Seed Super Heroes

Saturday dawned cold and wet. Not a good day for collecting seed, but perfect from snuggling into the Haynes’ Howick homestead and learning all about seed saving.

Everyone had different reasons for joining the group – from distress at the seed companies domination of our food, saving money, avoiding GMOs and  building resilience, to trying to grow plants that are adapting to our specific climates. We shared some hair-raising stories about how much GM produce is hidden in the processed food we consume and were pleased to hear that food that contains GMOs in South Africa will have to be labelled in future.  Read more about this on Rob Symons’ interesting blog: The Farm Gate

First we discussed the terminology of seeds. Hybrid means the plant is a registered variety and the seed packets will have a number next to the name.  Hybrids generally produce a good crop, but there is liitle point saving the seed as they may revert to the parent type and not produce well in following years.  Many don’t even produce seeds. So a “once off Crop”. Open Pollinated means naturally pollinated by bees, birds, wind. These plants may hybridise naturally and thereby increase biodiversity.

Heirloom seeds are older varieties which have adapted to their particular conditions and stayed true to type.  Ancestral seed saving was a neccessity on farms in “the old days” and only recently have these seeds become available to the public. Some have been grown on the same farm for over 150 years, developing resistance to specific insects and wether conditions. Margot brought seeds from butternuts her grandparents has grown for years and saved, and which she still plants today.

Self pollinated means male and female flowers are on the same plant. Most plants would prefer pollination with another plant to increase resilience and variety.

We chatted about various seed banks like the one at Spier Estate in the Cape and different companies from which one can buy seeds. Living Seeds, Mahlatini Organics and Organic Seed.  All poured over the gorgeous planting poster produced by AfriStar Foundation. They will be available to buy at the Dargle Local Market.

Next came the “how to save” part. Everyone agreed a hot, sunny afternoon was best.  Containers suitable for storage included paper bags and envelopes, film cannisters and glass bottles.  Eidin had heard that  woodash was a good way of ensuring good shelf life for your seeds and Pam said she put dried bay leaves  into the containers to deter insects. Freezing for a few days is an excellent way to kill any micro organisms Eidin suggested.  Also remember to label the seeds (we all admitted to little piles of seeds of unknown origin lurking on our windowsills).  Date them as well, as they only last for a couple of seasons.  Store in cool. dark and dry conditions (we all owned up to just loving looking at our bounty, so kept them visible instead!


Then it was on to how to save which seeds. Tomatoes need to be squished and soaked in water until a mould develops on top and the seeds drop to the bottom. Then rinse repeatedly and dry.The mould growth is am important part of ensuring germination apparently.  Courgettes:  a big fat marrow should be sliced open, the soft inside part scooped out (flesh turned into stuffed marrow) and left to dry.  Chillies are fun to string up to dry. Once dry the seeds fall out readily. Squashes – open up a fully ripe fruit, scoop out the seeds, was off the slimy/gluey coating and dry well.  Rose had brought pumpkin seeds grown in her garden to share. They are not a specific type anymore after many years of self hybridising – Special Oak Tree Squash Variety!

Maize – pick the healthiest looking plants – ideally a few cobs from different plants to keep the genetic pool open. Hung up to dry and pop off the seeds and freeze for  a few days.  Onions – when the flower starts to dry off, pick and hang upside down in a paper bag for the seeds to fall out.  Lettuce is similar – hang the fluffy flowerhead in a paper bag and shake out the seeds when dry (this applies to celery and carrots too).  Artichokes – after enjoying the gorgeous purple flower, let it dry and then give is a good shake and the big seeds will fall out of the base.

Pam shared the fun she and her family had gathering amaranthus seeds and winnowing in a grass basket.  We decided that as this was a lot of effort for a little food (lots of tiny seeds) it was best a community activity while discussing “village affairs” or telling stories.  Amaranthus leaves are very nutritious and very high in protein. There was a general discussion about imifino and how we really are gong to have to adapt our tastes to enjoy foods that are a little less palatable than those we can get easily now as Climate Change affects global food security.

Being amateurs, we all love saving beans. The gorgeous “red scribble beans”, Papa di Rola, Yellow Lesotho and shiny Scarlet Runners amongst many others. “Life is too short NOT to pod a pea” said Nikki. Pam added “It is a real joy to sit with a bowl of beans to split open on your lap”. Bridget owned up to dipping her hands in barrels of dried beans on her travels in India “I just adore the sound they make when you stir them with your hands”.

Pam told us she was pretty sure she had only planted 5 or 6 varieties last year, but had harvested 14 different kinds!

Brassicas LOVE to cross pollinate which means if you want to save seed you need to only grow one variety at a time. We all decided we couldn’t be bothered with brassicas. We drank a lot of tea, ate homemade cakes and admired the fantastic garden which Bruce, Pam, Ross and Duncan have created.

What a fabulous morning. Rose Downard, when asked if she was still thinking of moving to the UK where a wide variety of Heirloom seed is available, said “I can’t leave the Midlands. Even those who do, seem to keep coming back.” Pam Haynes responded “The Midlands is just so interesting!”.

See what seeds are available from Rebel Seed Savers.

Join a Seed Saving Workshop at The Hedge Shed.

Watch a short film about our precious pollinators.

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