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.