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Seed Saving for Community Food Security

Seed Saving for Community Food Security

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Published by Seed Savers Network

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Published by: Seed Savers Network on Apr 08, 2011
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Seed SavingforCommunity Food Security
Version 1.0 
Seed Saving for Local Food Security
The Community Seed Bank
It makes sense to begin small scale home gar-dening and collaborative seed saving in ad-vance of an emergency and to build a village/ neighborhood/community seedbank of nonhy-brid seed. That seed bank should be restockedannually. The reasons for this approach areseveral:1) To ensure that there will be enough seedto enable a transition to self-sufficiency at atime when demand for nonhybrid seed willoutstrip supplly.2) To adapt nonhybrid varieties to localconditions over several growing seasons,for optimal harvests.3) To ensure the viability of seeds the waynature does, by allowing them to grow andreproduce new seed each growing season.A sustainable village (or neighborhood) shouldmaster the process of collecting and savingnonhybrid seed each growing season fromevery crop it grows. Enough seed should besaved to plant the next year
s crop and more.Seed will be needed for planting and replanting,for bartering, and in case a crop fails due to ex-treme weather, drought, fire or pillaging.For some crops, saving seed is simple. Forother crops, the procedure is more exacting andlabor intensive. In a village or a neighborhood,it makes sense to collaborate and delegate inorder to simplify the seed-saving process foreach seed saver. One household may plant in-terplant a block of corn with runner beans, fencethe plot to keep the deer out, and save beanand corn seed enough for a number of house-holds. Another might specialize in saving seedfor tomato varieties, along with borage and basilas companion plants to deter tomato pests. Athird might interplant onions, leeks and carrotsand save seed for all three.
Crops that do not readilycross
These are “no worry” plants. They do not needspacing or other measures to maintain seed pu-rity because they are self-pollinating. Examplesare beans, tomatoes, peas, and lettuces. Theirflowers have both main and female parts.(These are called “perfect flowers.”) They do notdepend on the wind or visiting bees to pollinatethem. Because different varieties do not usuallycross-pollinate, gardeners can grow variouskinds of beans (runner beans are an exception)or peas or tomatoes. An occasional cross canbe identified because the plant is different insome way from its parent. Seed from an “odd-ball” plant should not be saved with the rest.The oddball plant itself should be removed fromthe garden before it flowers.
Crops that cross
Many garden crops, however, readily cross pol-linate with other members of their own plantfamily. Their flowers do not contain both maleand female parts. (These are called “imperfectflowers.”) Instead, these plants depend on in-sects or the breeze to carry pollen to them.Seed savers strive to keep cross-pollinationfrom happening. In that way, the desirablecharacteristics of a particular variety will bemaintained in next year
s seed.There are a variety of ways to protect relatedcrops from cross pollinating:
1. Stagger planting times
Corn pollen is carried by the wind for consider-able distances, such that one kind of corn read-ily crosses with another. In order to grow twodifferent varieties of corn, gardeners stagger
planting times. An early maturing variety can beplanted first, at the beginning of the growingseason, and a later maturing variety can beplanted two or three weeks after. If there aretwo different varieties in a field, however, somelingering pollen from the tassels of the first vari-ety may pollinate neighboring plants of the sec-ond variety. (Most corn pollen falls to the groundwithin 50 feet or so of its source.) For that rea-son, it is best not to plant two types of corn sideby side in long rows. Instead, they might beplanted at opposite ends of the garden or at op-posite ends of long rows. Seed should be gath-ered from stalks farthest from the other variety.In order to stagger planting times successfully,pay careful attention to the maturity dates foreach variety. It
s best to use varieties with verydifferent maturity dates to get the time intervalneeded.
2. Plant only one variety of a particular spe-cies prone to cross pollination.
In the village, people cannot simply plant whatthey like without regard to keeping seed stockpure. Instead the village needs to do someplanning, preferably before buying seed. Giventhat spinach pollen can be carried for a mile, itis best to choose one locally adapted nonhybridvariety of spinach and have everyone in the vil-lage plant that variety. See the Appendix 2 onpage 45 for more information about how to plan.
3. Maintain recommended isolation dis-tances
Gardeners can isolate a single variety of a spe-cies from all others by a recommended dis-tance, the plant
s “isolation distance.” The rec-ommended distance is too far for bees or windto carry pollen from one variety of a particularspecies to another. For plants with large isola-tion distances, this method simply is not practi-cal. Someone across the neighborhood may begrowing another member of the same species,or a wild variety may cross with a domesticatedone, as Queen Anne
s Lace crosses with car-rots.
4. Protect plants from cross pollination bymeans of physical barriers.
(See notes foreach crop for details as to which method maybe required.)
. Spun polyester cloth called Reemayor another lightweight fabric can be used tokeep insects off of flower heads. Fashion a bagto enclose a flower head or tie a section of fab-ric around it. Secure the bottom of the fabricaround the stem with a twist tie or string. To pro-tect the stem from damage and from insectsthat might enter from below, wrap a bit of cottonarospinachund the stem before tying the bagclosed around it.
To cage a planting of a single variety,use wood, wire, plastic pipe or metal to fashiona frame around the entire planting or row. Thencover the frame securely with spun polyestercloth or window screening. Reemay cloth will letin more light than window screening. In somecases, a plants can be wrapped in spun polyes-ter cloth clipped together with clothespins.
Alternate Day Caging.
If you grow two varie-ties that cross easily and require pollination byinsects, then you can use alternate day caging.The principle is simple: build a cage for eachvariety. Remove the cage from one variety oneday and the other variety the next. At all times,one variety is caged but the other is not. Con-tinue alternate day caging until flowering forboth varieties is completely over. You will notget quite as much seed as you would if insectshad access to the plants full time, but your cab-bage will not cross with your kale.Keep in mind isolation distances, in any case. Ifyour neighbors are growing crops that will crosswith yours, alternate day caging is not a solu-tion.
Hand pollination.
Crops that are pollinated byinsects or the wind can be protected from bothand hand pollinated instead. Methods vary ac-cording to crop, so specifics are described inthe Crop Charts that begin on page 7.

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