Urban food gardens are popping up all over the world, and with good cause: as food prices continue to rise and the very real issues of GMO contamination become more apparent, many people are realizing how important it is to be self-sufficient as far as food production is concerned. As this is the time of year when people are ordering seeds in preparation for this summer’s garden, it’s the perfect opportunity to set up a seed bank to share with your friends, family, and even your community.
- Keep Detailed Notes
- The Ultimate Guide To Starting A Seed Bank
- How To Start A Seed Bank
- Community Seed Banks: How To Start A Seed Bank
- What is a Seed Bank?
- How to Start a Seed Bank
- Joining Community Seed Banks
- Update on the world’s 15 largest seed banks
- What Are Seed Banks: A Complete Guide
- Why Store Seeds?
- Why Seed Banks?
- Storage Conditions and Regeneration
- Alternatives of Seed Banks
- Seed bank
- Creating a Seed Bank
How to Get Started
Ask around to see which local friends are also planning to put together a garden this year, and suggest that you purchase your seeds together. This is a great way to keep the cost of seeds down, while still ensuring that heirloom varieties stay intact.
Consider that an average packet of heirloom, organic tomato seeds may cost $3.50, and contains 35 seeds. If 5 friends get together to buy that packet, each person puts in $0.70, and gets 7 seeds to grow. Since not all seeds are viable and there’s always a “failure to thrive” rate with them, it’s usually a good idea to buy double that amount, but you get the idea—if each seed germinates and grows into a full plant, that’s still 7 tomato plants per person, with an ideal yield of a 20 lb yield per plant, that’s a fair bit of food for a 70-cent investment.
Determine what kinds of plants the group of you would be interested in cultivating so you can share the different varieties between group members. Let each person buy one type of vegetable seed (i.e. one buys peppers, one gets tomatoes, another buys zucchini), and then the seeds are split up and shared. If members want certain varieties for their own gardens that others don’t want, they can buy them for themselves, but try to put in the order all at once to save on shipping costs.
Related: Growing trees from seeds – which work, which won’t
Keep it Simple
If you want to maintain the heirloom seeds from plants that you’re growing, then don’t grow several different varieties in your garden: tomatoes, peppers, beets, squash, brassicas (like broccoli) and many other plants can cross-pollinate, and you’ll end up with hybrid seeds. Even though the rate of cross-pollination is quite low—less than 5percent for some species—you might wish to err on the side of caution if you really want pure seeds.
If all you’re interested in is great-tasting vegetables, then you can grow whatever you like and not think twice about the possibility of hybridization.
Keep Detailed Notes
Just as you’d like to know as much as possible about the type of seeds that you’re planting, those who end up with your harvested seeds would like the same. From the very first day you plant your seeds, keep highly-detailed notes about their progress:
- What date did you plant them?
- Were they planted in potting soil? Coir? Did you start them in damp paper first?
- Did they receive natural light or a heat lamp?
- How many days did it take for the seeds to sprout?
- Of X number planted, how many sprouted?
- Did any die off? Or were they all strong, healthy, and viable?
- When were they transferred outdoors?
- What type of soil were they transferred into? Were they placed in pots? Raised garden beds? Right into the native earth? Hugelkultur piles?
- When did the seedlings flower? When was your first harvest?
- What was the flavor like? Was the item better raw or cooked?
These are just a few examples of the type of information you should record about your plants. The more detailed you are in your notes, the better prepared you are to share info with your seed-sharing group, and the better-informed you’ll all be for the next year’s planting. If you’re all using the same seeds and one person’s plants thrive while another founders, you’ll be able to go over your notes to determine why.
Related: 5 tips for starting a family garden this spring
Saving Your Seeds
Depending on what you’ve decided to grow in your garden, chances are you won’t have to wait until the autumn to start harvesting your own seeds. Herbs like basil and dill can produce seed fairly early, and you can save the pips from fruits and veggies such as strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, and beans as they become harvest-ready throughout the warmer months.
Do a bit of research on the best way to harvest and preserve the seeds from the plants you’ve grown, and be sure to label them clearly.
Be sure to communicate regularly with the other members of your seed bank group, even if it’s just via email. It’s a great idea to create a shared database (like a spreadsheet on Google Drive or similar) so you can all update one another with info about your successes and difficulties, and to also keep a log of who’s growing what. If you can meet in person, even better! You can go so far as to trade items you’ve grown throughout the warmer months, and compare the quality/size/etc. of a particular variety as grown in a few different gardens.
