Seed saving, or the practice of leaving plants in the ground until they begin to seed and then harvesting the seeds for later use, was commonly practiced by gardeners and farmers for most of human history. Centuries of seed saving and breeding are responsible for the biodiversity of modern crops. However, as the demand for food grows worldwide, traditional gardening and farming practices have been superseded by industrial techniques. Now, large-scale farms typically use genetically modified seeds that are patented by various bioengineering corporations, and even hobby gardeners buy most of their seeds from distributors. These changes have created controversy—genetically modified seeds may be able to meet global demands, but many worry about the quality of genetically modified produce and how patenting plant genes could affect biodiversity and the health of future crops. A movement of farmers and gardeners are pushing for a return to more traditional food and plant growing techniques—starting with the return of seed saving.
The Benefits of Seed Saving
First off, breeding plants isn’t as easy as simply saving seeds. A working knowledge of plant genetics, plant diseases, proper breeding practices for specific plants, and even the legality of breeding saved seeds are required. Planting, harvesting, saving, or exchanging seeds that contain genes patented by a corporation can violate intellectual property laws. This may seem strange, but even farmers whose fields have accidentally been contaminated by patented GMO seeds have gotten into legal binds with corporations. Still, seed saving has numerous benefits for hobby gardeners and farmers alike. Here are a few worth knowing:
Seed Saving Increases Biodiveristy
Buying generic seeds is simple enough, but it comes with a hidden cost: generic seeds promote uniformity rather than biodiversity. In organic farming, species of plants adapt differently depending on climate and other specific environmental factors. Their genes change slightly generation to generation, producing a plant that is uniquely fit to thrive in its environment. This is why native plants tend to be more drought and disease resistant than exotic plants. Simply put, biodiversity is essential to plant health, and generic plants are usually more susceptible to disease and blight because they’ve been bred for mass production. Many gardeners chose to save seeds so they can breed stronger, better adapted plants in the future.
Seed Saving Lets Gardeners “Play God”
On that note, seed savers can also pick and choose what seeds they save for the best breeding results. Individual gardeners know what they want in their crops, from flavor to color to the size of an average yield. Big seed distributors, on the other hand, cannot possibly breed seeds with the needs of every individual client in mind. Therefore, seed savers enjoy more control and customization in the garden than those who buy generic seeds.
Seed Saving Increases Seed Security
Favoring generic seeds over biologically diverse, environmentally specific varieties means that, inevitably, some species of plants will become extinct as others are mass produced. Seed savers are on the front lines when it comes to preventing the extinction of rare plants. Through selective breeding, they also create even more species and help diversify other people’s gardens through seed exchange programs.
Seed Saving is Cheap and Simple
As every gardener knows, buying generic seeds every season can be expensive. Seed-saving, however, is low-cost and pretty simple. One crop can produce hundreds of seeds—plenty to save and plenty to share. However, as we mentioned, the legality of saving and sharing seeds in the U.S. depends on patents and copyright laws. Before guiltlessly enjoying your free seed yield, be sure to check where the seeds you planted in the first place came from, and if there’s any copy right laws attached to them. Saving seeds may be free, but getting sued for copyright infringement is expensive.