In the depths of winter we are all looking forward to the spring and the start of sowing and planting our vegetables. I have been seeing a lot of people showing their packets of seeds, on Twitter and Instgram from various seed merchants large and small. I love finding new veg or new varieties, especially tomatoes – I have a thing for tomatoes. However, this year we are buying fewer commercial seeds, instead we are saving and sharing seeds with others locally. There are a few reasons why we are starting to do this.
Growing favourites every year
I am sure that everyone has a favourite crop, or three, that they grow every year. We love Czar beans – fantastic runners. They are prolific, grow to 12″ without being stringy, taste great and the white bean can be dried and used as a butterbean. The same applies for some of the tomatoes we grow every year such as tangella and purple Ukrain. I can save the seeds form these and grow the same things again (and not have to pay for them).
Preserving heritage varieties
Since we first planted vegetables, gardeners all over the world have been trying to improve their crops – make it taste better, be more productive, crop for a longer time, store better etc. For home growers we don’t want every pea to ripen in the same week. We want to be able to pick from the same plant for weeks.
Commercial varieties are often bred to ripen and produce their bounty all in one go, as that makes harvesting easier. Large quantities of seeds are produced making it easy to package up some for the home gardener. These are often F1 hybrid that are sold in every supermarket and garden centre. You have to buy F1s every year if you want to grow that variety.
Crops get used to your conditions
Growing and saving seeds from your vegetables and flowers means that you slowly start to select from plants that have done well in your area. This means that they are used to your damp, cold and wet clay soil, or you light friable sandy soil. When you buy from a commercial grower their seeds are adapted for their soil and not yours. Saving your own seeds will help you to get better crops for your specific growing conditions. The Thrupp parsnips have been an amazing success. One of the group has an allotment in Thrupp and has grown her own parsnips for many years now. Everyone who grow them last year has said they will grow them again. That must count for something.
I had never tried to save vegetable seeds before. If you choose the right varieties saving your own is really easy. You don’t need vast amounts of space either, just enough to leave a few plants to go to seed. So far we have chosen peas, tomatoes, climbing beans and a few flowers – like marigolds. You just leave good examples to mature properly and let them dry out on the plant or hang up in the shed.
Tomatoes and cucumbers are a bit different as their seeds have a coating that can inhibit germination. These are easily fermented in a glass jar for a few days then strained and washed.
Its important to dry properly and store your seeds in the dark. That’s it really.
I live in the Stroud area and we have a community seed bank. This is a group of people who are keen to preserve heritage vegetable, grow crops that like the Stroud valley and want to have chemical free, untreated seeds.
Growing with other people has been fantastic. We don’t meet often – 2 or 3 times a year, but we are in touch on email most months. We swap stories of success and failure. We are all learning and are all keen to improve our skills. Hopefully, we will branch out to brassicas, squash and carrots soon.
One of the founding prinicples of the initative was to share our seeds with anyone who wanted them. The 2018 seed catalogue had 60 varieties and we have just over 600 packets of seeds. We do not sell them, we do not offer a mail order service and we do not grow for profit. This year we have had a small stall at the local farmers market and at Stroud potato day. At these two events we have already distributed over 350 packets of seeds.
I bought some heritage carrots and if they do well then I might store some this winter for seeds in 2019. The Stroud Community Seed Bank membership is growing. We are hoping to use a part of a field to save our first brassica seeds. I am already looking forward to our seed exchange in autumn.