Saving seeds

Jeanette Helmer,

Pemberton Organic Farmer

A few generations ago, all farmers and gardeners saved their own seed, sharing and trading seed stock with neighbours and friends. This had been common practice for thousands of years and still is in many parts of the world. But here in North America, even though early settlers brought seeds from their homelands and many natives saved seeds from their crops to plant the next year, we seem to have lost this valuable tradition. Along with this loss has developed a lack of knowledge and understanding for saving seed.

These days, it is much more convenient to simply buy a colourful packet of seeds at the store, and not to question the historical or biological significance of doing so. In fact, saving seeds has enormous biological significance, the most important of which is that by saving seed we can help to preserve the natural genetic diversity of plant crops. By saving what one does not eat from their garden, that garden will eventually become a self-perpetuating system, without the addition of foreign seed stock or genetically modified seed.

Saving seed refers to the practice of retaining the flowering portion, or fruiting body, of a plant in order to collect its seeds. Only "open-pollinated" or non-hybrid plants will produce seed that can be saved. These are the plants that will produce viable, living seeds.

Once a crop is picked and produce is used for eating or selling, the rest of the crop is ready for seed saving. Seeds need to be cleaned and dried before they can be stored, and should be away from moisture and high temperatures at all cost. Clear glass jars with well-marked labels on them are actually brilliant décor, especially as they become full of colourful and intricate patterned seeds. It’s gardeners’ artwork, and it’s a step closer to subsistence, whereby people can live off the products of their own land.

Many of us in the Pemberton Valley and on other farms throughout Canada have been gardening and farming for generations, yet it is only recently that we learned what our ancestors knew: how much sense it makes to save seeds. We now routinely save many types of heirloom beans plus peas, sweet peas, basil, arugula, squash, sunflowers and poppies. These plants are all annuals, which flower and produce mature seed in the same year.

As we strive to reduce human impact on our local environment, it makes perfect sense to re-use products that were produced in our own garden in order to start the following year’s crop. We still buy lots of seeds – some are too troublesome to save and store. As well, it is clearly interesting to try new varieties of plants, but even then we will try to buy non-hybrid, open pollinated seeds to support seed saving networks across North America. Indeed, saving and storing seeds is one way we can all contribute to self-sufficiency and global biodiversity, not to mention the health and integrity of our local farmland.

If you would like to learn more about seed saving, you may send for "Save Our Seeds, Save Ourselves" by Dan Jason, a 24-page booklet ($4) detailing means and methods of ensuring our seed heritage ( or Box 444, Ganges P.O. Salt Spring Island, B.C. V8K 2N1).

Upcoming Events

Saturday, April 6th — Monthly Bird Walk . Meet at the base of Lorimer Road at 7 a.m. (please note earlier time!). Contact Michael Thompson (604-932-5010) for details.

Sunday, April 7 — Pacific Northwest Native Plant Sale , UBC Botanical Garden, (6804 Southwest Marine Drive, Vancouver) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For details call 604-261-3054 or go to

Sightings and Memberships: NatureSpeak is prepared by the Whistler Naturalists. To become a member or to report noteworthy sightings of mammals, birds, or other species, contact Lee Edwards (604-905-6448; e-mail:


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