Late summer and autumn are not always the most beautiful and fruitful times for many of our plants. Our vegetable patches have stopped yielding and our flowers are faded and brown. But this is the perfect time to gather seeds you can use to start your gardens next year. Here are just a few benefits of collecting and saving seeds.
- It’s fun!
- It’s easy!
- It’s economical! The price of a packet of seeds seems to increase every year. The seeds you collect from your garden are free.
- You can share or exchange seeds with friends – a great inexpensive way to try new plants.
- Your favorite plant may not be readily available at local nurseries, but if you save seeds you can continue to enjoy it in your garden year after year.
- Many varieties of heirloom plants are lost over time. They actually become extinct! You can help preserve different heirloom plants by collecting, saving and replanting heirloom seeds.
- By raising many generations of plants, you’ll be able to see how certain traits are passed on, and how you can select the qualities you want to bring out. Over time, you can even “customize” your plants to suit your backyard conditions and your tastes.
- You can benefit your community. If you collect more vegetable seeds than you can use, which is likely, you can donate your surplus seeds to a community garden that gives free fruits and vegetables to needy families.
Collecting and saving seeds is an ancient tradition. For thousands of years, farmers collected and saved seeds to insure the next year’s harvest. They also studied the results of their plantings and then saved and sowed seeds from the best plants, fine-tuning the plants to meet their needs and match local growing environments. This selection led to a genetic diversity of crops adapted to many growing conditions and climates, and created a large base for our food supply.
While farmers and hobby gardeners collect and save seeds to plant and share, seed vaults or banks do just the opposite. From the beginnings of agriculture (possibly as early as 8000 B.C. in what is now Iraq), farmers understood their seeds needed protection from the weather and animals. Scientists have discovered evidence of seed banks in Iraq from as far back as 6750 B.C. Today, there are more than 1,500 seed banks around the world that hold a wide variety of seeds to preserve crop diversity and act as insurance against disease and natural and man-made disasters that might wipe out the world’s seed reserves. The best known is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, often called the “Doomsday Vault,” located in a remote frozen mountain in Norway. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a huge international project with the capacity to store 4.5 million varieties of crops for a maximum of 2.5 billion seeds. Currently, the Vault holds more than 860,000 samples, originating from almost every country in the world.
Amid all the interest in preserving and sharing seeds, libraries around the country have started seed exchanges, and the Williamson County Public Library joined that movement in March of 2015. The first year of our seed exchange, we “checked out” (gave away) more than a thousand packets of flower, vegetable, fruit, and herb seeds. It was suggested – but not required – that those who participate in the program collect seeds from their gardens this fall and return a few of them to the Library in the spring so we can keep our seed exchange going. Go to WCPL Seed Exchange to find out how our seed exchange works and see a list of helpful resources on seed collecting.
If you want to learn more about harvesting your seeds, the Library is hosting a program on Collecting and Saving Seeds with UT/TSU Horticulture Extension Agent Amy Dismukes on Monday, September 17 at 1:30 pm. Registration is required, but the program is FREE and open to anyone who is interested in attending. Just call 615-595-1243 or click here to register.