Home Harvest Seed Libraries & seed saving

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Take >  Grow > Save > Share

The Home Harvest Seed libraries are a community resource to encourage the growing and sharing of home grown food.

There is a network of 8 Home Harvest Seed Libraries, made by local artist Ravi Sommerhalder, across Nillumbik and Banyule. Participation is free and you can withdraw or deposit seeds from any of the libraries you are visiting.

 

If you are interested, there may also be volunteering opportunities to help manage the seed libraries at some locations

Nillumbik Seed Libraries

     Panther Pl, Eltham VIC 3095

     (03) 9439 9266

     Civic Dr, Greensborough VIC 3088

     (03) 9439 3809

     30 Gastons Rd, Eltham VIC 3095

     (03) 9433 3711

     50 Graysharps Rd, Hurstbridge VIC 3099

     (03) 9433 3732

       

Banyule Seed Libraries

     72 Turnham Ave, Rosanna VIC 3084

     (03) 9459 6171

     255 Upper Heidelberg Rd, Ivanhoe VIC 3079

     (03) 9497 5780

     4/6 Ibbottson St, Watsonia VIC 3087

     (03) 9435 2397

     46/48 The Mall, Heidelberg West VIC 3081

     (03) 8582 9501 

 

Why save seeds?

There are many reasons why you might want to save seeds from your harvest.

  • Home saved and shared seeds are free
  • It’s fun and educational
  • You can share with family and friends
  • It encourages you to eat healthily
  • You can experience a greater range of fruit and veggie types and flavours
  • Fresh home harvested seeds can geminate better
  • Over time plants (seeds) adapt to the local growing climate and conditions
  • It helps improve the resilience of our food system to shocks
  • It creates stronger personal links to the environment and where our food comes from
  • Helps preserve the genetic diversity of open pollinated plants

 

How the Home Harvest Seed Libraries work:

The Home Harvest Seed Libraries are a network of seed libraries across Nillumbik and Banyule.  You can take seeds from one or more libraries and when you have some to share, you can deposit them back to any of the libraries. The library also operates under the concept of fair share and giving back. Take the seeds that you need and are interested in and leave some for others.  If you are able, collect some seeds from your harvest and return them to the seed library network for someone else to grow.

Using the seed libraries is easy and works by the simple philosophy of:

  • Take – Visit any of the libraries and take the seeds you would like to grow
  • Grow – Grow the seeds at home and hopefully enjoy a bountiful harvest
  • Save  – Save some seeds for next year from the healthiest plants and fruits
  • Share – Return some saved seeds to a Home Harvest Seed Library for the next person to grow

 

Which plants should I save seed from?

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The best seeds to save are from Open Pollinated plants. (Refer to glossary for definitions). One thing about saved seeds to be aware of is that they can hybridise with neighbouring plants from the same species unless strict pollination processes are followed.  Brassicas and Cucurbits are known for this.  This means that the resulting plant from the seeds you saved may have traits of both parents and not be true to the original plant that you thought you were saving the seed from.   While this can be annoying for those planting the seeds,  it also adds an element of mystery to seed saving. Unless you are taking care to eliminate the risk of cross pollination it may be best to not save seeds of the Brassica (broccoli)  and Cucurbit (Cucumber) families. If you do want to save seeds from the more challenging families, refer to this  this article from seedsaver.org. 

 

“Stand by One Variety”

“Stand by One Variety” is a great way to start your seed saving career and also help preserve the genetic diversity of open pollinated plants. Decide on one veggie that you are going to “stand by”. Maybe one that is a little unique or rare, or maybe it’s just your favourite.  Commit to grow that every year and provide those seeds into the seed library for others to grow.

 

When to Plant Seeds in the North East of Melbourne 

Our community partners at Local Food Connect have a great Veggie Planting Guide for North East Melbourne on their web site.   The guide provides lots of info on a range of veggies including when to sow, planting method, spacing and seed viability.

LFC Veggie Planting Guide

 

Seed envelopes:

We encourage the use of recycled materials for seed envelopes with many of the seed libraries using unwanted textbooks or story books to make the envelopes. You may also want to first place your saved seeds into small plastic zip lock bags (packs of 50 available from $2 shops)  to keep the seeds together and help control / eliminate moisture getting into the seeds. The small plastic bag can then be inserted into the paper seed packets.  The plastic zip lock bags should be continually reused through the seed libraries to ensure we are not adding to the waste stream.

If you want to make your own, here is a simple template for an origami seed envelope: 

 https://gardensnorth.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/folding-seed-packets/

 https://gardensnorth.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/folding-seed-packets/

A piece of paper about A4 in size makes a serviceable envelope with this pattern.

