Friday, 5 February 2010


As we all know, different parts of the world have different plants, animals, weather, soil and water conditions. For millions of years creatures of the earth developed characteristics that best adapted them to these conditions. Those that did not have the genes to adapt to the slow but constant heating and cooling of the planet died out; those that could survive the changes went on to flourish. Humans began to collect the seeds of those flourishing plants and sowed them closer to home, allowing them to stay in one place and so gradually the nomadic lifestyle died out in many parts of the world, starting about 10,000 years ago. They also herded animals together, built barriers to keep them in and so began rudimentary farming.

Every season the peoples of the mountains and valleys and plains of the Middle East, Africa and Asia sowed their seeds, grew their food and saved some of the resulting seeds for next year. Travellers in ships, on camels and on foot started to swap their seeds and produce and so to introduce new vegetables and fruits to each other. The people in the new lands would try to grow the new crops and sometimes succeeded, sometimes not but always they saved their own seeds from year to year and in this way the new crops adapted to the new lands and so, over the centuries, different varieties became suited to very different conditions. This is called conserving the processes of evolution and adaptation.

These days seeds are sold in packets in supermarkets, garden centres, hardware shops and nurseries. Mostly we have no idea where they come from. In South Australia, for example, there are no seed companies growing seeds suitable for our climate. Every year lots of people buy the same seed, and do not save the seed from their previous crops. As the climate changes, our seeds are therefore not adapting because they come from somewhere else. Soon we begin to find that fewer and fewer seeds are working for us in our gardens because they simply are not suited to our climate. People try adapting to the seeds by covering everything with shadecloth or using more water or adding things to the soil or spraying for pests which like to eat the sick plants. We have stopped conserving the processes of evolution and adaptation.

People who save seeds are saving the genes of adaptation and allowing evolution to continue so that no matter what happens to our climate, our seeds will have adapted year by year to those changes. There is a lot of fear about climate change and food security but all we need to do is allow our seeds to adapt season by season; always saving the seed from the best plants to sow next year. Buying seed from seed companies far from your home will not work, as our climate changes faster, and artificially genetically modifying the seeds is a pointless task and only seeks to make money for seed companies, destroying the processes of evolution and adaptation forever, leading ultimately to the destruction of our food chain.

So that is why we must save seeds. If you don't feel competent to do it alone, join a local seedsavers group where others can help you get started. You can find one here in Australia, but there are people saving seeds in every corner of the world. In our Hills and Plains Seedsavers group, we swap seeds between ourselves and give them away to friends. This way you don't have to save all your own seeds, just a few to share and soon you will find you have lots of different seeds to try and that these seeds will be adapted to your growing conditions.

Please read more about agricultural ecosystems here.


Lisa Carroll-Lee said...

Maggie, this season I'll actually be planting with the 2nd generation of some of my own saved seeds. I don't know why but I always thought it was too hard or complicated. I look forward to building a bank of seeds that have come to know my own little bit of the world. Thanks for a great post.

Heiko said...

There's so much truth in that. There are always some seeds sprouting spontaneously from my compost heap. Tomatoes and melons in particular. I can't grow melons from shop bought seeds to save my life, but the plants coming out of my compost are now the 4th generation from an originally shop bought, locally grown melon.

And the tomatoes are amongst the healthiest and always give me a surprise as to what variety each individual plant is.

Chris said...

I keep smuggling seeds from our dinner table and planting them. Does that count as saving seeds? If any of our plants here bear fruits, I'd plant them as well.