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Seed saving and the benefits of regional adaptions for food security.

Food security is a topic that flits in and out of the global narrative. When we are feeling the pinch of recession, the shock of severe weather or the pain of a pandemic, food security bubbles to the top of the global consciousness but never for very long.

Perhaps this is because it is unthinkable to most of us, that we may not be able to go to a supermarket and buy whatever we need, or for gardeners to visit the garden centre and be presented with hundreds of seeds to sow. However, in the Covid crisis we have been challenged in ways not seen for a generations when it comes to food availability and its long term security.

We have experienced food shortages not seen since the 1940's, and albeit for a much shorter amount of time, it has resonated with many people who can for a moment imagine a world where we are the eponymous beggar, and not the chooser.

During the lockdown, gardening and in turn, food production in our gardens has boomed and it has been inspiring to see so many of us redoubling our efforts or for some people, starting out on a new road to growing their own food. It's a triumph of resilience and a strong characteristic of the British to knuckle down and dig for a new type of victory, or perhaps this time we are digging for security.

The basics of gardening are well known to most, sow, thin, plant, feed, water, prune, but there is another step in our growing calendar which should be increasingly discussed and overwhelmingly encouraged, and this is seed saving.

If sowing this season is investing in your growing year, then seed saving is safeguarding your growing future, and it is a skill that we can not do without. It is more fundamental than any other practise, as without seeds our hands and our plates are empty.

Seed security ensures you always have access to the seed you need in a comforting personal seed bank and the benefits of cultivating your own seed reach further than breaking your reliance on garden centres or saving money, (both of those things it undeniably does), but your plants and in turn your food will be of greater quality because of it.

Regional adaptions are the key to this increased quality and the resilience of your crops. By evolving in your own particular micro climate, seeds adapt to withstand the nuances of that niche. They are able to withstand specific soil conditions, and weather issues, particularly with water pressures in wet conditions or more commonly drought prone regions. Drought is one of the most limiting factors for good yields from healthy plants, yet it is possible to breed adaptive traits to water pressures by selecting the strongest plants from which to harvest your seeds. These plants will have adapted or started to adapt in the first generation, to optimise water uptake through modulations in root growth, or minimise water loss through changes in transpiration traits.

Selecting your strongest plant from your chosen varieties every year will also ensure your resulting seeds will have gained an element of resilience to local pests and diseases. With each generation that is selected to set seed, the risks from these specific diseases will decrease and pests common to your region will find it increasingly difficult to get a foothold.

One of the most compelling arguments for seed saving is based on the recording and the maintenance of your local genetic diversity. The adaptations that see our crops more resistant to mildew, more likely to crop in a dry summer and give us better yields, contribute to your areas cultivation heritage and avoids the genetic erosion that occurs when these diverse elements are lost, or bred out by the effects of large scale modern agriculture.

It is estimated that 90% of food plant varieties have now become extinct, with 60,000-100,000 estimated to be at risk or endangered. The blame for this falls mainly at the door of the mass production of seeds, selected for their broad appeal and basic cropping characteristics; bright red tomatoes and poker straight carrots. This selection of fewer varieties and the failure to preserve rarer types is a direct threat to global food security.

Your own seed bank catalogues the history of your site whatever it may be, your allotment, your garden or your urban farm, and preserves and makes available an array of different seeds all with their own unique genetic characteristics. For a horticulturist, this blend of local genetic diversity and sought after food security is an incredibly exciting and fascinating prospect.

#gardening #plant #seedsaving #food security

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