Valuing Seeds & Elemental Rhythms
In between characteristically "fall days" filled with low grey clouds, on and off rain and a brisk wind, there are a still scattering of beautifully warm, sunny days. When one of these comes along, I know I have to grab on to it along with my "things to do before winter" list. Currently, at the top of my list is harvesting seeds from any remaining fall plants that I hope to dry, save and germinate next spring. This is not something I have been doing for years, in fact I am pretty new to the seed-saving game, but more and more I am seeing the value and importance of collecting local seed for the days to come. For thousands of years, humankind understood and valued the importance of saving seeds. They knew that a failed seed harvest could mean the potential loss of an important food source, medicine or tea. Unfortunately, beginning in the mid 20th century our ready access to commercially produced seed, plant nurseries and grocery stores has separated us from this meaningful relationship with plants and seeds; a relationship that I am trying to restore for myself and anyone else who is interested.
My seed-saving journey began about a year ago when when I began collecting milkweed pods and shagbark hickory nuts from the ground and I saved the seeds from the fruit of a pawpaw tree that I had eaten. My goal was to try and learn how to germinate each of these plants with the hope of planting one or two at our house and at The Hickories, where I collected some of them from. (You can see my homemade stratification box and learn a bit more about my experience with this in my April 5th blog.) I became captivated with learning about the needs of each of these seeds, so much so that as the winter progressed I found myself thinking more and more about trying to grow other plants from seed. This past spring, I decided to make a concerted effort to grow some of my own native plants to add to the diversity of our yard. I ordered locally appropriate seed from a few reputable, organic growers and prepared a growing area on a card table in our den. (see April 12th for an intro). At about the same time, I also became involved in a Founder Plant Project focused on growing local, native wildflowers in my community (see September 27th for more info). My involvement in all three of these endeavors has furthered my amazement and appreciation of the miracle of seeds and shown me the value of collecting local native seed in my own local landscape.
The simplest "value"of collecting your own seed is the money you will save in the spring when you realize that you may not need to purchase any seed or nursery plants because you have grown your own. But this, I believe, is not where the real value is to be found. The real value is in the priceless experience of observing, learning and doing of growing something from seed, caring for it and then ultimately harvesting seed from the new plant so that you can start the whole process over again next year. My engagement in this process has connected me to my property in a new, more personal way. I have a deeper sense of investment and care for the entire ecosystem of our yard and with each passing day, I realize how much I still do not know about our small little slice of the world. Overall, my little experiment proved to be quite transformative. I am pleased to say that the wildflower seeds that I germinated have turned into beautiful plants. They hosted all manner of insects, snails and caterpillars all summer and now they are producing seed. And as for those shagbark hickory nuts and pawpaw seeds, they are small saplings that I am currently in the process of planting. Although they will not be able to provide me with new nuts or seeds for many years, they will add a new diversity to the landscape. Reconnecting to this elemental rhythm of the natural world has added fuel to my seed-saving passion and centered my soul.