Please ensure you provide the following information on the packets (at a minimum). 

  • Plant name:  e.g. Blue Lake climbing beans
  • Suburb grown: e.g. Eltham (Edendale)
  • Date harvested: e.g. January 2021
  • When to sow: e.g. Nov - Jan
  • Notes: e.g. Grow very tall (approx. 2m) so need a trellis

While we encourage everyone to envelope up the seeds themselves, check with your Home Harvest Seed Library location if they are able to take bulk seeds and packet them up for the library.

 

Seed collecting, processing and storage

Collect seed from the best fruits and seed stalks to ensure you are going to grow the healthiest and strongest plants next year.  Make sure the seeds are fully developed and mature before harvesting.

Collecting Wet Seeds

 Wet seed develops inside a fruit where it is moist  and surrounded by the flesh of the fruit.  Examples of wet seeds are tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers. These seeds need to be mature before harvesting which means the fruit will be past the ripening point that you would pick It for eating. As an example, we tend to eat cucumbers and zucchini when the fruit is very immature so to save these seeds the fruit will need to be left on the vines till the fruit has fully grown,  matured, hardened and most likely the vine is dying. Tomato seeds can be collected from an over ripe tomato.

The seeds need to be extracted from the mature fruit and washed thoroughly to remove any flesh and coatings. Once clean the seed need to be dried thoroughly in a protected place (not direct sun light).

Some wet seeds like tomatoes or cucumbers are encased in a protective gel that should be removed.  This can be done by fermenting the seeds.  For a detailed explanation of fermenting tomato seeds visit Sustainable Macleod

Collecting Dry Seed

Dry seed develops directly on flower stalks or in pods.  Examples of dry seeds are peas, beans, carrots, radish, broccoli, coriander. To harvest dry seed you need to leave them on the parent plant until they reach full maturity and dry out. You may need to place a paper or netting bag over flower stalks to collect any seed as it dries out and falls.   Once harvested you can roll, crush and sieve  to remove any husks and dry plant material.

For a more detailed explanation of harvesting dry seeds visit Sustainable Macleod.

Storing Seed

 Many seeds will last for 3 – 5 years before there is a substantial reduction in germination rates although some seeds like parsnip only have a 1 year viability. As a general rule smaller seeds have shorter viability vs. larger seeds that can last is storage longer.

As seeds age their germination rate decrease but some seeds may still be viable. You can test the viability of old seed by placing a damp tissue in a saucer and sprinkle some seeds onto it and see what % germinate in the follow days.  This will give you a guide on how much you will need to sow to get your desired number of plants.

How you store seeds is very important, as this contributes to how long they will remain viable and also future germination rates. At its simplest you need to keep seeds cool, dark and dry and preferably at a relatively constant temperature. Screw-top jars are a good option. It is also important to make sure the seeds are fully dry before storing them.

Keeping your seed containers in a larger rodent and weevil proof container is also a good idea.  Maybe an old cool box / eski stored in the coolest room in the house.  Definitely not in the garden shed or greenhouse.

There are a couple of insects that you need to be aware of.  Bean seeds can attract the bean weevil beetle and grains can be attractive to grain (pantry) moth. A great way to reduce the risk of these two seed pests is to make sure the beans / grains are very well dried, place them into a well-sealed container with minimum air then freeze them for a few days.  When you take them out, let them return to normal temperature slowly without opening the containers to reduce risk condensation. Make sure they are very dry when put them back in a sealed storage container. Please note: If there is too much moisture in the seed when you freeze it you may harm its viability and therefore ability to germinate

 

 

Seed saving tips by plant family

Each plant family is unique. This section provides information on the plant families, their pollination methods and recommended seed saving methods. A big thanks to Kat Lavers for providing much of this information.

Fabaceae (Bean family aka Legumes)

 

Fabaceae (Bean family aka Legumes)

Veggies included:. Beans, broad beans, peas, snow peas

Seed Collection Rating: Easy

Pollination: Self-pollinating, but some cross-pollination from insects can occur. Can bag blossoms with light polyester mesh to allow light without increasing temperature and humidity, but control generally not required for home gardeners
Seed read to harvest when pods begin to turn yellow and dry

Cleaning method: Thresh or hand pod and sieve or winnow chaff. When dry, freeze for 2 days to kill bean weevil eggs.

