Fall is here on the farm. The leaves are changing colors on the trees, Canada geese call overhead, and we shiver in our layers in the crisp mornings. Now is the time when we are doing most of the seed collecting for the farm. We try to save as many of our own seeds as we can and that means a lot of collecting!

Why do we save seeds?

There are many reasons to save seed but some of the most important include:

  1. Saving money. Buying seed is very expensive. A couple of dollars a packet doesn’t seem like a lot until you start buying enough to plant acres.
  2. Selecting plants that thrive in our climate and soils. Vegetable farmers have been selecting seeds to create varieties that thrive in different climates for many generations. Medicinal plants haven’t been selected nearly as intensively but as wild populations dwindle it becomes more and more important that we farm medicinal plants. Selecting white sage seed that grows into healthy overwintering plants on a cold wet Oregon farm can help make a difference for our wild desert populations. Selecting Calendula that produces large double flowers still abundant in resins means that we can grow a highly medicinal flower that weighs more and can be picked faster, making it more likely we will make a profit and compete with the global market on pricing.
  3. Building populations of hard to find seeds. It can sometimes be difficult to find sources for organic medicinal herbs. If we save our own seeds we ensure that we will have enough seed to grow a few 100 feet of a crop or an acre.
  4. Knowing where our seeds are coming from. Although we buy many of our seeds from local sources, some seeds are most easily found from as far away as Europe. A seed packet may say it’s organic but we still don’t know what the soil looked like where those plants were grown, the vigor of the plants, the growing conditions. Growing our own seeds gives us a lot more information.
  5. Increasing germination rates is another reason to save your own seed.  It is not legally required to post the year medicinal herb seeds were packed meaning that it can be easy to end up with very old seeds.
  6. Being connected to our crops and how the plant populations change and react to our seed selection is one of our biggest reasons for saving our own seeds.  On the farm, we see seed collecting and selecting as an opportunity to take a closer look at our plants and ask ourselves which ones look healthiest, which ones produce the most flowers, which ones taste the most medicinally potent, which ones delayed flower the longest etc. It is a time for me to sit with many of the different herbs we grow and ask if they are happy and healthy. We save seed from plants that give us a resounding yes!

We feel grateful for the chance to sit with the plants and connect with them in a different way, that appreciates them for all that they are, amidst the bustle of harvest.

Elana Quinlan Scheidegger and the Oshala Farm Crew