By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

We keep bumping up against a new trend in gardening that should be of interest to active gardeners, especially frugal ones (which is almost all of them!), and that is the old art of saving seeds.

Kale, bolting

Kale, beginning to flower.

Believe it or not, this is so trendy, college students are starting to do this. They’ve set up a seed vault at University of California-Santa Cruz, where I was recently speaking to a food activist. The students want to help save our diversity of foods from the corporations that bent on diminishing it. Big industrial growers are happy to serve up three types of potatoes, two varieties of tomatoes, one type of avocado and a single variety of beans. That’s a tiny fraction of what’s available. You can find out a lot more about saving heirloom varieties at the website for Seed Savers, a group devoted to preserving the varieties our ancestors, even our grandparents, enjoyed. And you can get instructions on saving seeds from that horticulture powerhouse, Texas A&M. Here’s the link. You do need to know what you’re doing.

But saving diversity is just one goal of seed saving. Another reason to save the seeds your plants make is to save dollars.

As a blog from the Sustainable Food Center in Austin notes: “Many plants reseed themselves–we like to plant basil (summer) and cilantro (winter) in the same bed-they share space and grow again and again in alternating seasons from the previous season’s seeds.”

Nifty, huh? But beyond perennial herb beds, the SFC recommends letting some of your plants complete their full growing cycle. After all, you still get to pick the fruit. This has dual benefits as well. The plants get to make seeds, which you can collect and save. At the same time, the plants are feeding pollinators, even birds, depending on the plant. So you’re helping keep the bounty of nature in good supply.

Kale, washed

Yes, we remembered to eat most of the kale before it went to seed!

This spring I let my kale flower and go to seed. I felt a little embarrassed about it almost, like I was letting wild things occur in what should be a neat garden. But I am glad, in hindsight, because I believe it helped the bees I saw feeding on the yellow blooms. This was a wacky weather spring when many plants held off on blooming, so I like to think my little March contribution made a different to the pollinators.

Saving your seeds can also help you better select for the fruits and vegetables you really love. This year I’ve grown a German pink tomato, an heirloom, from seeds. I would not have been able to find this plant at any nursery. A few plant houses carry German heirloom tomatoes, but I doubt they have this variety. So I am experimenting to see if I can take this plant through its entire cycle, from seeds in tiny indoor pots to transplants in the garden to — cross my fingers — full fruiting plants.

In this case, I won’t have to let the plants bloom and spread seed; but I will try to save some seeds from the fruit.

Whatever your plan, consider saving diversity. Variety can be the spice of life.

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