Seed viability: 3-6 years 

 

  

YouTube video: Rob Bob's Aquaponics & Backyard Farm

Solanaceae (Tomato family aka Solunums)

Solanaceae (Tomato family aka Solunums)

Veggies included: Tomatoes, capsicums, chillis, eggplant

Seed Collection Rating: Easy

Pollination: Self-pollinating, some cross-pollination from insects can occur between currant (Lycopersicon pimpinellifolium), beefsteak and potato-leaf tomatoes with protruding styles. Wind or mechanical agitation is required for pollination. Isolation or caging can be used to control pollination, but generally not required for home gardeners. Seed ready to harvest when fruit is overripe and becoming soft

Cleaning method: Capsicum and chilli seeds can be scraped out and dried. For species with juicy fruit, scoop pulp out and allow fruit to ferment for 1-3 days to break up gel pulp and avoid disease transmission. Or simply squeeze pulp onto kitchen paper and dry.

Seed viability: capsicum 3 years, tomatoes 3-10 years depending on variety, eggplant 7 years

Note: Potatoes are in the Solanaceae family but are propagated vegetatively 

  

  

YouTube videos: Rob Bob's Aquaponics & Backyard Farm

 

Asteraceae (Lettuce or daisy family)

Asteraceae (Lettuce or daisy family)

Veggies Included: Lettuce, Endive, Chicory, Sunflower

Seed Saving Rating: Moderate

Pollination: Mostly self-pollinated but require wind or insect agitation. Control pollination to keep varieties pure with isolation, hand pollination or other methods (caging). Seed ready to harvest when flower heads start to dry and a few seeds start falling

Cleaning method: Thresh seed and winnow to remove chaff

Seed viability: lettuce 3 years, endive, chicory and sunflower 7-8 years

Note: Jerusalem and Globe artichokes are in the Asteraceae family but are propagated vegetatively 

 

  

YouTube Video: Rob Bob's Aquaponics & Backyard Farm

 

Amaryllidaceae (Onion family aka Alliums)

 

Amaryllidaceae (Onion family aka Alliums)

Veggies Included:  Onion, Spring Onions, Leek, Chives, Garlic, Chives

Seed Saving Rating: Moderate

Pollination: Insect pollinated, control pollination to keep varieties pure
Seed ready to harvest when flower heads start to dry and a few seeds start falling

Cleaning method: Thresh seed and winnow to remove chaff

Seed viability: 2-3 years

Note: Garlic and perennial onion varieties are in the Amaryllidaceae family but are propagated vegetatively 

 

  

YouTube video: Rob Bob's Aquaponics & Backyard Farm

 

Amaranthaceae (Beet family)

Amaranthaceae (Beet family)

Veggies included: Silverbeet, Chard, Beetroot, Spinach, Amaranth, Quinoa
Seed Saving Rating: Easy
Pollination: Wind pollinated, control pollination by bagging a number of seed stalks grown closely and tied to a stake
Seed ready to harvest when flower heads start to dry and a few seeds start falling. Can be stripped from the plant while in the garden and drying completed elsewhere.

Cleaning method: Thresh seed and winnow or sieve to remove chaff

Seed viability: 4-6 years

Note: Beetroot is biennial so plants will overwinter and flower in their second year 

 

 

Apiaceae (Carrot family aka Umbells)

 

Apiaceae (Carrot family aka Umbells)

Veggies included: Carrots, parsnips, parsley, fennel, dill, cilantro/coriander, celery

Seed Saving Rating: Moderate

Pollination: Insect pollinated, use isolation or bagging umbels to keep varieties pure
Seed ready to harvest when umbrells start to dry and a few seeds start falling

Cleaning method: Thresh seed and sieve to remove chaff

Seed viability: carrots and parsley 3 years, dill 5 years, celery 8 years, parsnip 1 year

Note: Many root crops in the Apiaceae are biennial and will overwinter and flower in their second year 

 

 

Poaceae (Corn family)

Poaceae (Corn family)

Veggies Include: Corn, Maize

Seed Saving Rating: Difficult

Pollination: Wind pollinated, plant in large blocks or hand pollinate. Strongly outbreeding so requires large number of plants to maintain genetic diversity (50-200). Control pollination with isolation or hand pollination.

Seed ready to harvest when ears of corn are completely mature, and can be dried in the field or picked for further drying

Cleaning method: Schuck the cobs when dry

Seed viability: sweet corn 3 years, maize 5-10 years 

 

Cucurbitaceae (Pumpkin family aka Cucurbits)

Cucurbitaceae (Pumpkin family aka Cucurbits)

Veggies Included:  Pumpkin, Cucumber, Zucchini, Squash, Watermelon

Seed Saving Rating: Moderate

Pollination: Insect pollinated, with male and female flowers on each vine. Members within the same species will cross-pollinate. Hand pollinate by selecting male and female flowers the night before they open and taping to prevent insect entry. In morning cut the male flower, remove petals and rub onto female flower. Tape female flower shut until it withers.

