During my cross-country farm tour last fall, I stopped by Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) in Iowa and was overwhelmed by their amazing heirloom seed collection and the many other resources that they offer. So, I was excited to read Seed to Seed, which was written by one of SSE’s seed researchers – Suzanne Ashworth. At Del Rio Botanical near Sacramento, California, Ashworth conducts seed research and sales, runs consumer and restaurant supported agriculture, and leads workshops about organic gardening, seed saving, and other topics.
Something that stands out about this book is that Ashworth has grown all of the 160 vegetable varieties included in the book as well as tested all of the storage and seed saving techniques herself. She only included seed saving techniques which were successful over several seasons and techniques which were supported by published literature. Seed to Seed is a comprehensive and foundational reference guide for small-scale vegetable seed saving.
Easiest Seeds for Getting Started
Compared to insect- or wind-pollinated plants, Ashworth explains that self-pollinated plants are the easiest to work with when getting started with seed saving. Self-pollinated plants contain both male and female flower parts within the same flower. Considered to be “perfect flowers,” they do not need insects or the wind in order to be fertilized. Examples of self-pollinated plants include peas, beans, endives, peanuts, peppers, tomatillos, eggplant, and malabar spinach.
Seed Storage Tips
Ashworth covers seed cleaning methods – wet processing, dry processing, and hot water treatments – in great detail as well as seed cleaning equipment. She says that high temperature and high moisture are the two greatest threats to maintaining vigorous seeds. To prevent seeds from losing their ability to germinate, Ashworth offers the following seed storage tips:
- Containers for collecting seeds: Collect seedpods in woven or bushel baskets, paper bags, feed sacks, or cardboard boxes. Collect seeds from moist fruits or berries in plastic buckets. To avoid mixing seed varieties, do not reuse the bags or boxes.
- Maintaining temperature and humidity levels: The sum of the temperature (degrees F) and relative humidity should not exceed 100. Maintaining humidity levels is especially important to keep microorganisms from harming the seeds.
- Containers for storing seeds: Airtight glass or metal containers work best for storing seeds. The jar should be kept in a dark, cool, and dry place with steady temperature levels such as an underground root cellar.
- Long-term frozen seed storage: If seeds are dried to about 8% moisture, then they can be frozen and stored in an airtight container. Use color-indicating silica gel to dry the seeds. To do so, place each seed sample in a labelled paper packet and place all samples within an airtight glass jar. Weigh the seeds and packets, and then fill the jar with an equal weight of dry silica gel. The gel, will change color from deep blue to pink as it absorbs moisture from the seeds. After 7-8 days, the seeds will reach their optimal moisture level (6-8% for peas, beans, and corn and 4-5% for smaller seeds like peppers and tomatoes). Remove the seeds from the jar and store them in another airtight container (without silica gel) in the freezer.
- Bringing seeds out of frozen storage: When its time to plant, take the jar of seeds out of the freezer and allow the jar to reach room temperature before opening the lid. Expose the seeds to air for a few days before planting.
In the remainder of the book, Ashworth describes the major vegetable families and 160 different seed varieties, including pollination techniques and growing recommendations. The book also includes a list of seed saving advisors in each region of the U.S. as well as seed saving organizations both in the U.S. and abroad.
If you’d like to reduce your reliance on the garden seed industry, save money by not having to buy seeds every year, grow seed varieties which have been passed on from previous generations, and contribute to preserving special varieties, then seed saving is likely for you and this book can help you get started!
Janie Hynson is an aspiring homesteader in North Carolina. She recently moved back to her hometown after living in Boston for six years and then traveling across the U.S. working on organic farms. Janie works in public health and sustainable agriculture and is interested in how health can be improved through homesteading.
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