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Seed Saving

 
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Photos show examples of the seed saving I engage in on an annual basis.  Once a person gets used to doing it, saving seeds becomes second nature and no big deal, I consider growouts for seed and seed saving to be an important part of my annual harvest.  I also consider it critical to my food and seed independence and security.  I sleep well at night knowing I do not have to purchase any seeds for the upcoming growing season if I do not want to, though I do still make purchases of seeds every year that pique my interest and curiosity (plus I want to continue to support some of the small independent seed companies out there).

I never got around to taking any photos of the 2021 seed harvest, photos are from 2020...

Photo shows cleaned seeds of the different strains of my cherry/small tomato proto-landrace saved from the 2020 growing season.


Photo shows many of the various other seeds I saved from the 2020 growing season.  I do still grow out some food plant varieties in isolation to maintain purity of strain, varieties that are special to me for whatever reasons, but I am slowly abandoning them and putting them into my landraces and type mixes.  Nostalgia and traditions can be hard habits to break...


The following photo represents a disappointment and woke me up to some serious issues regarding getting people interested in gardening and home food production.  I was involved in an annual seed trade event of a nonprofit gardening organization in the twin cities last year.  I bagged up a bunch of my landrace bush dry bean mix and offered them no trade necessary/free for cost of postage.  I explained what a landrace was, but people did not want a "mix" because they were all being taught that everyone has to grow heirlooms and make sure they do not cross because you have to keep things "pure".  The rigidity and uniformity of that opinion in the comments gave me a distinct hint of brainwashing, or at least groupthink.  Nobody wanted my seeds and there were no takers, even though I explained that a person could simply separate out the different strains if they wanted to and just plant the strains that interest them.  These were $5-$6 packs of seeds at today's seed prices and I could not even give them away for price of postage, even though this landrace mix contains hundreds of strains, some rare and some unique to this landrace.  Beginners did not even want them, even though I was giving them away for free.  People seemed quite clueless about basic plant biology, basic gradeschool-level plant genetics, what I was offering, and why the seeds I was offering held value.

I really did not care that nobody wanted these seeds and such things do not hurt my feelings or damage my pride in any way, that is not my point.  My point is we serious folks are battling a lot if misinformation, inexperience, and ignorance out there in the gardening world, and I have serious doubts as to our level of success in reaching out to and influencing beginning gardeners and helping them to succeed.  I think it is due largely to the generational disconnect from gardening that has occurred in the last half century, but I admit I am getting weary of that being the excuse when there is so much how-to information on the web that is available equally to everyone.



I have done a lot of seed trading over the last 15-20 years but not so much anymore.  It seems interest has really declined in such things, and mega-social media has pretty much destroyed the independent online seed trading networks that were out there.  I feel bad for beginning gardeners of today, they really missed out on some fantastic opportunities for low cost seed acquisition.
 
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Tom, I've been playing with the idea of trying to put together a MN-based seed swap where folks actually get together in a big room and meet for real. I read about them happening other places and they sound rewarding, but I haven't found reference to anything substantial in our state. Do you have pointers to such events? Like the one where your beans were underappreciated?

It's hard for me to think how one would combat the "purity" notion gardeners hold about their heirlooms, in part, because as a new grower, when I ran across the concept of growing landraces, it clicked immediately into place as the obviously superior mode. What is it that prevents that insight in other people, I wonder?

One thing that occurs to me is the impulse to collect and have precious little things that fit in their little boxes (seed packets) with names and histories that require curation.


IMG_7372.JPG
I came to growing my own food generally from hobby-growing hot peppers. I still keep my pepper seeds like this.
I came to growing my own food generally from hobby-growing hot peppers. I still keep my pepper seeds like this.
IMG_7040.JPG
I also get joy from keeping my big seeds (beans, corn, etc) like this, but it's not a collection.
I also get joy from keeping my big seeds (beans, corn, etc) like this, but it's not a collection.
 
