HOW TO: Create a Seed Bank

As another hurricane bears down on the gulf coast, one has to wonder whether the glass half empty crowd which has been predicting increased damage in upcoming years due to natural disaster is correct. Nature does go in cycles, and we may end up laughing off current pessimism about the planet’s inability to regulate herself. But current data does suggest that we are facing at the least a massive migration of plants and animal species to inhabit new regions of the planet. Global environmental organizations are already seeing plant and animal species move to new elevations of previously frigid territory and dead zones showing up in previously fertile areas.

Perhaps the hardest adjustment we as humans will have to make, provided we don’t all take each other out first, is that of food supply.  When the local soils no longer support the crops to which we’re accustomed, we’ll be faced with two choices: move, or learn to cultivate something new.  This migratory period will be critical to the existence of all life on earth.  By creating and maintaining seed banks, we are helping to sustain the biological diversity of life on earth.  This is the aim of the latest biological depository established in Scandinavia, into which governments from around the world are locking seed samples in preservatory conditions in case of Doomsday.

But while the establishment of such seed banks are admirable, the greatest potential for preserving biological diversity lies with the individual.  After all, your grandmother’s mint patch that grows in your backyard probably isn’t on the seed registry’s radar, and neither are your neighbor’s prize heirloom sunflowers.  For any planet to sustain a wide diversity of genetic material, it is we, the people, who will have to stash away the genetic legacy of our lives thusfar as a gift to the future.  So why not get started now?

Making a seed bank is ridiculously easy.  You could well go from a single set of seeds to more than you could ever plant within the span of a single growing season.  Of course, seeds are most fertile when fresh, but stored under the right conditions, most seeds will last for years.  It is a good practice to plant from your seed bank each year, and replenish the stock with fresh seed over the growing season.  This way, most of your seed stays fresh at any time.

Now, how to get started?  First, buy an pack of little brown paper envelopes, or even just a package of writing envelopes.  Then stash a few in your pocketbook, briefcase, or car, and start hunting!  Every time you see a particularly beautiful tree in fruit, a really nice flower, or healthy looking seed grasses, take a handful of seeds, pat them dry if they are wet (say from being removed from their protective fruit coverings to prevent rot), and place them in the envelope.  Be sure to label the outside of the package with what type of plant (if you don’t know, just describe it as best possible), the date on which you collected it, and ideally, where you found it. Then transfer your sealed envelopes to a cool dry storage place next time you are home, to keep the seeds from germinating and then dying from lack of soil nutrition. Then you simply hit the road again and look for more!  Most people won’t mind you taking a handful of anything from their lawn, but certainly some tact and discretion are in order always.

The next step in a successful seed bank is to increase the diversity through exchange with others. In most towns there are groups of seed savers who get together periodically to have exchanges, in which you give a little to get a little of something else.  This is the true gem of seed collection. You are gaining access to the best of all local areas, all of which should be relatively well suited to cultivation in your area, simply for having an eagle eye in your own neighborhood.

As with all great ventures, the best time to get started is before everyone else catches on. That way, when seeds become more scarce, you’ll already be a practiced veteran of the seed trade.  This is truly a return to the simpler life our parents parents experienced, and is a selfless act of philanthropy you can complete without spending a dime.

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6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Your information but the purpose of having a seed bank is the documentation. Without exact information, even images and descriptive characteristics like height, weight, seeds, etc. you cannot offer the seeds without knowing exactly what you have to offer.

    This weekend we went to a family Christian camp and I found wild raspberries and strawberries at 9000 feet, outside of Denver. When I get done I will document the things above plus location descriptions; longitude/latitude where on the road/facing north, weather, etc.

    If you intend to do it right, spend the time and document even the littlest details, other people deserve it.

  2. 2

    solarious said,

    You’re right, Adison~

    The more information you can collect the better. Whether something needs sun or shade or moist soil or sandy loam is critical to being able to maintain a seed healthily once it sprouts. So I guess you might make little ink jet sticker templates (for speed) or to eliminate unnecessary supplies, just get used to writing EVERY detail you can at site.

    And, of course, a picture is worth… well, you know. I take a little digital camera with me wherever I go. It’s super useful in the identification stage when foraging for foods. Most printer programs have a “contact sheet” setting, which will let you get about 30 pictures on a page to store with your seed bank.

    Thanks for the advice, those raspberries sound delicious!

  3. 3

    Although stored at the Seed Bank in Wakehurst Place, Sussex, the seeds will remain the property of the three African nations. Energy Efficiency

  4. 4

    [...] public links >> seed HOW TO: Create a Seed Bank Saved by mischamezerano on Fri 17-10-2008 Lemon Poppy Seed Cake Saved by abuzooz on Fri [...]

  5. 5

    Karen Sloan said,

    Excellent article and great blog. Happy to have stumbled across it.
    Truly, it is ridiculously easy to collect and save seeds.
    I started doing exactly that due to finding some Sweet William seeds in a cupboard at my uncle’s farm. (He had passed away, and I wanted the link to his farm via my garden).
    I planted them and now collect those, as well as any other seeds that I find now.
    It’s actually a very enjoyable and somewhat meditative process. A nice link to the earth.

  6. 6

    mike said,

    good luck with the bugs.


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