If, at the end of the harvest season, you feel that you’ve enjoyed the seed sharing/saving process and would like to extend the scope of your group, consider getting your community involved. You might begin on your own street—chatting with neighbours you’ve never had the chance to speak to, and organizing a seed-swapping party—or perhaps you’ll just want to keep the trading among close friends, even if you’re not in the same geographic area. The seed bank I share with my friends spans 3 provinces, and not only do we mail seeds to one another, we keep detailed notes in a shared database.
Sharing your seed bank with your immediate community really is a great idea, and if you have the opportunity and the willingness to do so, it can be remarkably rewarding. It’s lovely to get to know different people in one’s neighbourhood, and there are few sights as beautiful as seeing small children pluck tomatoes from community gardens, or watching elders teach their gardening tips and tricks to younger generations. Maintaining seed diversity and preserving organic seeds really is of vital importance to food security, and if we can both encourage and enable the fabulous people around us to use (and share!) organic produce, everyone benefits.
Lead Image via ; all other images © Chiot’s Run
The Ultimate Guide To Starting A Seed Bank
By Jordan Carter Published 11:55 am
How To Start A Seed Bank
Seed banks are growing in popularity at an incredible rate. More and more people are beginning to realise the benefits of seed banks; from the successful gardeners who have a passion for growing their own food to the survivalists who want to be prepared for an apocalypse.
There is nothing quite as rewarding as growing your own food and enjoying the finished result, no matter what kind of lifestyle you live. If you’re interested in starting a seed bank, then you’re in the right place. This is the ultimate guide to starting a seed bank; suitable for both beginners and experts. All of the necessary information you need can be found here!
What Is A Seed Bank?
The main idea behind a Seed Bank is to grow and preserve mass amounts of precious healthy seeds so that, in the unfortunate event of a shortage, there will be plenty of resources to survive from. There are many types of Seed Banks around, but as they’ve grown in popularity, many individuals have started their very own smaller versions.
Why Should I Start A Seed Bank?
It may seem dramatic, but we never know when an apocalypse could strike. Imagine if, one day, you made it home from a busy day at work and found that a disaster has happened and there’s no food left. Chances are that you won’t have very long to survive.
Seed Banks, however, give you the chance to store and grow your own food without a garden from the comfort of your home. And, the more you build on the number of seeds you’re preserving, the more food you’ll have to survive.
Seed Banks aren’t just for survival, either. If you want to get involved with a new hobby or feel like brushing up on gardening skills, then maintaining a Seed Bank is a good way to go. Once you’ve begun, you’ll learn different ways to preserve your sacred seeds and understand exactly what is needed to help them to thrive.
How Do I Start A Seed Bank?
Starting a Seed Bank is surprisingly easy. All that you need is a selection of pots and a dry environment which isn’t prone to any to danger. Once you’ve got the environment sorted, you can start collecting the seeds of your choice. Just as long as you stay organized, you’ll have a fully functional seed bank in no time.
Top Tips For Starting A Seed Bank
So, starting the actual Seed Bank might be a piece of cake, but what is needed to help it thrive? If you’re familiar with the gardening scene, then you’ll understand that the process is all about trial and error. This is also the case when it comes to starting a Seed Bank, but you should not be put off by this. If you follow the tips below, then you will be prepped and ready to start a seed bank and enjoy a new venture.
1. Connect With Local Seed Bankers
The best way to learn about the Seed Bank trade is by speaking to the experts. Try and find out if people in your area have their own Seed Banks; usually, a quick search for an online forum will give you an answer. From here, you can network with local gardeners and begin to understand what works in your environment and what doesn’t.
Connecting with local Seed Bankers will also give you a great sense of community spirit. You’ll all be working towards the same goal of preserving seeds and will certainly have lots to talk about.
2. Utilize The Internet
Nowadays, the valuable information we need is just a click of a button away. Just like you did when finding this article, never be hesitant to head to the internet when you have a question about Seed Banks. The Seed Bank community is very active online, and there’s a whole world of helpful information which is waiting to be soaked up.
3. Use Affordable Equipment
It’s unlikely that you want to get into massive debt when starting your Seed Bank, and luckily, you don’t need to. Although some Seed Banks rely on expensive pieces of electrical equipment, it is perfectly possible to get the job done without. Realistically, all you need is a dry place with the correct type of storage to get the ball rolling. Once you’re set up, you’ll be able to figure out what bits of equipment are worth spending money on.
