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You may have heard about the “Seed Ark” in Norway or the “Seed Vault” in Sussex, England. But did you ever stop to think about why countries and major corporations appear to be so panicked about seed storage?
The Centre for Research on Globalization reported that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates “is investing millions in a seed bank on the Barents Sea near the Arctic Ocean, some 700 miles from the North Pole. It’s a barren piece of rock claimed by Norway and ceded in 1925 by international treaty.” It’s called the Doomsday Seed Vault.
But wait, there’s more. England officials are stocking their own “seed-bank” or seed ark in Sussex. Here how Smithsonian Magazine described it:
Dozens of shipments arrive weekly from every corner of the globe — seeds air-freighted from far-flung locations: the deserts of Kyrgyzstan, the Dominican Republic’s tropical valleys, the alpine meadows of China, the plains of Oklahoma. In more than 50 countries, hundreds of researchers are engaged in one of the most ambitious undertakings in the history of field science: The goal is to collect 25 percent of the planet’s 400,000 plant species by 2020. Scientists are racing against time: 100,000 species of flora — imperiled by habitat destruction, overharvesting and climate change — are threatened with extinction. “Even if we know that plants are being lost in the wild,” says Paul Smith, head of seed conservation, “if we can get them into the seed bank, we can regenerate them in the future.”
Hmmmm. Scientists, philanthropists and major, global corporations are concerned about seeds. Maybe we should be too. There’s something actually a bit ominous about these statements and these decisions. Do they know something we don’t know? Possibly. And that’s why we might want to consider our own food “arks.” This isn’t about gathering up a bunch of seeds to plant in the spring so you have some nice tomatoes in the fall. This is about a generational decision that goes beyond vegetables and a few herbs. Many factors affect seed preservation, but there are some basics to think about if you’re starting your own collection.
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Before we begin, it’s important to understand the three primary factors that adversely affect seed preservation: moisture, oxygen and heat.
1. If a seed gets sufficiently moist, it will begin to germinate. It will then need a consistent supply of moisture and nutrients to grow. If it’s denied either of those two, the seed or sprout will simply die and will not recover. The key is to prevent any moisture from coming into contact with any seeds.
2. We can’t live without it, but plants hate it. Just cut an apple, potato, avocado or artichoke and let it sit on the counter for about five minutes. It will start to turn brown and go downhill from there. Plants give off oxygen as a waste product and plants, fruits and seeds quickly deteriorate when exposed to oxygen. We need to prevent oxygen from coming into contact with our seeds.
3. We all know the old adage: Store in a cool, dark place. There’s a reason the food ark in Norway is buried in a glacier and the vaults in Sussex are all refrigerated chambers. If you’re storing seeds for the long term, the attic is a bad idea. Keep them in the basement, and if you can spare the space, a refrigerator or freezer.
A simple way to preserve seeds and protect them from the elements of moisture and oxygen is with a vacuum sealer. You don’t need the most expensive one, and a vacuum seal will remove the moisture and oxygen to a large degree. Just make sure you clearly identify the contents with a laundry marker. You might think you’ll remember the seeds, but family members may not and you could find yourself planting 40 habaneros when you thought the similar seeds were sweet bell peppers.
Seeds To Consider
It’s not just about tomatoes and onions. Think about trees and other plants, as well. A lot depends on where you live, but if apple trees, pears, peaches and plums thrive in your area, you might want to take the time to preserve these seeds. If you have a significant orchard already, you’re probably OK. If you don’t, then, well … you can’t make an apple tree out of thin air.
Flowers are another consideration. Purple Coneflower or Echinacea is a proven anti-bacterial treatment for many conditions. Herbs are just as important, and so are seeds for various grasses that livestock may graze on or that you might use for various flours. Ancient grains should be on your list as well, from amaranth to quinoa. One way to think about this is to imagine a landscape that is bare of all vegetation. What do you currently grow or think you would like to see growing on that barren ground? That’s a good place to start when it comes to collecting and storing seeds.
Use Heirloom Seeds
As much as possible, try to accumulate and store heirloom seeds. Hybrids are “hybridized” to be resilient to a particular insect or fungus or to yield more fruit. Over time, they can succumb to future conditions to which an heirloom is naturally resistant. Genetically modified plants have had their DNA manipulated to create certain characteristics. They are untested biological experiments that should give us pause as they continue to emerge as the seed stock of choice on many agri-business farms.
When and if you can, find those wonderful heirloom seeds and plant them so you can not only enjoy the result, but harvest the seeds.
The list offered here is for a variety of plants that offer specific benefits. Some are obvious. Others are a bit more obtuse, like Purple Coneflower, which has significant medicinal properties, or flowers like clover and Zinnias, which are critical to honeybee survival and honey production. This list is the tiniest tip of the Norwegian iceberg, but it’s a start. You should add as much as you like or feel you’ll need. Here’s a list to get your started:
(If in southern climates):
No doubt, you can add a few more to this list. Or if you’re on the same mission as the “arks,” a few hundred thousand more. What’s essential is to think about what’s important to you and your future generations. A lot of the decisions you make will be determined by the zone you live in and your needs. There are other factors – such as your willingness to do this in the first place. Based on the fairly recent behaviors of governments and corporations, it might be a good idea.
What seeds would you add to this list? Share your thoughts in the section below: