Growing Your Own Food: Seeds and Seed Banks

There are many benefits to growing your own food. We all know about the chemicals applied to our produce (both before and after harvesting), and anyone who grocery shops on a regular basis is acutely aware of the constant rise in food costs. Just this morning I saw an article stating that corn is now trading at record prices. And for varying reasons, the nutritional value of supermarket produce is significantly lower than it was decades ago. So health, nutrition and economics are all compelling reasons to start a vegetable garden. Today, however, it’s the fear of an economic downturn or societal disruption that has led to a firestorm of activity among concerned Americans. More and more people are coming to the realization that self-sufficiency may be the only sure route to self-preservation in a time of crisis. And for those who are serious about getting off the grid, backyard food production ranks right up at the top of the list. Whoa, did I say “backyard?” Absolutely! It is not necessary to own an acre of land to grow enough produce to feed your family. Indeed, you can grow 2,000 pounds of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs on a typical subdivision lot each year – if you know what you’re doing and use proper, efficient gardening techniques. As long as you have sufficient sunlight and water, you can turn your back yard into a veritable food factory! However, in order to be truly self-sustaining, you must be able to grow not only your own food, but also the seeds you’ll use to plant next year’s garden. That won’t happen with the seeds you find at a Home Depot, Walmart, or even a local nursery. The reason for this is simple:  most store-bought seeds (usually from Burpee or Ferry-Morse) are GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) seeds. Seeds which produce genetically modified fruits and vegetable are now commonplace.  Approved by the U.S. government as a result of influence or pressure from large food-related corporations, these seeds produce higher-yield crops that are also disease resistant.  This sounds great, right?  Yes, but there is a downside. These genetically engineered (GMO) seeds can produce fruits and vegetables with altered nutrition.  This can be an unfortunate byproduct, and one that is invisible to consumers. Even careful shoppers who are intent on buying organically grown produce are often oblivious to the health concerns of fruits and vegetables grown from GMO seeds — and these concerns can involve much more than nutritional concerns.  Unfortunately, just as with most of the regular produce sold in grocery stores and farmer’s markets, organic foods are also often grown using GMO seeds. If you plant your garden using GMO seeds you will encounter these same effects.  You can grow great looking vegetables, but you may not be producing the healthy food you desire, and you won’t be able to save the seeds from those fruits and vegetables to replant the following season. Hybrid and GMO seeds and plants are usually a one-shot deal, meaning you have to re-buy your seed each year. If you want to replant each year using seeds you have grown yourself, you’ll need to buy seeds that are known as “open-pollinated” or heirloom seeds.”  Heirloom seeds are varieties that have been around for generations and are proven to reproduce “true-to-type” vegetables and fruit. These are the only types of seeds worthy of your hard-earned dollars (if self-sufficiency or improved nutrition is your goal). Most “seed banks” on the market today include only open-pollinated varieties, so you’ll probably be OK on that count regardless of which kit you buy. So if we put that issue aside, what other factors do you need to consider before making your purchase? Let’s take a look at just a few important considerations. 1.  Location, Location, Location Will the varieties included in the bank actually grow in your area? This is a very critical question. Most seed banks are generic; in other words, the bank of seeds sent to the fellow in Nebraska will not be any different from the one shipped to a customer in Florida. (To attain satisfactory production, it is imperative that you purchase seeds which are selected to thrive in your part of the country). 2.  Variety is the Spice of Life! Most banks on the market offer 15-25 varieties. For someone wishing to simply supplement their diet with home-grown produce, this is fine. But if you plan to rely on your bank to provide your family’s full nutritional produce requirements on an annual basis, 25 varieties simply isn’t going to cut it! First of all, you need enough varieties to fully utilize your entire growing season. You want to have a spring garden, a summer garden, a fall garden and even a winter garden if your growing zone will allow it! Second, you need a wide selection of varieties within each vegetable group simply to maintain an  interesting and nutritious diet. You want to thrive, not merely survive! And thirdly, should a particular variety not make it this year – for whatever reason – you need to have other (similar) varieties to fall back on. Even experienced gardeners will tell you that not every crop will be successful every year. There are simply too many variables which are outside your control. 3.  Self Preservation and Seed Preservation They go together like two peas in a pod! If your seed reserve is wiped out by rodents, flood, fungus or infestation, your family is going to be in a world of hurt. Your seeds are your life, and they need to be kept fully protected from light, moisture, humidity, heat and vermin.  Therefore, the storage container and manner in which your seeds are maintained is of absolute importance to the well-being of your family’s future food supply. Speaking of seed preservation, I would be negligent if I didn’t mention another critical point. Some companies – either through ignorance or a lack of integrity – will tell you that their seeds are good for 20 or 30 years – we’ve even seen a 50-year seed bank! I don’t have room to go into this in detail, but don’t buy it (literally and figuratively). Yes, it is possible for seeds to germinate, if properly stored, even decades after they are harvested, but the actual length of time is dependent upon the specific variety and numerous other mitigating factors. And germination rate should never be confused with plant viability; those are two entirely different issues. Again, do not risk the health and well-being of your family on seeds that are old! We strongly believe that if your seeds are over five years old, they should be replaced. Honestly, seed banks are very inexpensive when you consider what you are actually buying. And speaking of cheap, never confuse… 4.  Price and Value You really get what you pay for when it comes to seed banks. You need to take into account the number of varieties in the bank, whether or not the seed count for each variety is truly sufficient to meet the needs of your family, how the seeds are packaged and the quality of the training materials available from the vendor. If you are buying a bank for survival purposes, don’t get suckered into a $40 or $60 bank. Those will not, I repeat, will not preserve your family through long-term lean times. How about your water purification device? How about that fancy rifle that you may never have occasion to use? Your seeds are of equal importance to these necessities.  Don’t skimp.  Remember…  The Bitterness of poor quality far outlasts the sweetness of a “Good Deal!” — Kurt Nauck _______________________ In our opinion, Texas Ready is the premiere seed bank for North America.  They also offer a selection of helpful books, and their blog is full of practical advice. Note:  Storage of your seed bank is another important consideration.  Many methods which are appropriate for long-term food storage, such as the use of oxygen absorbing packets, are not recommended for seed storage.  The use of a military-surplus ammo can with a good rubber seal, and storage at low but not freezing temperatures, is sufficient.  Better yet, start planting you seeds as soon as your growing season allows, and learn how to harvest your own seeds to expand your seed supply.

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