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Wholly Canadian Blog

Friday, September 01, 2017

It's Autumn season and I'm thinking about Spring

Saving Seeds. . .

The air has a nip in it, and some leaves are already turning that familiar hue. . .autumn is nearly upon us.  It's that time of year when I start thinking about spring. . .well, sort of.

Now is the time to save seeds for spring. I intentionally don't pick a few pods of my beans and peas so they dry on the plant, and then once they dry, I pick the pods and save the seeds for the following spring. I also harvest the seeds from my peppers, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes for the following spring.

Dried heirloom beans on the vine Harvesting the seeds Placing them in  package for next spring: "Littlefield special"


I mainly grow heirloom or heritage seeds. . .What's so special about them? Let me tell you.  But before I do, let's just clarify a few terms. Sometimes people get their botanical jargon regarding seeds, mixed up. So let me quickly explain:

Heirloom/ Heritage seeds: These are old strains of seeds, some dating back centuries, that have been passed down by a family or community. Let's take a cucumber for example: When you aquire heirloom cucumber seeds, you plant the seed, and the cucumbers that you harvest serve a dual purpose: 1) to eat and be nourished; and 2) save seeds for the following year. Basically, the saved seed, when planted the following year, grows true. Meaning, it grows the same variety as the parent plant. It continues to reproduce its own.

Hybrid:A hybrid seed is a result of cross-pollination. Again, let's take a cucumber as an example. A seed company might desire the taste of one strain and the early sprouting of another strain of cucumber, and thus, cross-pollinate them to receive the benefits of both. (Kind of like cross-breeding dogs) While the hybrid has obvious benefits, and is still natural, it's seed will not grow true. Meaning, it's seed will either exhibit characteristics of one of its parents, not produce any fruit, or may not grow at all. (I've tried!)

GMO (Genetically modified organisms): GMO is different than a hybrid plant--hybrid occurs in nature all the time. Genetically modifying a plant is infusing a synthetic gene in a seed so as to produce some kind of characteristic perceived as beneficial.  It might infuse a chemical-resistant gene in a seed so the crop can be sprayed with a herbicide or pesticide, and then the resulting plant becomes resistant to the chemical where it would have died otherwise. Or it can be infusing synthetic genes in a seed to increase shelf life, appearance, etc. My family doctor, after giving me a lecture about Vitamin C, told me about a GMO apple that has an infused fish gene in it so as to prolong shelf life and prevent browning. {Ever notice that apples you eat now don't get brown as quickly as the one's you had for lunch as a kid?} Now the reason she told me about that, is because those apples have 40% less Vitamin C than their natural counterparts. Crazy! I since then did some researach and found out that there's a lot of "fishy food" in the produce aisle (go ahead and do your research)! You see, GMO food is generally not modified for nutrition, its modified for utilitarian purposes.  When I eat my food, I want it nourish me in its natural God-given form. To say it simply, I want nourishing food. (Side note: You can understand, why I as a  Canadian, want my food in the supermarket to be labelled if it is GMO. It should be a basic right to know)


Heirloom cucumber on a vine Harvesting the seeds Saving seeds for next spring and drying on a plate: "Improved Long Green"


This is why I feel so privileged to participate in growing heirloom seeds and saving seeds. . .

1) Nourishment & Quality: When I'm saving seeds and growing them, I'm growing food for what it was intented--to nourish me wholly. For example, the beans that I grow are rich in magnesium, folate, iron, phosphorus, thiamin and iron. They're not genetically modified and altered for some utilitarian reason, no, they're potent with life-giving nutrition.

2) Rhythm of Life: I'm connected to history when I save seeds. Seed saving is something that my ancestors practiced. They brought seeds over when they emmigrated to Canada because of the inherent connection to life. There were no seed catalogues neatly tucked into their mailbox early February. No, they had to ensure they had saved seeds from the previous year, or they would perish. Seed saving is a practice that has nearly been lost, or perhaps better said, it's a intuition we have buried {no pun intended}.  This is skill or intuition that I want to nurture within my child as he grows. This is something I want him to know before he's 18. My desire is that when the autumn air arouses his senses, he's thinking about more than acquiring a pumpkin-spiced latte, he's thinking about participating in a rhythm of life. . .

3) It encourages localism: Local food is grown for full flavour, nutrient content, and preservation of heritage seeds--encouraging biodiversity. Whereas "travelled" food is grown based on its efficacy in production and growth, how well it travels, and its appearance when it hits the market. (You can see how the need for GMO becomes apparent here.) In fact, these utilitarian factors influence the choice of food available at a conventional supermarket negating the value and potency that real and historically-rich food offers. Conventional travelled food is pre-selected for consumers based on criterion devoid of factors that would naturally influence food selection. For example, a green pepper in the supermarket will be bred for its aesthetic qualities like colour, shine, and how well it travels--but not nourishment! These restrictive criterions discourage biodiversity. Small farms and gardens have the privilege of growing history-rich heritage seeds, sharing seeds, encouraging biodiversity, and employing sustainable practices that encourage beneficial insects, birds, and microorganisms.

4. It's the path of simplicity. It is simple. Not covenient.  In my journey I am discovering that a great deal of true joy is rooted in simplicity.


Heirloom Tomatoes on the Extracting the seeds Drying the seeds. Once dry I place in my labelled envelope: "San Marzano"


Do I save save seeds from all my plants?

No, I'm a semi-novice. I save seeds that are visibly apparent and require little skill, e.g. cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, peas, peppers, squash, cilantro, etc.  I don't save seeds of radishes, lettuce, carrots, etc where the seeds are more delicate. I'm sure I could learn, but I'm content with my current rhythm of simplicity--it suits me in my busy stage of life.  I purchase the more delicate seeds from companies that have sustainable gardening practices.

How do I harvest/save the seeds?

Believe it or not, I've never researched this. I just follow my intuition on this.

  • I simply extract the seed from the matured (make sure it is really ripened) pod or fruit.
  • I let the seeds fully dry on a plate or paper bag (depending on the size of the seed) in a dark cupboard. I've also heard some say that tomato seeds need to be fermented. So do your research on tomato seeds. I've been able to grow tomotoes without the fermentation process.
  • Finally, I place the dried seeds in a labelled envelope for the following spring--storing them in a cool dry place.
  • Not sure if that's correct, but it works for me!

A Few Other Notes:

  • Tomotoes are a great plant from which to save seeds as they self-pollinating, meaning they don't cross pollinate with other tomatoes.
  • If you grow cross-pollinating heirloom plants, make sure to grow them apart from each other, so you keep your heirloom strain pure.

Where did I aquire my heritage heirloom seeds?

So glad you asked. . .

I've been patronizing Heritage Harvest Seeds (located in Carmen, MB) for the past number of years. They have some of the best selections of heirloom seeds in North America. I enjoy browsing their online catalogue and reading the history behind the seeds. Seeds really tell an amazing story! When I read about them, I always want to be part of the story. . .

I also patronize Sage Garden Greenhouse (located in Winnipeg, MB).  My spring cannot officially begin until I breathe in the scent of all their herbs. . .it's intoxicating. I love that place!  Sage Garden Greenhouse is the only Winnipeg garden centre that uses 100% natural fertilizers and 100% non-toxic pest management on all the plants they grow.  They sell seeds, herbs, vegetable plants, wild & native flowers, and much more.


Heirloom Spaghetti Squash Extracting Seeds for next year Drying seeds in a paper bag. Once dry, I store in my small envelope: "Spaghetti Squash"


Will you be saving any seeds this fall? If so, what kind? Tell us your story. . .

Posted by Wholly Canadian at 12:00 AM 2 Comments