Carolyne Herriot gathering seeds for the next crop. Sustainable food production means seed saving.

Carolyne Herriot gathering seeds for the next crop. Sustainable food production means seed saving.

Saving Seeds for food security

Presentation September 17 - 7 p.m. See below for location & details

This summer we experienced impacts of climate change first hand in the form of drought, wild fires and record heat, a wake up call for many. I personally garnered a deep appreciation for every drop of water and spent most of my summer tangled up in hoses!

This unprecedented situation has ignited a sense of urgency in regards to future food security and local food production. The Regional District of Nanaimo is inviting area residents, and members of the farming community with an interest in agriculture, to a series of Open Houses to hear about and provide feedback on potential changes.

Check for the nearest location to you.

Today the majority of the world’s food comes from just 20 crops, in just 8 plant families. Modern day farming, based on monocultures, is vulnerable to rapidly changing climate and results in soil erosion and the increasing use of toxic chemicals to fight ongoing pest and disease problems.

Forty per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change come from the use of fossil fuels and the chemical-intensive industrial globalized system of agriculture. To transition towards a sustainable future, agriculture needs to be based on small-scale regional food production, as in the past. We need to support agricultural progress that leads to genetically-diverse agricultural ecosystems, healthier soils and ultimately healthier people and communities.

For this we need naturally-pollinated seeds, from which we can save seeds, reintegrated into the food production cycle. Farmers and agriculturists have been selecting these ‘open-pollinated’ seeds for ten thousand years, but today the majority of farmers don’t save seed, and most of us have forgotten how to.

Seed saving protects plant genetic diversity which increases the plant’s ability to adapt to rapidly changing environmental conditions, and saving seeds makes it possible for us to grow food sustainably.

I have been an avid saver of heritage seeds since 1991, when I started a business in Victoria called ‘Seeds of Victoria’. In order to educate communities about the importance of protecting plant genetic diversity I started Seedy Saturday in Victoria over twenty years ago, where people can access and exchange seeds from local farmers and gardeners. Today there are over 150 Seedy Saturdays across Canada

On this island we need to build a ‘genetic pool’ on which plant breeders can draw to build resistance, and the best way of maintaining an active and vibrant seed bank is to ensure that farmers and gardeners are planting heritage varieties of plants that are now so endangered.

Seed saving is not onerous or costly; in fact when you grow food, seeds are a freely given part of the cycle- simply allow some of the best plants to go to seed and you can collect something of great value to yourself and others. There are a few things to consider to maintain the purity of the strain- off types need to be rogued out by removing them before they flower; timing for seed collection is critical, and proper labelling is important.

Thorough drying is critical before storing seeds in sealed containers or envelopes, and cleaning seeds to remove chaff and other debris is important. The ideal temperature for storage is 5°C, in a dark, cool area away from fluctuations in temperature. Paper bags, envelopes or airtight containers work well for seed storage which will retain longer viability if refrigerated or frozen.

If you are interested in this subject  please join me for a presentation on ‘Seed Saving’ at The Ladysmith Saltair Garden Club on Thursday, September 17th at the St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church Hall, 314 Buller Street (corner of 3rd Ave.) The meeting begins at 7 p.m.. Guest fee is $2. There will also be a sale of IncrEdibles! winter food starts from which you can start your seed saving practice.

Carolyn HerriotFor the chronicle