Submitted by SGN Board Member Laurel Anderson
Seed Saving in the School Garden
I appear dead before I am alive.
Although I often quite small within my skin a giant tree may live.
I can survive for thousands of years in the right conditions without food or water.
I can be as small as dust or as large as a football.
Humans and many types of animals eat me.
We have developed many ways to get around from flying to swimming and even hitch hiking.
I can survive freezing, fires and intense droughts.
Seed saving is a wonderful fall activity in the school garden. You can intentional design your planting to allow for crops to go to seed over the summer when school garden is not in high use. When you return in the fall you will have lots of seeds to collect with students
Growing seeds is a wonderful opportunity to show students the full cycle of a plant. I was amazed when I saw a lettuce in flower the first time! Shake a pod of Shirley poppies into a young child’s hand. One tiny seed produced thousands of seeds! What a miracle of abundance! Ask a young child how many seeds it took to create a poppy plant which is producing thousands of seeds. It can be an amazing realization to realize just one seed!
Seed saving is also a way to talk about the importance of diversity in maintaining a healthy food system. 97% of the vegetables and fruits grown in the 1900’s have been lost in this century with the rise of industrial agriculture and the commodification of our seeds. Most seed companies are now owned by petro-chemical companies and most varieties offered are hybrids. Many of these hybrid varieties are not bred for flavor or nutrition but to ripen at the same time making it possible for mechanical harvesting and with skins tough enough to withstand lots of travel
Save seed from open pollinated, non -hybrids varieties. Hybrids are the result of deliberately crossing two different parent varieties. They are incapable of producing plants like previous generation but will revert to one of the parent varieties during the succeeding generations. For more information on the difference between hybrid, open pollinated and heirloom visit the Seed Savers Exchange.
Seed Saving in School Gardens
These are some good choices to begin seed saving in the school garden- tomatoes- these are fun because you have to create a moldy fermentation to clean the seeds! Also, lettuces, red amaranth because you can get lots of seeds, chard( if you do not let beets which are in the same family go to seed). Calendula, sunflower and marigolds…while flowers will sometimes cross but you might get interesting variations .Tomatoes- these are fun because you need to ferment the seeds to break down their protective gelatinous coating. Tutorial here.
My all time favorite plants for seed saving with kids are heirloom beans. Beans rarely cross pollinate so seeds will be true. They are tough enough to survive the neglect of summer and need little water. Pods Look rather dry and uninteresting but contain colorful treasures! Harvest in fall when pods are dry. Hundreds of varieties are available. Kids LOVE to shell them! Some teachers use garden beans for math problems-the ultimate in ”bean counting”.
There are so many choices of heirloom beans it would be possible for each class to “curate” a different bean variety in the garden. Perhaps start trading bean seeds with other schools or among classes!
Here are just a few of my many favorites!
- Tiger Eye-Golden with burgundy stripes,
- Rio de Zappe-Purple with black stripes,
- Calypso or YinYang, black and white
- Apaloosa-brown and white mottledspotted!
- Scarlet Runner- huge magenta purple beans and humming birds like flowers
- Petaluma Gold Rush – historically interesting, Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, prolific
- Cherokee Trail of Tears- culturally interesting, shiny black beans, delicious
- Seed Savers Exchange
- Rancho Gordo– you can buy some for eating and save some back for planting!
- Sources for Heirloom Beans
- West County Seed Exchange – offers free seeds grown in their SEED garden or by community. Have lots of heirloom beans!
- Seed Sorting – Younger students love to shell and sort seeds into egg cartons-especially bowls of colorful heirloom beans!
- Study How Seeds Travel – seed traveling scavenger hunt- make a 6 square grid on poster paper. Students scour the garden looking for Flyers, Floaters, poppers, Poopers, Droppers, and Hitchhikers! Launch the lesson with these literature links – A Seed Is Sleepy ,The Dandelion Seed , A Fruit is a Suitcase for a Seed
- Bird Seed Garden – plant sunflowers, Evening primrose, amaranth, millet, barley, buckwheat, cosmos for a fall feast for the birds
- Three Sisters Gardens – grow and save seed from a planting of corn, pole beans, and squash-(seeds will only be true from corn and squash if you only have one variety in garden as they will cross with other varieties.
- A Fruit is a Suitcase for a Seed (2-5)
- A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston (2-4)
- The Dandelion Seed by Joseph P. Anthony and Cris Arbo ( K-4)
- From Seed to Pumpkin by Wendy Pfeffer (K-1)
- Ten Seeds by Ruth Brown counting book (K-1)
- A Handful of Seeds Seed saving and Seed Study from OAEC
- Wondrous Beauty of Microscopic Plant Seeds
- Generation to Generation An Activity Guide Book in the Living Tradition of Seed Saving