Jo and Keight attended a Greenthumb event on seed keeping and storytelling, led by Owen Taylor of Truelove Seeds and hosted by East New York Farms. Growing plants for the purpose of saving seeds is a bit different from growing plants for harvest, mainly in that it takes longer, as you want to leave the plants growing until the seeds are as developed as possible, usually far beyond the point you’d want to harvest the plant for eating.
We walked around the farm looking at different plants and their seeds, including the popular callaloo variety of amaranth and motherwort, learning how to tell when seeds are ready to be collected. One method Owen mentioned from experience on his farm is watching when the goldfinches begin snacking on a particular crop.
Afterwards Owen walked us through different seed saving techniques depending on the type of plant. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and other plants where the seeds have to be separated from the fruit itself benefit from soaking in water for several days until they begin to ferment.
Peppers are pretty easy to deseed and don’t require fermentation, and the beet seeds we worked with weren’t too difficult to strip off the dried stems by hand. But getting seeds from dried flowers can be more difficult, as with the motherwort and tobacco Owen brought, which required several stages of work to separate the seeds from the chaff. Starting by threshing the whole plant in a bucket with a stick through a few passes through different sifters (sadly missed getting photos of these steps while we were seed saving ourselves!). In the end, he used a vacuum powered separator which uses suction to separate that lighter chaff from the seeds.
In addition, the workshop touched on the deeper stories that seeds bring with them. Truelove Seeds offers rare and culturally important seed varieties, and Owen spoke to the journeys seeds have taken around the world over just the few hundred years, becoming an important part of one culture and then evolving into other cultures. Growing plants for the purpose of seed keeping ensures the health of those plants and decreases our reliance on large seed and seedling producers.
It also inspired us to be less anxious about our plants that go to seed before we harvest them — especially as we rarely harvest all of something before the point it’s less tasty for eating! It’s as an opportunity to save those plants for future sowing and have a hand in keeping those varieties alive in the grander sense.