4. Keep Notes
From the second you begin storing and planting, ensure that you write down notes on your progress. These notes will provide useful when you’re sharing the information with like-minded people in the community. As well as this, the notes will be useful for you to discover what’s work best within your Seed Bank. Some of the most important notes to take will be:
- The date you planted the seeds
- The conditions the seeds were stored in
- How long it took for the seeds to sprout
- The strength of the seeds
The more detailed notes you have, the more prepared you’ll be for the next year. As mentioned previously, this process is all about trial and error, and your notes will help to ensure you’re constantly improving.
5. Always Have A Backup Location
If possible, it’s worth having a backup of your seeds in a different location. This will prove to be very useful in the unfortunate event that one of the locations they’re sorted in becomes prone to danger.
6. Consider A Business Model
Believe it or not, a lot of money can be made from Seed Banks. As you begin to grow more sustainable seeds, people may start to approach you rather than approach commercial growers. Once you’ve got a good project up and running, consider setting up a business model, so that you can make a profit from doing something you love.
7. Enjoy The Experience
The choices in which you make with your Seed Bank will completely depend on why you started it in the first place. The Seed Bank community is a great one to get involved with and you’ll forever be feeling proud of yourself for contributing to an awesome community.
Community Seed Banks: How To Start A Seed Bank
The importance of preserving native and wild species of seeds has never been higher than in today’s world. Agricultural giants are expanding their proprietary varieties, which threaten to encompass original and heirloom species. Collecting and storing seed species provides a consistent source of plant populations that may be threatened by modified seed, loss of habitat and lack of diversity.
Preserving native and wild species of seeds is an important step in protecting a healthy habitat. Plus, it is easy, takes little space and the seed can be stored season after season. Starting a seed bank as a home gardener involves little effort and may start with saving seed from home grown plants or sourcing regional and native seed.
What is a Seed Bank?
Seed banks provide a healthy source of native seed should something happen to natural sources. There are national seed banks dedicated to preserving a population’s wild species and community seed banks, which store regional and heirloom seeds.
Industrial agriculture has created groups of plants with less original genetic material that may be more susceptible to new diseases and pests. Wild species have evolved strong resistance to many of these issues and provide a back-up system of refreshing the plant gene pool. Additionally, seed saving can create opportunities for agriculturally challenged regions and poor farmers when excess seed is donated.
Seed bank information can be found at the local, regional and even international level, as many countries are actively involved in preserving their native plants.
How to Start a Seed Bank
The process may be very simple to start. My gardening ancestors have always dried flower, fruit and vegetable seed for the next season’s planting. A very crude method is to place dried seeds into envelopes and label the contents for later use. Keep the seeds in a cool, dry location for a season or two, depending upon the species.
Access community seed bank information and learn how to start a seed bank from your county extension office or gardening clubs and groups. In addition to seed collecting, the most important aspects of a seed bank are proper storage and complete labeling.
Collecting and Storing Seed
The end of the growing season is usually the best time to collect seeds. Once flowers have lost their petals and seed is nearly dry on the plant, remove the seed head and let dry, Shake or pull seed from its organic housing into a container or envelope.
For vegetables and fruits, use ripe food and remove the seeds manually, spread them out on a cookie sheet (or something similar) in a warm dark room until they are completely dry. Some plants are biennials, which mean they do not flower in the first year. Examples of these are:
Once you have extracted and dried your seed, package them in your preferred container and store in a cool location or the refrigerator.
While the national seed bank has a concrete underground bunker for the complete collection, with climate control and extensive data bases, this is by no means the only way to store and collect seeds. The seeds will need to be kept dry in an envelope, paper bag or even an old cottage cheese or yogurt container.
If you use a container, keep in mind that it has no ventilation and some moisture may build up inside, potentially causing mold. To prevent this from happening, you can put a little packet of rice inside some cheese cloth to act as a desiccant and protect seed from excess moisture.
Use an indelible pen to mark each seed type and include any seed bank information necessary, such as germination periods, growing season length, or any other items pertinent to the species.
Joining Community Seed Banks
Working with a local seed bank is useful because it has access to a wider variety of plants than the home gardener and the seeds are fresher. Seed viability is variable, but it’s best not to store the seeds for more than a couple of years to ensure germination. Some seeds store well for up to 10 years, but most lose viability in a short period.
Community seed banks utilize the older seeds and replenish them with fresh seed to encourage vigor. Seed savers are from all walks of life, but the best way to contact people with like interests is through garden clubs, master gardener services and local nurseries and conservatories.