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I'm going to start collecting my seeds now that I've read this post. Sounds pretty fun and easy. I like the idea of having it as a part of my harvest. I'm also in the MN area. I hope I have some good seeds to share by fall
 
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Hi Tom,
I hope you are so proud because your seeds are so beautiful! You should be proud!  What a terrific accomplishment!! I have decided to reply to you because I can hear the deep disappointment in your post. Well, you've asked the $64,000 question. Why wouldn't someone be interested, in fact, totally bonkers about landrace vegetables? I've seen this topic come up many times on Permies now. To landrace your seeds, your very best vegies is smart, extremely rational and scientific. Grow, encourage  and develop what grows best and adapts well in your area. So I've decided to try to answer your question, at least from my perspective. I hope this helps you. I am not brainwashed, misinformed or  inexperienced.  But I have been accused of being ignorant from time to time. I don't let that bother me. It's probably true enough. Sometimes, just sometimes.... Ignorance is bliss!..... And I use it wisely!

I've never had a whole lot of cash to throw around. All my life I've always had to count my nickles and dimes. O.K. Let's fast forward. I'm retired now. Things are a little easier but I'm still on a strict budget...so I can spend my little bit of extra cash on my garden. (Turns out I've learned to live on very, very little) I am finally able to create the amazing flower gardens I've always wanted and eat fresh organic produce that I've grown myself which I truly love doing.... but it's not cheap! It takes all my extra spending money. And I still use coupons and hunt for free stuff on Craigslist. I love growing my own super healthy produce but I still count every nickle and dime and $100 dollar bill that I spend on organic fertilizers and insecticides and everything else. And I want/need every thing I grow to produce great stuff that I really want to eat for the whole year because I will be eating these for many, many  months! My garden kind of, HAS TO  feed me. More than 50% of my diet is vegies.

I prefer to grow heirloom vegies that taste fantastic (like when I was a kid)  that other people have grown in my same kind of environment that might do really well in a super hot area like mine that is getting hotter every year. I read lots and lots of reviews from previous growers before I decide to try some new seeds. As my climate has gotten hotter I have been trying seeds from places like Iraq, Israel, Africa and Texas!  I don't have the luxury of spending a lot of time, labor, space and money growing something that I might or might not like or be able to eat. So I am very careful to keep my vulnerable vegies far apart so they continue to taste terrific year after year while I save my seeds and they adapt to my climate. I had my favorite zucchini and some squash cross pollinate several years ago and it was awful! It was mealy and tasted terrible, not even  like a zucchini at all. I got no zucchini that year or seeds to save. Some landrace vegies might be good but others might be awful like mine were. I can't afford to take such chances. It's like gambling! I only have so much room to grow and so much compost to go around and I need my produce to sustain me all year after all the time and labor and money I have spent.

I've noticed that some people who landrace have great big gardens or even small farms and they can afford to take a chance and grow stuff that might not be great or edible. Just toss it in the compost if it's not so good. And I've noticed that lots of people on this site are really good cooks! They could probably make anything taste good. Like weeds!! I am not so talented.

And I can understand why beginner gardeners are hesitant to take that chance. They have no idea what they are doing and really want to see if they are any good at growing anything before they try new things. And lots of very experienced gardeners on this site still ask questions like... why aren't my 'this, that or the other thing' growing well or don't taste so great or don't look the way they are supposed to. Beginning gardeners would be much more likely to give up quickly. They're starting kindergarten and you already have your PHD. Your a master chef and they want to try to learn how to boil water!

What you have been doing is wonderful! It is important and useful especially during this time of a changing climate. I just wanted you to know why landracing isn't for everyone. Spring is almost here! Grow well my friends.
 
Tom Knippel
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Christopher Weeks wrote:Tom, I've been playing with the idea of trying to put together a MN-based seed swap where folks actually get together in a big room and meet for real. I read about them happening other places and they sound rewarding, but I haven't found reference to anything substantial in our state. Do you have pointers to such events? Like the one where your beans were underappreciated?  

