Sunday, January 31, 2010

Stages of Seed Saving

Eventually, I wager, every gardener who keeps at it gets around to saving seeds from the garden. (From the start we all accumulate the unused parts of seed packets, but that's not real seed saving, that's just horticultural guilt.) We start saving the garden seeds because . . . well . . . there they are, by the hundreds and thousands. It all happens gradually. Once you have been working the same patch of ground for a while you can't help noticing that where last year's plants were left to go to seed, new seedlings are springing up. It's a thrill to get "free plants": kale you didn't expect, nasturtiums popping up all over the place, gratuitous parsley. We have a place by the fence where chard has been coming up on its own for more than ten years. Not remembering the precise variety, we call it "yard chard."

From merely noticing and marveling (and gathering the free goodies) it's a natural progression to start purposefully saving seeds to plant in a designated spot. That's as far as I have gotten. For example, this winter's Black Seeded Simpson lettuce comes from seeds I gathered last fall from a volunteer plant which grew from a previous season's nursery starts.

Over time, I've accumulated a couple of drawers full of seeds, including wildflowers collected from rural roadsides. It's been pretty haphazard until the past couple of years when I began to be more organized about it. Instead of dumping seeds in paper envelopes and scrawling a note or two, I made sure they were dried out thoroughly and stored in dark glass bottles (old vitamin bottles work well) with recorded sources, dates and varieties.

So it was with great interest that I read a fascinating article in Saturday's Press Democrat about the local movement to collect, save, and trade seeds among gardeners in this area. Trading seeds must be the next logical step in the process that begins with noticing volunteer seedlings. I wish there was a mail order component of these local seed exchanges, since I don't see the likelihood of attending the meetings where gardeners gather with their hoarded treasures. But is sure is nice to know that this is becoming more common. Sooner or later there will be one close by.

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