With climate change on the increase, many crops are in danger of going extinct, and this will undoubtedly cause a global food crisis. The worldwide population explosion has also led to increased consumption of food that exceeds production. Seed banking and conservation is a technique that can avert such unforeseen emergencies. Seeds are stored in secured seed banks and can be retrieved when crops disappear.
How do Seed Banks Work?
Seed banks provide conditions necessary for the longevity of seeds. Seeds are stored under low temperatures that keep seeds dormant till they are needed for replanting.
It’s easy for plants to be stored in their seed form since they are small and therefore, they occupy minimum space. This makes it possible to store a huge variety of seeds. The Slavbard Global Seed Vault is the biggest seed bank and it stores seeds for almost every country in the world!
(Image Courtesy ofWikipedia)
The Importance of Seed Banks
1. Preservation of Crop Diversity
This is the most important reason for the storage of seeds. Just as human beings and animals are adapted to different conditions for survival, so are crops. Different types of the same species exist due to this adaptive nature. Therefore, it is of critical necessity that such diversity is preserved.
2. Protection from Climate Change
For a couple of decades now, the world has witnessed radical climatic change that has been accelerated by increased industrial pollution. Crop extinction is inevitable with such extreme changes. If seeds are stored in seed banks, the danger of total elimination of certain species of crops is eliminated.
3. Protection from Natural Disasters
Natural disasters are unforeseen events that could lead to complete annihilation of crops from the face of the earth. The foresight of keeping seeds in a seed bank could save such a situation. Malaysian rice paddies, for example, were wiped out during the 2004 tsunami and international seed banks provided farmers with seeds that helped them start over.
4. Disease Resistance
Crop diseases are highly contagious and very deadly to plants. A serious breakout could completely eliminate crops. Where diseases have ravaged crops and left no traces that farmers could start on, seed banks can intervene and provide them with seeds that will enable them start on a clean slate.
5. Provide seed material for research
Seeds that are stored in seed banks can be made easily available to scientists and researchers who wish to study these seeds especially if such research could lead to improvement of crop production.
6. Preservation from Man-made Disasters
Man-made disasters such as war and oil spills could lead to the annihilation of crops. Counties that are engaged in war make it difficult for farmers to continue farming and it’s easy for crops to disappear. Once peace is restored, seeds can be retrieved from seed banks and replanted.
Properly stored seeds can stay viable for even millennia, eliminating the risk of losing crops that are critical for the existence of human beings and animals.
Update on the world’s 15 largest seed banks
There are roughly 100,000 global plant varieties endangered in the world. Extreme weather events, over-exploitation of ecosystems, habitat loss, and a lack of public awareness threaten future plant biodiversity. Conservation techniques, such as the creation of seed banks and seed exchanges among farmers, gardeners, and even nations, play an important role in preserving ancient, heirloom varieties of important food crops.
Saving seeds doesn’t only help improve agricultural biodiversity, but helps farmers and researchers find varieties of crops that grow better in different regions, especially as the impacts of climate change become evident. Many farmers groups, non-profits, and governments are conserving crops in their own communities-there are currently more than 1,000 known seed banks, collaboratives, and exchanges around the world.
The Science &; Environmental Health Network (SEHN) has been spearheading work on the Rights of Future Generations for the last decade. Future Generation Guardianship is the right and obligation of all people to protect the commonwealth of Earth-and one another-for the prosperity of Future Generations. SEHN’s dedication and public advocacy to find legal channels for the application of Future Generation Guardianship provides the framework for preserving biodiversity for centuries to come.
Food Tank is honored to collaborate with SEHN by highlighting these 15 important seed-saving projects across the globe that are helping preserve global agricultural biodiversity for Future Generations.
Many of these seed banks are nonprofit organizations, but we would greatly appreciate your recommendations of other public and state-owned banks in the comments. Many public seed banks are in danger of sale, contamination, and other threats. Because they are such a valuable part of the Commonwealth, the public needs to be aware of these assets so that they can work to protect the inheritance of Future Generations.
1. AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center
AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to alleviating poverty and improving nutrition through extensive research and outreach. AVRDC aims to improve the livelihoods of poor rural and urban households through the cultivation of more efficient vegetable varieties combined with effective production methods.
Headquartered in Shanhua, Tainan City in southern Taiwan, AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center now has over 300 staff members throughout Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, and Oceania. One of AVRDC’s primary programs includes collecting, conserving, and distributing germplasms, samples of tissue from plants.
