Koanga’s Seed Saving Instructions
See bottom of page for information specific to different plant families.
Seed Saving used to be one of the most important jobs there was – our ancestors survived because they saved the seeds that could be depended on to nourish people. Over the past 60 years we’ve left seed saving to the multinationals whose Kaupapa is to return money to their shareholders – rather than one of nourishing people.
Sixty plus years of saving seed to make maximum profits has changed our seeds, and I believe changed their ability to nourish us. When you breed a seed for sugar content, and production for many plant generations you change the nutritional make-up of that cultivar and inevitably make them less nourishing to us humans.
The only seeds we have today that have been bred for nourishing people, are our Heritage seeds. For those of us living in this land we have our very own New Zealand Heritage seeds that were bred by our own ancestors to actually nourish us.
We are the seeds – the seeds are us. It’s a wonderful journey learning to grow these seeds again, eating the vegetables, saving the seeds, connecting again to the stories and their whakapapa – our whakapapa, and knowing we’re keeping them there for the ones to come.
Making these connections is a wonderful way to heal and feel ‘whole’ again.
See the back cover for contact details and become a member of the Koanga Institute to support us saving the seeds of our own ancestors, to receive our catalogue and give your access to these seeds.
If you’re new to seed saving and you’re planning to save some of your own seeds this Summer, then spend the Winter reading and re-reading this information and making a good plan. The full version of this information is available as a printed booklet Save Your Own Seeds . Spend some time looking at the following charts, and maybe check out the Koanga Institute catalogue which also lists all the seeds in their families. It’s important to get a feel for which plants are in which families.
It will be possible for you to save your own seeds using the information here, however if you decide you’re going to get really serious about seed saving and want to know everything you can find, then I suggest you buy a copy of Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. It is the book I learned to save seeds from and is the best book in the world as far as I’m concerned – easy to read and follow.
We are the ancestors; we are the human link between past and future. The seeds of our ancestors will only be available to nourish our grandchildren if we save them today. It’s up to us! It’s easy to see how hard or easy the saving of any particular line is by checking to see what has survived. The easy ones we have lots of – beans, tomatoes, garlic, peas and lettuces. The hard ones we struggle to find ones which have been saved – carrots, pumpkins, cabbages, cauliflowers, cucumbers. There is room for anyone to be involved at any level.
Basic seed saving can be done by everyone with no more than the basic info in this booklet.
Once you have read this entire booklet, have planned your garden so that you know what you will be growing for seed, and have grown the number of seedlings required to keep the genetic strength in the seed (again, use the info under the seed family info below), it is only a matter of growing the plants to the eating stage just as you would all your other plants in the garden.
Follow the rogueing/selection instructions for each family during this period, so you eat or remove plants where necessary. From the eating stage on, many plants will grow very tall. Sometimes the plants will become unrecognisable as a swede or cress plant etc., and you will have to take good care that they do not fall over.
We use frames that we have made with sheets of concrete reinforcing steel, bamboo or ti tree (see diagram 1) to hold the plants up. If you are going to use this method then make sure you plant the plants in blocks the width of a bed (1.2 m) which happens to be the width of a sheet of reinforcing steel, rather than rows, which will mean you have to stake them individually. It is critical to watch moisture levels in the soil when crops are going to seed, water stress will attract shield bugs and aphids etc.
We have had stands made that the reinforcing steel slots into at whatever height we need the mesh to be at. It would be easy to tie the mesh to poles at each corner of the bed, or even simply make bamboo frames around the bed and tie extra poles across the top of the frame to hold the plants up (see diagram 2). It is easy to lose a whole crop at this stage to the wind. If you are making a frame to hold plants up, keep in mind that some seed crops are loved by the birds – if you can build your frame in such a way that you can just throw some bird netting over later when the birds become a problem (or preferably just before), you will be making life easier for yourself.
We dry our seed in the plastic house where we raise our seedlings to begin with. Then, after we’ve threshed and cleaned it, we put it through the electric dehydrator, making sure we have the moisture levels low enough to make it safe to put the seed into the freezer to kill any potential pests before storing it. If you are using an electric dehydrator, make sure it’s one with a thermostat, and you can turn the temperature down to 30°C. Most cheap dehydrators in NZ are on 70°C and they can not be turned down. If you are saving seed for home use only, you will not really need an electric dehydrator, just put the seeds in the sun on the window sill or in the greenhouse until very dry.
Once dried, all of our seed is cleaned (threshed) by a combination of dancing on it, either in a barrel, on the concrete or even the hard dry ground on a tarp. Rich from Seeds of Change in Gila, New Mexico, connected me to the age old process of cleaning seed by dancing on it on the ground, and in the process singing or story telling the stories into the seeds.
A combination of dancing and rubbing is all most seeds need, as long as they have been dried to a crackly stage first. Some people use flails to beat the dry seed pods to extract the seed (see diagram). After that you can either tip the seed from one container to another in a breeze, or set up a small electric fan at one end of a sheet spread on the ground and tip the seeds in front of the fan. The best seeds will fall closest to the fan, and the rubbish/chaff furthest away. This is called winnowing.
After winnowing the seed we place all of our seed into the freezer for a minimum of three days to kill any bugs or eggs of bugs that might hatch at a later date and eat the seed! In a home garden situation this is not as necessary, however, it is a great idea. If you don’t want to freeze your seed, or are unable to, you might like to try putting some dried herbs or leaves in with the seed to repel the insects. In India neem leaves are used for this purpose, perhaps we cold use Ngaio, garlic, diatomaceous earth or woodash.
“The problem is that the diversity is disappearing, and we can’t
wait for the experts to take responsibility. That was part of what Seeds of Change was founded on, the principle that all of us
have to take responsibility for preserving what diversity we can.
We try to create the awareness that people have a real ability
to make a difference.” Seeds of Change; Gabriel Howearth
Below is seed saving information for the different families of vegetables