I would love if such an event or two existed in this state but I do not think it will happen.  I do not think there is as much going on out there in the U.S. as we think, but yes there are some prominent seed swaps in this nation that always seem to stand out in which I would love to participate.  Minnesota is a fairly quiet and uninvolved/unevolved state regarding the seed movement.  

There is also much less gardening and home food production going on here than people seem to think.  For proof of this every year I tour local towns and small cities, driving through back alleys and casually talking to folks I see out and about or in the local coffee shops.  I see very few maintained backyard vegetable gardens, period, and the majority of the gardens are being grown by people over the age of fifty.  I know of quite a few people who got scared with the empty store shelves back in 2020 (rightly so) and decided to jump into gardening and growing food.  Most thought having gardens and producing food was simple, many being very arrogant and condescending about it.  Most of those folks have quit after one or two seasons, most citing the amount of work involved and how the harvests all come at once (most never had a clue as to how a growing season works and most have no skills regarding the methods of preserving the harvest).  Then store shelves got restocked and the fear went away along with the interest in gardening (big mistake).  I also know of several community gardens that failed and went back into lawn.  I volunteered my time and labor in helping to create some of them that are already gone.  I am done with that.  I also set up a seed library and fully stocked it the first year with my seeds as well as bulk commercial seeds I willingly purchased out of my own pocket.  People happily took all the free seeds and nobody kept it going by contributing back, so I quit that effort as well.  These two experiences have pretty much ended my willingness to engage in volunteerism.

The problem I see with organizing a statewide seed swap is that we are a "tall" state and there is a lot of distance between northern and southern Minnesota.  It would need to be a big successful in-person event to get people to drive a long distance, especially with today's fuel prices.

Check out the Oliver Kelly Farm in Elk River.  Part of the MN Historical Society.  They at least used to do a seed swap every spring around this time.  They have a nice modern little community education center built on site compliments of the MN taxpayers.  I participated in the seed swaps a couple times several years ago but participation was always very low.  They pushed the heirloom movement and seed purity.  I thought there was some potential, but my negative was it was a six hour round trip for me.  It would be even farther for you I believe.

There is also the Frogtown Urban Farm in St.Paul.  I believe they do an annual seed swap but I never got around to participating as I felt it was too far away for me to want to drive, plus I do not like going to cities.

I do not know of any other serious efforts regarding seed swap events in Minnesota.

Christopher Weeks wrote:It's hard for me to think how one would combat the "purity" notion gardeners hold about their heirlooms, in part, because as a new grower, when I ran across the concept of growing landraces, it clicked immediately into place as the obviously superior mode. What is it that prevents that insight in other people, I wonder?

I am not interested in combating the "purity" notion and "heirloom" concept, if people want to go that route that is fine with me and none of my business, as long as they are aware and informed of the pros and cons.  I am interested in combating all the misinformation out there.  I have little time and patience for self-appointed "experts" who seek to dictate to others how to do things in an authoritarian manner.  They always want to impose structure and place meaningless rules and requirements regarding how people should be gardening and producing their own food, and when the information they push is flat out incorrect it creates a lot of confusion that other people then have to correct.  I have many examples of this problem, FB groups are some of the worst purveyors of such misinformation and the primary reason I finally had enough and quit that social media.  I took my life back from all that negative energy.

I was a total convert to the heirloom and seed purity movement back in the 1980s.  I mean I became seriously obsessed with it.  Then I read an amazing book by Dr.  Alan Kapuler and a couple other books from folks who now are considered pioneers that absolutely popped a light bulb on in my head.  I started having some serious questions as to what I was doing and what I was trying to accomplish, and some things to me just seemed counterintuitive and instinctively at odds with how Mother Nature has done things for millions of years and how humans have done things for tens of thousands of years.  I educated myself on seed and plant genetics, food plant breeding and intentional inbreeding, hybrids, prehistoric and historic development of agriculture by humans, took some college courses, spent a lot of time in the local library, and purchased a lot of books (all information and knowlege I gained and much more can easily be accomplished now by simply accessing the web while sitting in a comfy recliner).  I also woke up and realized that the entire heirloom movement is or at least became mostly a for-profit marketing gimmick.  One of the biggest things I have learned in my life regarding this society is "always follow the money".

