Landrace Gardening: Saving Landrace Seeds

Reader Contribution by Joseph Lofthouse
article image

Seed saving is an integral part of landrace gardening. We can localize our gardens to our specific growing conditions and way of doing things by planting genetically diverse seed, allowing them to cross pollinate, and then saving and replanting the seeds.

Saving seeds doesn’t have to be the complicated highly involved and technical process that some writers would have you believe. Before writing was developed, illiterate people were saving seeds, and they developed many of our most popular food crops. Plant seeds are resilient. It doesn’t much matter what specific techniques we use to save seeds. We don’t have to clean our seeds like machines do. Our seeds are likely to grow when planted. The important thing about landrace gardening is to be saving and replanting localized genetically diverse seeds.

The essential knowledge regarding seed saving is that plants produce seeds, and that seeds can be planted to grow a new plant. It’s also good to know that offspring tend to resemble their parents. Even if we don’t know for sure who the father is, we can know who the mother is, and siblings tend to have similar traits whether they are full siblings or half siblings. 

As a landrace gardener I don’t worry much about plant purity. A dry soup bean is a dry soup bean regardless of what color or size it is, or even what species. Once in a while I worry about things like keeping the hot peppers separate from the sweet peppers, but that is only because it makes things easier in the kitchen.

I hear over and over again that home gardeners shouldn’t save seeds because they might not breed true. To me, that is a great reason to save seeds. I don’t want functional clones of the mother plant. I want to grow a genetically diverse family so that the offspring can become localized to my garden. Saving seeds as a landrace gardener alleviates many of the isolation issues that are so difficult for people that are trying to maintain purity in highly inbred cultivars. I want my plants to be promiscuously cross pollinating.

Humans are social creatures. We thrive by sharing and cooperating with each other. Even if I am not able to grow every species of crop seed that I need for my farm, I have developed a collaboration network of nearby growers that share seeds amongst ourselves. I love my network, because while the seed might not be exactly tailored to my garden, it is well adapted to my valley. And if my local network doesn’t have genetically diverse landrace seed, chances are that some of my collaborators from further away have non-locally adapted landrace seed with enough genetic diversity that when I import it to my garden some family groups will do well.

By saving my own seeds, and sourcing seeds grown by nearby neighbors, I am able to grow locally adapted plants that thrive in my garden. This is part of the reason why I believe that landrace gardening is a path towards food security through common sense and traditional methods.

Next week I will write about maintaining an adaptive landrace.

Joseph Lofthouse grows vegetables in a cold mountain valley where he practices the art of landrace gardening in order to feed his community more effectively.