Seed will continue to increase in strength and size for 20 days after mature fruit is picked. Mature fruit for seeds is generally picked much later than fruit for cooking in this family, except in the case of pumpkins.

Cleaning method: Wet clean the seeds and dry. Seed in jelly-like sacks can be fermented (especially cucumbers) which may improve germination.

Seed viability: 5-6 years

Note: Chokos are also in the Cucurbitaceae family – their seed is unable to be removed from the fruit and therefore the entire fruit is planted 

 

  

  

  

YouTube videos: Rob Bob's Aquaponics & Backyard Farm

 

Brassicaceae (Broccoli family aka Brassicas)

Brassicaceae (Broccoli family aka Brassicas)

Veggies include:  Broccoli, Kale, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, Radish, Mustard, Kohlrabi, Turnip, Bok Choi, Pak Choi, Tatsoi, Rocket etc etc

Rating: Difficult

Pollination: All members within a species can cross (Brassica oleracea includes broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, collards and cauliflower so they can all cross with each other!) Insect pollinated. Outbreeding so requires large number of individuals to maintain genetic diversity. Control pollination with caging and hand pollination or isolation, though home gardeners do okay for a few years without controls. Seed ready to harvest when seed pods are completely dry – they will not continue to develop if harvested earlier

Cleaning method: Complete drying in a warm, shaded position. Thresh seed and winnow or sieve.

Seed viability: 4-5 years 

  

YouTube video: Rob Bob's Aquaponics & Backyard Farm

 

Lamiaceae (Mint and Basil Family)

Lamiaceae - Mint Family

Herbs include: Mints, Basil, Lavender, thyme, Sage (Salvia), lemon balm, oregano

Seed Saving Rating: Easy

Pollination: Mainly Pollinated by insects. When blooms have turned brown pick them from the plant and store in a bag or cardboard box to dry completely (2-3 weeks).  Basils can hybridise with other basils.

Extract seeds: Once pods are dry, crush them with your fingers to release the seeds. Winnow gently to separate the seed from the chaff.

Cleaning method: Winnow gently to separate the seed from the chaff.

Seed viability: 2-4 years

Note: Most perennial  species 

  

YouTube video: Rob Bob's Aquaponics & Backyard Farm

 

 

Additional Resources

Webinars and Videos

Webinar - Introduction to Seed Saving

Presented by Kat Lavers

This recording will be available until Thursday 10th February 2022

  

 

Seed Library Construction by Ravi Sommerhalder

  

Web Resources

Australian 

International

Books

Seed Saving Glossary

  • Open Pollinated seeds

    Open pollinated  seeds are produced through natural pollination processes (insects / wind) although can be assisted by gardeners.  There is great diversity in their gene pool and over multiple generations  are able to adapt over multiple generations. Seeds saved from open pollinated plants will regrow the same plant each time as they are genetically stable. 

  • Hybrid seeds

    Hybrid seeds are a cross between two different varieties of plant from the same species and are generally labelled as F1. Hybridisation is carried out by hand (or sometimes accidentally by insects!) and is not the same as genetic modification. Hybrid seeds often display strong vigour, disease resistance,  and desirable traits like flavour, colour, shape, size and increased yield. Seed saved from the resulting plants will usually not produce true to type plants but a variation  of one of the parent plants. Hybrid seeds can be stabilised in 6-12 generations to create Open Pollinated seeds.

  • Heirloom Seeds

    Open pollinated seeds that have been saved and passed down  generations. While all heirloom seeds will be open pollinated, not all open pollinated seeds are heirloom seeds.

  • Organic Seeds

    Seeds that have been grown without the use of industrial chemicals like pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, miticides.

  • Certified Organic Seeds

    These are organic seeds that have met the standards of an organic certification scheme

  • Certified Biodynamic Seeds

    Biodynamic Seeds have met that met the standards of the Biodynamic certification scheme.

  • Genetically modified seeds

    Seeds that have been engineered / modified in a laboratory through the addition of genes from another plant or animal species.

  • Treated Seed:

    Seeds that are coated with chemicals like fungicides or pesticides. Treatments should be included on the packaging and can change the colour of the seed.  E.g. pink corn seeds are treated  with a fungicide. 

  • Wind Pollination

    Seeds that do not require the services of insects to pollinate but do use air movement.  Usually unimpressive flowers and no nectar.  E.g. Corn

  • Insect Pollination

    Seeds that are pollinated through the services of insects.  Usually have an attractive flower and / or nectar to attract the pollinators (most fruit and veggies)

  • Self Pollination

    A plant that provides its own pollen for pollination.

  • Cross Pollination

     A plant that requires the services of a pollinator (insect) to move pollen from one plant to another to fertilise the seeds.