive pace over the past two decades. Consumers and corporations have different interests regarding seeds and vegetables. Given a choice, consumers prefer more tender vegetables that are vine-ripened, since they normally have more flavor and nutrition. Big Agribusiness, however, opts for items that can better survive freight, often at the expense of all else. While consumers want diversity, corporations want uniformity. For example, out of 10,000 edible plants, only 120 (or about 1%) provide 90% of the food worldwide! Your favorite varieties may soon disappear, so now is the time to get in gear for seed saving.
Types of Seeds
Before purchasing seeds it is essential to understand the three main types of seeds:
Heirloom seeds (known as Heritage seeds in Europe) will reproduce the same every generation (most assume all seeds are like this).
Heirloom seeds are also referred to as being open pollinated since they can be pollinated by birds, insects or the wind. While many plants must be protected from being crossed with other types using a greenhouse, walls or field isolation, some crops are “self pollinating” and can be relied upon to breed true, with the occasional “off type.”
Hybrid seeds are a combination of two or more heirloom varieties.
While providing diversity, over time these seeds gradually revert to the parent that was dominant, often changing unpredictably for the worse. Hybrid seeds must be repurchased each season in order to obtain the same exact crop. Hybrid seeds are also known as closed pollinated seeds since they are typically pollinated under controlled conditions to show specific traits.
Genetically Modified (GMO) seeds are manipulated in a laboratory (often combining plants with animal matter in ways impossible in nature).
On one hand, the corporations that make GMO seeds claim that their products are unique enough to patent; on the other hand, they argue that no testing should be required since these products are GRAS (generally recognized as safe). GMO pollen not only contaminates organic farms nearby, but courts have found those organic farmers guilty of patent infringement! Some GMO crops have been designed to produce sterile seeds by using a gene terminator. Recent studies confirm that GMO crops not only require more pesticide but produce lower yield than conventional crops. GMO pollen can never be recalled, and biotechnology will likely one day provide the world with a major Bio-uh-oh.
The Longest Lasting Seeds
Next are the top 8 seeds from the three vegetable families producing the longest-lasting seed. These seeds are great for seed savings:
Brassicaceae – the Cruciferous family
1) Turnip – Brassica rapa
Turnips are a member of the family that includes Rutabagas and are a good source of Vitamin C, calcium and iron. Turnips contain the antioxidant lutein that helps prevent cataracts and is used to treat diabetes since it helps improve circulation. Turnips reduce blood pressure and have anti-cancer properties. 5-year shelf life.
2) Radish – Raphanus sativus
Radishes are root vegetables believed to be native to southern Asia but now cultivated worldwide. Available in many sizes and colors along with a variety of cultivation times, radishes contain glucosilinates from which a volatile oil can be produced. Radishes contain Vitamin C and have antibiotic and anti-cancer properties. 5 year shelf life.
3) Cauliflower – Brassica oleracea
Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable similar to Broccoli and is high in Vitamin C. Though lacking in chlorophyll, cauliflower contains the phytonutrients and antioxidants Glucosinolates, Thiocyanates, Sulforaphane and Isothiocyanate. Cauliflower helps detoxify the liver and has anti-cancer properties. 4-year shelf life.
Solanaceae – the Nightshade family
4) Tomato – Solanum Lycopersicum
Tomatoes contain Lycophene, a powerful antioxidant and phytonutrient. Tomatoes contain Vitamins A, C, and K, along with niacin and calcium. Tomatoes are from the same family as peppers. Tomatoes have antiseptic and anti-cancer properties. 4-year shelf life.
5) Eggplant – Solanum melongena
Eggplant contains the flavonoid and phytonutrient Nasunin, a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from free radicals. Eggplant contains the phenolic compounds Caffeic and Chlorogenic acid, along with magnesium and potassium. Eggplant reduces cholesterol. Eggplant has strong antiviral, anti-fungal, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. 4 year shelf life.
Cucurbitaceae – the Melon family
6) Cucumber – Cucumis sativus
Cucumber contains Vitamin C, molybdenum and potassium and silica that improves the complexion. Cucumber has soothing properties so it is often used to treat skin conditions such as dry scalp along with rheumatism. Cucumber has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. 5-year shelf life.
7) Squash – Cucurbit
Squash are a sturdy vine that grows long and flowers within just weeks of planting. Squash are high in Vitamins A and C and also contain high amounts of beta-carotene, potassium, folate and manganese. With varieties that include Acorn, Butternut, Hubbard, Pumpkin and Turban, Squash are useful to treat lung inflammation. Squash has anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. 4 year shelf life.
8) Watermelon – Citrullus lanatus
Watermelon is an annual vine that has yellow flowers and grows fruit up to one foot in diameter. Watermelon contains citrullin and arginine. These phytonutrients help produce urea in the liver, increasing urine flow. Close relatives include cantaloupe, muskmelon, bitter melon and honeydew. Melons are so easy to digest and absorb that they do not require any stomach acid and thus allow enzymes (normally killed during digestion) to penetrate deep into the intestine where they provide strong detoxifying properties (see Melon Fasting for more information). Bitter melon extract is one of the few substances known to kick-start a sluggish pancreas and is used to treat Type 2 Diabetes (diabetics should not fast, however). Used to calm the nerves and treat constipation, melons have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. 4 year shelf life.
Estimated shelf lives are based on averages, but these seeds are generally regarded as the longest-lasting. Longer (and even indefinite) shelf life is possible for certain seeds under ideal conditions.
Tips for Storing Seeds
There are two main considerations for long term seed storage:
a) Seeds should be kept cool.
Seeds should be stored at less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit. A refrigerator is one option, a root cellar is another.
b) Seeds should be kept dry.
Seeds should be stored at less than 50% humidity. It helps to keep a few desiccant packets along with the seeds. Some seed collections come in foil bags with strong plastic containers that can be buried for years.
Your local farmers market will often provide a good sample of the produce that grows well in your area, along with growing tips and even live plants. Many groups trade seed for seed. Start building your own heirloom seed collection today!
For more information
PBS article on seeds: http://www.pbs.org/now/science/genebanks.html
Seed Savers Exchange: http://www.seedsavers.org/