The written works of Mr. Joseph Lofthouse as well as some wonderful personal communication with him filled in much of the blanks I had remaining in my knowledge base.  His experiences and expertise validated most of my conclusions and validated the landrace concept as I have perceived it, though I do follow a slightly different tack than he does based on my specific interests and circumstances (which is the way things are supposed to work).  My abandonment of heirloom and seed purity and the pursuit of locally adapted landraces over the years and seeing the positive results with my own eyes pretty much finalized my divorce from the heirloom movement.

Christopher Weeks wrote:What is it that prevents that insight in other people, I wonder?

Lack of knowledge/education and lack of the ability to self-educate.  I would also add lack of willingness to question everything and then seek out truth and facts.  All can easily be overcome with a little bit of effort and personal initiative.  Lack of guidance is also a very serious issue as well for those who might need it, and I suspect there are a lot of folks out there who need it (though this should not be a replacement for self-education).  As far as I am concerned life is all about learning and the acquirement of knowledge, and the willingness to question and seek out answers and solutions.

Christopher Weeks wrote:One thing that occurs to me is the impulse to collect and have precious little things that fit in their little boxes (seed packets) with names and histories that require curation.

These are some very important reasons as to why I no longer engage in the heirloom/varietal purity movement.  Keeping my seeds organized and updated and figuring out growout schedules based on germination test schedules started taking up so much of my time that I got sick and tired of doing it.  It stopped being fun and started to adversely affect my interest in gardening and I began to question why I was making all that effort. For example, at one point I had over 400 pure-strain varieties of heirloom bush snap and dry beans.  Now I have maybe a dozen, the rest are all mixed up in my mixes and landraces and are held in high regard for the genetics and diversity they continue to add to my seed collection.

I have been able to greatly simplify what I do now and I am able to focus on much more important things related to gardening.  I greatly enjoy gardening again and I am able to produce much more food, and better quality, for much less effort as I focus on and refine my methods.
 
Tom Knippel
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Jeff Pollari wrote:I'm going to start collecting my seeds now that I've read this post. Sounds pretty fun and easy. I like the idea of having it as a part of my harvest. I'm also in the MN area. I hope I have some good seeds to share by fall

It IS fun, and it really is not that much more work once you get into the groove of things.  Just take things one step at a time, and do not try to figure things all out at once or you will get overburdened - different food plant types require different seed saving methods, so start out with the easiest (beans, IMHO) but learn something new every year.  I feel saving seeds is no different than harvesting produce for the dinner table, just another aspect of getting you to that point.  Last year 2021 I was (and still am) very concerned about the national food supply, supply chains, and commercial seed supply issues.  I decided it was in my best interests to disconnect myself even further from commercial seed sources so I engaged in a massive (for me) increase in growouts strictly for seed.  I expanded my gardening square footage and then I expanded my seed growouts to 25% of the available garden square footage (I am going to do the same thing once more again in 2022, then I think I can back off a bit).  It was a tough growing season here but I still ended up with so much seed that I had to increase my seed storage capacity.  I am situated quite well for the immediate future through the next decade, based on how the germination rates of seeds of specific food plants is maintained over a certain timeframe (you absolutely need to know this information, because it dictates how often you have to grow out certain things to maintain viable and reliable seed stock.  It is not complicated, you just need to know it or have a printed reference).

Thanks for posting, it is nice to hear from folks like you and if I can help you in any way let me know.  Believe me there are not many of us out there who think like we do, and I think it behooves us to network together and help each other.  If you are successful and end up with an abundance of seeds, let me know next fall if you want to entertain the possibility of a seed trade.  

