The world is already struggling with food supply and managing crops. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted a general warming of the world climate over the next several decades. Growing our own food gives us control over our lives and independence.
The best seeds for you to store are those that are most suitable for the particular environment you find yourself in. And of course environments vary widely across the USA, from wet and warm, to cold and very dry. You should do some research for your particular area and work out what fits with your local weather systems. One of the best ways to do this is to observe what grows best around you and use that.
This article will give you some general advice on the types of seeds that you should think about storing, these are generalist plants but will develop a baseline for you to work from.
Seeds need to come from a good originating stock. One of the modern day issues we have to deal with is to find seeds that do not come from genetically modified (GMO) crops. Monsanto, GMO advocates, have deliberately bought up a large proportion of the world’s seed companies. In addition, Monsanto are working with several other companies to build the ‘doomsday seed bank’ known as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault with the express task of retaining ‘crop diversity’ assuming world events will conspire to impact the production of crops. With this in mind you need to find the right seeds to build your own doomsday seed bank.
Heirloom seeds come from original cultivar plants and often have disease resistance from hybridization with other plant species. They are hardy and don’t contain modified genes – however a warning. Monsanto are also buying up many heirloom seed companies, so you need to either create your own, or find Monsanto free heirloom seed companies. Seeds Now is a company that can supply heirloom seeds and does not trade with companies that support GMO. There are several others, check out their ‘about us’ section that usually details if they are GMO free.
Depending on your climate, squash is a really easy one to grow and it provides good grub. Squash has lots of carbohydrates and a great nutrient list, including Vitamins A and C, as well as magnesium and potassium. They can be used to cook both savory and sweet dishes too.
I live in a temperate, occasionally cold, but always wet, climate and can grow zucchini very easily from seed. In fact, I can grow so much of the stuff I can’t even give it away. Other warmer climates will have good luck with other squash varieties such as Pumpkin. Pumpkin and butternut squash both love the sun, but they also are thirsty plants and need decent amounts of water.
If you are using your own seeds direct from a pumpkin, you’ll need to dry them out. Follow these instructions to get storable seeds:
- Open the pumpkin (or other squash) and pull out the seed mass along with some pulp.
- Put the mass into a colander or sieve and run water over, pulling the pulp away from the seeds.
- Continue to run cold water over the seeds until you have pulp free seeds.
- Place the seeds onto an absorbent paper or cloth towel – spread them out so they aren’t touching.
- Dry them out in a cool dry place for about 1 week.
- The biggest seeds are the ones most likely to germinate.
- Store them in a cool, dark place, ideally keeping them in a paper envelope.
Green beans contain high levels of vitamin A and anti-oxidants so they are very good for general health, including heart health. They also have B12, B6 and vitamin C. Green beans are really easy to grow and crop well. They do need to have cane support, as they grow tall (even the dwarf varieties need some support).
If you want to store your own home grown green bean seeds you should follow these instructions:
- Once you stop watering your green beans (around September) the pods will continue to grow. The larger pods are the ones your after for future seeds.
- Once the leaves of the plant start to die off, remove the larger pods for seed production.
- Gently open the pod down the edge.
- Very carefully (without damaging the delicate skin) remove the seeds.
- Place the seeds on a paper lined tray, spreading them out so they don’t touch.
- Leave to dry in a cool, dry place for 1-2 weeks.
- Store in a jar in a cool, dark place.
Spinach is a very versatile and easy to eat food. You can eat it raw, to bulk up salads, or cook with it. It is has loads of vitamin A and C, as well as iron and minerals such as potassium and magnesium. It is best grown in spring and fall (some types are annual rather than biennial) and I’ve had lots of success with spinach, I can’t seem to stop it growing. Spinach seeds are a little more difficult to get at and keep than the previous two types of seeds we’ve mentioned. To obtain the seed you need to let some of your spinach grow on to flower. It won’t be edible at this point (it’ll taste quite bitter), so it really is only good for seed collection. To collect and store spinach seeds, follow these steps:
NOTE: Baby spinach is the best type of spinach for seed collection
- Let your spinach continue to grow until it flowers.
