As the cool autumn weather descends upon us, we growers and gardeners start thinking about the best way to finish out the season and look forward to the next.
One way is to preserve the best plants that you’ve grown this season and replicate them next year through the art of seed saving. It is a surprisingly simple practice and has been in effect for 12,000 years.
Saving seed is the best way to ensure genetic diversity and allows you to breed and improve your best plants within your micro-climate. Breeding also allows the strongest performers to thrive. Purchasing generic seed increases the risk that the plants will not succeed in your climate.
To understand genetic diversity in seed saving, it helps to understand the classifications of that diversity: landrace, open-pollinated, F1 hybrid and genetically modified seeds. Landrace is seed developed through cultivation that has a high level of genetic diversity. Open-pollinated varieties (e.g. heirloom tomatoes) are a more common classification, with almost as much genetic diversity as landraces, but with more consistent yields and traits. F1 hybrids are varieties of plants that have been bred to produce specific traits. These crops can’t reproduce naturally (unlike open pollinators), provide less genetic diversity and their seed can’t be saved.
The least diverse seed is genetically modified seed (GMOs), which has been injected with genes for specific traits, often for resilience to pesticides and herbicides. GMOs significantly reduce the genetic diversity of our seeds, both regionally and nationally, and can’t be saved because they are patented.
According to Vanity Fair magazine, “As recently as 1980, no genetically modified crops were grown in the United States. In 2007, the total of genetically modified crops planted equated to 142 million acres. Worldwide, the figure was 282 million.”
As a seed saver, how do you carry your best plants from one season to the next and maintain genetic diversity? Figure out what makes a plant “the best?” Consider resistance to pests and disease, resilience — ability to recover from pests or poor growing conditions, favorable yield and flavor. Selecting the “best” options will vary; some value yield over flavor; others have a lot of weeds and/or pests and prize resilient plants. Select your seed based on your preferences.
Seed saving is as easy as it sounds. Some of the simplest seeds to save include peppers, tomatoes, melons, winter squash, eggplant, cucumbers and summer squash. Seeds are in the food you prepare from your garden, from the best-looking fruit you pull from the vine and in that melon you ate as a child that your parents said would grow a watermelon in your stomach.
The best performers in your garden are trying to evolve just as everything else on this planet is and only you can provide the opportunity for that particular plant to continue its genetic evolution.
Mr. Ericksen and Ms. Higby are vegetable growers at Sylvester Manor.