The one thing I really want to insist on is that you do not take my word as gospel, now you should engage in more research to understand why I say what I say and whether it can be substantiated.  Go ahead and challenge me if you think I am wrong about something, that is also how I can keep learning myself.  I am no "expert" (whatever that is), I am self taught with half a century of gardening experience, but with some very important and critical guidance along the way.  The more you research the more independent conclusions you will arrive at, which is so important because you need to branch out into your own directions based on your personal situations and needs.  I wish you success, PM me if you want.

-Tom
 
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I fell hopelessly in love with gardening a few years ago. I’d dabbled in growing hot peppers on my windowsills for a few years before then, but one day I came across a YouTube channel called roots and refuge farm, and it just spoke to me. It showed me things I didn’t know existed (black tomatoes for example) and what growing food on a large scale was like. As any new interest of mine tends to prompt a deep dive research mode into the field, I found out all about organic gardening, plant breeding, permaculture and, more recently, landrace gardening. I’d never had any exposure to any of this info previously, so all that I know is from books, videos and places like permies where you all have valuable experience of this stuff.

I’m currently amalgamating many of my individual strains of seed into mixes from which to develop my own landraces from. It makes complete sense to me that the more genetic diversity you have in your mixes, the better odds you have of something amazing being bred that is perfect for your area. I am quite a lazy gardener and don’t have too much interest in babying plants in order to get them to grow. If it’s something a bit special, I’ll make more effort, but for the most part I want it to grow like weeds do. With a few generations, I’m hoping a combination of natural selection and me ensuring pollen transfer between all the flowers will get me closer to this.

I just wanted to say Tom that there is hope. I’ve only been doing this for a few years and yet I have learned enough to see the value that the diversity of your seeds brings. I also think it’s pretty damn cool that it probably contains combinations of genes that don’t exist anywhere else on the planet! Some of us do see through the misinformation, or advice presented as gospel,but are just curious/rebellious enough to question it/decide to try it our own way anyway.
 
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I don't worry over it if people aren't interested in my mixed up franken seeds. On the other hand, I have developed some methods to spark interest. One and it's a pain in the rump is to do make up nice packets with pictures. I don't know why but people are attracted to that, however since it is a time-consuming pain, and it isn't really my responsibility to educate people I don't often go to that trouble.

Another thing is I don't overwhelm them by trying to explain landraces or plant breeding. About the most I do there is to say I've been saving these seeds for a long time in our climate, so they are better adapted those you might buy from a big company. I don't even warn them that my watermelons might be yellow, or red, or orange, or almost white inside, they all taste like candy, so boo-hoo for them if they are surprised or disappointed. Besides I never said they were anything other than small, sweet watermelons and that I forgot what kind they are.

On beans specifically I might just say this is my own local "bean soup mix. The flavors all bled together and make a fine bean soup. Make sure to plant some of each color and later, when you have enough, sample them individually, leave out any you don't like and plant more of the those you do. Sometimes new ones might show up, make sure to plant some of them too.

If they take them home and put them in the ground that's all that matters, they don't have to know let alone understand anything else.

 
Tom Knippel
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Mark Reed wrote:I don't worry over it if people aren't interested in my mixed up franken seeds. On the other hand, I have developed some methods to spark interest. One and it's a pain in the rump is to do make up nice packets with pictures. I don't know why but people are attracted to that, however since it is a time-consuming pain, and it isn't really my responsibility to educate people I don't often go to that trouble.

Another thing is I don't overwhelm them by trying to explain landraces or plant breeding. About the most I do there is to say I've been saving these seeds for a long time in our climate, so they are better adapted those you might buy from a big company. I don't even warn them that my watermelons might be yellow, or red, or orange, or almost white inside, they all taste like candy, so boo-hoo for them if they are surprised or disappointed. Besides I never said they were anything other than small, sweet watermelons and that I forgot what kind they are.

