How to Sow True Seeds

03/27/16 by Guest Writer

By Hannah Davis

A small tomato seed bought from the store falls from a package and into a dirt-smeared palm. It is then placed gently into warm, dark soil and periodically watered and tended to. As time passes, it will begin to root and sprout upwards seeking the sun’s rays. Eventually, that small tomato seed will grow a stalk that will bear flowers that bloom into plump, ripe tomatoes. At the heart of those tomatoes will be the very seeds that began this entire process.

Now think of this – the next time you want to plant those tomatoes, you could go out to the store and tediously search the aisles and buy more. Or, you could take the seeds, which are often nestled inside your last crop, and save them.

The method of saving and gathering seeds is what Chris Smith of Sow True Seeds came to talk to Catawba College students and faculty about on Thursday, March 17, at the Center for the Environment building on the Catawba campus.

Sow True Seeds is a small company out of Asheville, N.C., which advocates for seed saving around North Carolina and also sells a variety of completely organic seeds. In Smith’s talk, he said that “in Asheville we define ourselves as a ‘foodtopia’ […] and without the seed sovereignty – there is no food security.” The reality of our seed situation is that crop varieties are dwindling because of the mass-produced commercial availability of seeds. So, saving seeds is not only easier but also helps maintain some of that seed variety. 

There are two methods to saving seeds: dry and wet. If a seed is found dry, like in an okra husk, then you use the dry method. The dry method of saving seeds is simply cracking open the dried chaff (outer shell) and winnowing (blowing) away the light chaff from the heavy seeds.

The wet method of seed saving is for plants whose seeds are generally found within the plant’s fruit in a gelatinous goop. This seed saving method involves placing the entire goop of seeds into a jar with water and allowing it to ferment for at least 24 hours. It is important not to place a tight lid on the jar while these seeds ferment because they are releasing CO2 gas, which could build up and explode if trapped. After the seeds have fermented, you run them through a sieve with cold water and allow them to dry before placing them in a dry, dark and cool place (such as a basement) to store for next year.

The key to saving genetically pure seeds is to control pollination. Avoiding cross-pollination with unfavorable gene lines will ensure that the seeds you gather for next year will yield the exact same crop as before. The easiest way to control plant pollination is to isolate the plants and hand-pollinate them. Plants can be isolated in three ways:

1)     Planting only one species of crop at a time. When ordering seeds from a guide, if two plants have the same Latin name, then it is best to avoid planting those at the same time because this could lead to cross-pollination. For example, certain types of broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards and kale share the name brassica oleracea. This is because humans selectively bred brassica oleracea to produce the many types of food that we know them as today.

2)      If you would like to plant some of the same species, then you can wait for one crop to fully flower and then plant the next crop. This is called isolation by time.

3)     The final type of isolation is isolation by barrier, which can involve physically removing the plants’ pollinating parts, placing a small, cloth bag over the flowering part of the plant, or placing the entire plant in a fine mesh cage. 

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