- You will get two types of plant, a male ad a female. They can be differentiated by the colour of the little balls that grow under the leaves. The female has only green balls, whereas the male has yellow ones.
- Usually the spinach wind pollinates between the male and female plants, but to give nature a helping hand you can give the male plants a ‘flick’ to get them to release their pollen.
- Once the plants start to turn yellow they are ready (the color shows they have given up all of their nutrients into the seed stage).
- Pull them up and discard the male plants.
- Hang the female plants upside down in a cool, dry place.
- Leave for about 2 weeks until the whole plant dries up. The seeds will now be dry too and usually they can be simply shaken onto paper to collect (they are very small).
- Keep them in a jar in a cool, dry place – they usually only store till the next season.
Potatoes are a staple diet of many of the world’s peoples, especially those in the west. The contain potassium, copper and B6 and are really good to ‘fill you up’ at mealtime. They are also usually pretty easy to grow, although some varieties are very disease prone. I have lost whole crops to blight when growing during wet years; it’s very disheartening when that happens. So to avoid it, choose your starter variety with good disease resistance. You can find them in any good store. I have used a variety called ‘Charlotte’ which I’ve never lost to blight yet, and they taste delicious. Other disease resistant varieties include Caribe, Purple Peruvian and Prince Hairy (very good against potato beetle).
To produce potatoes direct from the seed:
You can grow potatoes from the seed. The seeds can be found in small, round pods once the potatoes have started to die off. However, not all potatoes grow these pods, especially potatoes that are created for the mass market as their pollen is no longer fertile. But if you do find the little green balls on your plant, you can try and use the seeds inside to grow potatoes. However – warning. It takes at least two seasons to grow edible tubers directly from the seed. The first year you end up with ‘tuberlets’ which become your ‘seed potatoes’ which ultimately become your first true crop.
To extract the seeds out of the balls:
- Harvest the balls when feel soft and ripe.
- It’s hard to get the tightly packed seeds out of the pod, so you can cover the pods with water and smash them up using a rolling pin or similar.
- Leave this smash in the water overnight.
- The seeds should start to pull away from the pod and sink to the bottom of the container.
- The seeds are very small, like tomato seeds.
- Rinse the seeds and place on an absorbent cloth or towel to dry out.
- Store in a cool, dry place.
Using seed potatoes
Not to confuse the ‘potato seed’ with ‘seed potatoes’. If you have a crop from the previous year, keep those potatoes that start to sprout as these will become your seed potatoes.
To prepare seed potatoes for planting, I usually have a supply of eggs boxes, or similar, that I use to ‘chit’ the potatoes out in. Egg boxes are good because they naturally keep the potatoes apart from one another. Place each seed potato, sprout end up into the box and leave in a light place away from frosts for about 6 weeks until you have about 1 inch of sprout. They are then ready to plant out.
If you live somewhere sunny, corn is a really good crop to grow. It has iron, vitamin B6 and is a great source of carbohydrate. You can use it to make all sorts of other foods, like corn bread. Corn is wind pollinated, so you need two crops, a mile apart, is good, but then can be closer and they’ll cross pollinate. If you want to harvest your own corn seeds from your corn crop, follow these instructions:
IMPORTANT: Corn can suffer from too much inbreeding. You really need to minimize this happening by having a good supply of plants to take seeds from, upwards of 100 plants is recommended to have a large enough gene pool.
Corn HAS to be pollinated for the seed to form a kernel and germinate into a new plant. Growing corn in blocks rather than long rows helps pollination.
- Leave the plants for up to 6 weeks after normal harvesting of the ears.
- The ears should be allowed to mature and dry on the stalk (try to avoid the ears getting wet in rain during this stage). When they are dry, the kernels will feel hard and can’t be dented by a thumbnail.
- Once dried, rub kernels off the ears off with your hands.
- Lay the kernels onto paper and allow to dry for a further 1-2 weeks.
- Pull any bits of silk or debris from the kernels.
- Store in a cool, dry place
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