On beans specifically I might just say this is my own local "bean soup mix. The flavors all bled together and make a fine bean soup. Make sure to plant some of each color and later, when you have enough, sample them individually, leave out any you don't like and plant more of the those you do. Sometimes new ones might show up, make sure to plant some of them too.

If they take them home and put them in the ground that's all that matters, they don't have to know let alone understand anything else.



Hi Mark,  I understand your points.  I do not try to go into any great depths when talking to people about seeds but I do try to give them a little nugget of information that might get them thinking, otherwise I consider it a lost opportunity.  There is so much misinformation and misunderstanding out there even with basic general gardening concepts.  Combine that with the issue of mediocre seeds being sold retail at places like big box stores and I am not surprised many beginners get frustrated and quit gardening so quickly.  The odds are against them.
 
Tom Knippel
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Heather Gardener wrote:I fell hopelessly in love with gardening a few years ago. I’d dabbled in growing hot peppers on my windowsills for a few years before then, but one day I came across a YouTube channel called roots and refuge farm, and it just spoke to me. It showed me things I didn’t know existed (black tomatoes for example) and what growing food on a large scale was like. As any new interest of mine tends to prompt a deep dive research mode into the field, I found out all about organic gardening, plant breeding, permaculture and, more recently, landrace gardening. I’d never had any exposure to any of this info previously, so all that I know is from books, videos and places like permies where you all have valuable experience of this stuff.

I’m currently amalgamating many of my individual strains of seed into mixes from which to develop my own landraces from. It makes complete sense to me that the more genetic diversity you have in your mixes, the better odds you have of something amazing being bred that is perfect for your area. I am quite a lazy gardener and don’t have too much interest in babying plants in order to get them to grow. If it’s something a bit special, I’ll make more effort, but for the most part I want it to grow like weeds do. With a few generations, I’m hoping a combination of natural selection and me ensuring pollen transfer between all the flowers will get me closer to this.

I just wanted to say Tom that there is hope. I’ve only been doing this for a few years and yet I have learned enough to see the value that the diversity of your seeds brings. I also think it’s pretty damn cool that it probably contains combinations of genes that don’t exist anywhere else on the planet! Some of us do see through the misinformation, or advice presented as gospel,but are just curious/rebellious enough to question it/decide to try it our own way anyway.



Thank you for posting, it is nice to read your story and I wish you the best.  Sounds like you have all the skills you need for success.  The longer you work with your mixes and landraces the more they will reward you.  It is a fun and satisfying thing to experience.
 
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Landrace is a fairly new concept to me.  While I do currently grow an old variety of cut-short bean that has been in my family for several generations and since the only other outlet for it was originally gifted seeds from my mother, I do intend to keep it going.  It performs extremely well and tastes good.  However I did procure a different variety of cut-short this year and will grow both together in a different area and see what happens.  Currently I'm in the experimentation stage looking for stuff that grows well here and tastes good as I really wouldn’t really want to invest time in growing a finicky variety with "meh" taste.  

I did save seed from some volunteer cherry tomatoes last year whose seedlings should have been flattened by frost but weren't.  I'm starting those seeds indoors this year and will put them out a few weeks ahead of the other tomatoes to see if they can also withstand the cold.  If so, I'm thinking of creating an area with well-perfoming varieties and this cold-tolerant variety and just nature take it's course.

Maybe my ideas aren't exactly 100% landrace, but it's a starting point.  I would also like to say that if I were offered a selection of landrace seed, I'd take them in a heartbeat!  I love experimentation and I love breaking the rules when it comes to gardening.  I planted my first garden here 30 years ago and I can't tell you how many people told me I was wasting my time because I refused to use chemical fertilizers and had people laugh at me when I gave my rotary tiller away in favor of raised beds.  I've had my share of failures but always learn from them.  Many people are just too attached to the prescribed tried-and-true methods and reject change of any kind.
 
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