Updated: Jul 6
Collecting seed for me, has always been about discovery, and sometimes a complete but wonderful accident. Perhaps the radish bolted and went to seed (flowers) before I’d had a chance to harvest, then suddenly I have pods of seed ready for next years crop.
But these moments have always left me in awe of the plants ability to do what it does best, recreate.
The collection of seed is not a new practise but it has certainly died out over many years due to a change in how we garden. This is in direct correlation to how and where we purchase our seed from. With the introduction of garden centres, it is easier and more convenient to purchase new packets of seed from large distributors year after year.
The types of seed collection carried out by the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew Botanical Gardens and the Botanic Gardens Conservation International and other such organisations are incredibly important in providing protection against plant extinction in the wild and preserving our plant heritage, not to mention that it’s an invaluable resource for research.
But there are so many benefits to collecting and harvesting seed from our own gardens.
The obvious benefit is that if you are collecting your own seed then you won’t need to spend money on new seed year after year. Even though us gardeners enjoy being frugal, in my opinion this is not even the best part of saving seed. But it does mean we get to spend our pennies on new innovative plastic free supplies for our gardens!
Collecting your own seed has to be the most sustainable practise (alongside home composting and rain water collection) that you can do within your garden or plot. By our very nature, we as gardeners are a self-sustainable bunch, why else would we grow our own produce? So take this up a notch and adopt the dying art of seed collection.
Each garden has it’s own micro-climate and by collecting seed from plants grown in your garden year after year you are effectively creating a stronger gene pool because these plants over time adapt to your climate conditions and become better performers, whether it’s vegetable yield or flower production. They may even start to become less susceptible to unwelcome guests and diseases.
Control of your food
The beauty of growing you own food from seed you have collected yourself is the knowledge and peace of mind that you know exactly where it has come from and that it hasn’t been ‘coated’ or modified in any way, which is so often the case when purchasing from large corporate distributors.
Brings you closer to nature
At the beginning I discussed the awe I feel when I see a plant flowering and setting seed. Maybe this stems from working in a nursery growing plants that I never got to see or experience their full potential before they were shipped off to the retail department. So now I take the time to appreciate the beauty of a plants life cycle.
Allowing some of your crop (even one or two radish) to go to seed and flower, significantly helps our pollinators, attracting more wildlife and bio-diversity into your gardens.
I’m sometimes lost in the wonder and scale that each plant provides, take beans for example, one bean pod can provide enough seed for the following years crop but one amaranth can yield thousands upon thousands of seed. It astounds me everytime.
Of course being able to collect your own seed is pretty impressive (not for the task itself but the fact that it’s so rare these days amongst gardeners) so imagine developing this skill to be able to select seed for particular characteristics and certain qualities, this would surely help show off your gardening skills and knowledge.
Become a steward of diversity
Many plants have a cultural history and posses unique culinary properties and resiliences to climate and unwanted guests, which has developed purely from preserving seed. The growing and collecting of seeds from these plants helps protect heirloom varieties from disappearing entirely and helps you to establish ties to history.
There are many seed exchange communities and I urge everyone to join at least one and help spread the knowledge and diversity. Or start your very own family tradition by growing your favourite and collecting seed to be passed down and grown by generation after generation and encouraging your children, godchildren or nieces and nephews from a young age to grow their own.
One of the many ways in which you can reduce your carbon footprint is to grow your own produce and by collecting your own seed from your locally grown produce you have reduced next years crop to zero (possibly even) negative carbon footprint. And what’s more local than your very own back garden!
Of course you don’t have to use all the seed for sowing next year, you can also eat and cook with many seeds, like poppy seed, pumpkin seed and nasturtium buds. Plants are nothing if not generous and as discussed previously some of them produce a plethora of seed to ensure their survival and it’s easy to divide this into:
1) seed for sowing next year
2) seed for cooking with
3) seed to exchange with friends and family
I hope that some of these benefits have struck a chord with you and for me it's difficul to choose one single best reason to collect your own seed, since there are so many benefits to do so. I know my seed collection game requires some improvement and this year I’m determined to make the very most of all that my garden provides. I encourage you all to do the same. Maybe start with something small, like a couple of radish or a sweet pea (when it’s done flowering towards the end of summer). I plan on developing this side of my gardening practise more over the coming months so you will be hearing more about it but I’d love to know if you have any techniques that work well for you and you can share them in the comments below.
One closing note I’d like to leave you with, is the misconception that seeds don’t last long. As you know by now I hate waste in any form and I hate to throw anything 'away' and in my experience seeds can be very reliable. It's recommended that seed is viable for 1 to 2 years after collection, thereafter the germination rate begins to drop. Now whilst I whole heartedly believe this to an extent, that's not to say that you can't get older to seed to germinate given the right conditions.
I have had some fantastic results just last year sowing calendula seed which had 'expired' in 2014 - so my advice, just sow the seed and see what happens. I've never discarded the contents of a seed packet just because of the date printed on the back, so don't be swayed too much by this but just be mindful that the germination success may be lower year after year.
But as I've mentioned before you don't have to sow all the seed, you can exchange/swap with friends, family and communities and in some cases cook with them, just give it a go, Save Our Seeds!