“Seed freedom” - the freedom of indigenous peoples to grow and we want to encourage people to start taking practical steps to improve your own self-sufficiency before you really need it.
Seed is saved from harvest to harvest. After observing the pollination patterns and reproductive characteristics of the plant. Some remaining in the ground if possible as a back up storage, while rua are ideal. Maximum germination, seedling vigor, and longest storage life is achieved when fully ripened, current season, pest-free seed is harvested. Environmental conditions, lack of pollinators, and parasitism all can affect the quality of the seeds collected.
The Spring seed is germinated at the time that the insects are coming out of hibernation or the birds returning with many indicators/connections in the web of life observed and initiating activity. Growing healthy seed means planting healthy seed, thinning plants to a distance ideal for giving them enough breathing space and air circulation. Rogue (remove) out plants that are diseased or unideal before they flower.
Growing more than one variety of the same species at a time may result in crossing. Planting the seeds may produce something new. If you want the same crop as last harvest, then you need to prevent cross pollination from occurring and understand how many numbers of plants you need to save seeds from.
Self pollinating crops are generally the easiest to save seed from. They require less isolation from other varieties, no hand pollination and seeds may be saved from just a few plants.
Cross pollinating species thrive with greater diversity, and their seeds must be saved from many more plants for the population to remain healthy. They also depend on pollination so providing an environment for pollinators, hand pollination or control of exposure to pollinators needs to be observed. Spacing and timing can help to manage cross pollination issues.
The timing of seed harvest is carried out with the optimal season and with the waning moon. Plants will seed through their life cycle and planning their harvest is timed through planting successively and planning your maramataka. Planning your maramataka after your last Autumn species harvest and throughout the cold dormant phase is perfect Winter wananga. Planting the seed when the earth is a certain temperature, smell, texture and colour makes for optimal stress free plants. Planted amongst other types of plants to support one another.
The selection of seed is the important step in our co-evolution. Seeds over time have been known to change form according to the preference of their farmers.. Selection is based on taste, nutrition, storage capacity, density, starchiness, colour, disease resistance, length of growth cycle, length of growing cycle, drought resilience and suitability with other plants. Selection is also based on the look of healthy seed. A favourite thing is seeing the glossiness of fat kamokamo seeds, from a freshly chopped up kamokamo to be savoured in the next meal. The beautiful orange colour that the kamokamo turns when ready for storage which can last well past winter in Te Tai Tokerau.
When gathering ruruhau seed we shake the seed pods after they are fully dry. Soon enough the container fills and we can see a range of seed size and colour. We naturally see we can scatter sow them all and understand that their diversity is strength.
Saving seed means growing the plants to full maturity before harvesting. For most this means leaving them in the field to dry - gourds, puha, kokihi. Some crops require after-ripening (taewa, kamokamo, kumara) or fermentation (wet seeds such as melons, tomatoes). In Aotearoa many of our wild tropical forest species seeds lose their integrity when they dry. This is all taken into consideration when planning what you would like to grow.
After harvest, remove all plant material, including flesh and allow to dry thoroughly on a dish towel. Paper towels can be used but keep in mind if the seed sticks to it you will likely need to plant it all together so spread the seeds out.
Seed is stored dry, cool and dark (just like a rua). We have evolved containers and storage systems that have lasted for hundreds of years. Replaced today by dark glass jars, sacks on pallets, in kete or simply piles on the floor. Covered with dried leaves of the forest, to assist to conserve them and deter rodents.
Woven through the entire process is ceremony, acknowledging the sacred, the life giving forces of the earth, the sky, the gods and goddesses.
This work is a long term loving commitment as it takes 3-5 years to grow out and select good seed in some circumstances. Shelf life can be extended by cool storage, silica, fungus inhibitors, etc.
Community based seed collections promote security but family based collections are essential and is where the knowledge, innovations and practises are held.