Now the world’s largest public vegetable germplasm collection, the AVRDC Genebank holds more than 59,500 different germplasms from 156 countries. The AVRDC Vegetable Genetic Resources Information System (AVGRIS) is a database containing information about the germplasm collections.
2. Camino Verde
Camino Verde is a nonprofit with locations in Concord, Massachusetts and Puerto Maldonado, Peru. Camino Verde’s mission is to plant trees and encourage future planting through educational programs and public awareness.
The initiative’s Living Seed Bank is a botanical garden with more than 250 tree species, and it protects endangered varieties and provides an arena for further research into multi-species agroforestry systems. Camino Verde has planted some 70 different varieties of fruit trees, 40 flowering species, and enough trees to cover seven hectares of land.
3. Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago (GLBC) Seed Saving Initiative
The Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago Seed Saving Initiative was created in 2012 out of the Chicago Bioneers Conference, where Vandana Shiva challenged audience members to begin their own local seed saving projects. The GLBC mission states that “this project is to honor and elevate the work of seed saving for the purposes of protecting and expanding the non-GMO native and edible seed saving projects.”
The initiative aims to expand by holding local and regional events to bring seed savers together to exchange and store regional varieties.
4. Hawai’i Public Seed Initiative
The Hawai’i Public Seed Initiative (HPSI), created by The Kohala Center and funded by the Ceres Trust, assists Hawaiian farmers by holding workshops to educate them about storing and improving their seed varieties. HPSI also organizes seed exchange events, bringing farmers together to trade varieties from different parts of Hawai’i. HPSI’s goal is to build knowledge of seeds through improved communication and information, and to preserve the diversity of home gardens.
5. International Center for Tropical Agriculture
The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), a member of CGIAR, is dedicated to “reduc hunger and poverty, and improv human health in the tropics through research aimed at increasing the eco-efficiency of agriculture.”
Headquartered in western Colombia, CIAT’s high quality research focuses on developing techniques, technologies, and methods to enhance eco-efficiency in agriculture primarily for small farmers. CIAT conducts crop research with its extensive genebank, which holds 65,000 crop samples from all of CIAT’s regional offices in Kenya, Vietnam, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
CIAT aims to alter legislation and supply information from their research on issues of climate change, farmers’ market access, and gender equity.
6. Louisiana Native Plant Initiative
The Louisiana Natural Resources Conservation Service began the Louisiana Native Plant Initiative to collect seeds, preserve native varieties, increase flora abundance, and research plant materials for future re-vegetation projects. Louisiana is home to a plethora of endangered varieties of plants such as the longleaf pine, switchgrass, big bluestem, and partridge pea. The initiative has spearheaded several new conservation projects, combining public and private managers in order to release native plants for commercial production.
7. Man and the Biosphere Programme
Launched in 1971 under the supervision of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB Programme) aims to conserve biological resources by improving the relationship between humans and the environment. Today, with the help of the MAB Programme, there are 621 biosphere reserves categorized in 117 different countries. The MAB Programme utilizes international, regional, and sub-regional partnerships to increase their global intelligence work.
8. Millennium Seed Bank Partnership
The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, started by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is the largest plant conservation project in the world. Since 2000, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership has saved 10 percent of the world’s wild plant species at their location in Wakehurst, England. The seed bank has one billion seeds from 130 partnering countries.
Similar to other seed banks, each seed is duplicated and the replica remains in the home country of origin. Kew’s long-term goal is to house seeds from 25 percent of the world’s bankable plants by 2020. Researchers at the seed bank can test centuries-old plants for medicinal purposes, assess horticultural value, and produce more seeds to increase global biodiversity.
9. Native Seed / SEARCH
Native Seed / SEARCH (NS/S) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to seed conservation in the Southwest United States and Northwest Mexico. Based in Tucson, Arizona, NS/S has a state-of-the art conservation facility, 2,000 varieties of arid land-adapted seeds, and a reputation as a leader in heirloom conservation. Their seed bank currently houses varieties of traditional crops including corn, beans, and squash once used by the Apache, Havasupai, Hopi, Maricopa, Mayo, and many other tribes.
NS/S aims to maintain the genetic purity of these traditional, wild strands of crops. In order to conduct further research and education workshops, NS/S purchased a conservation farm in 1997 to continue to build public awareness about the importance of biodiversity.
Navdanya is a research-based initiative founded by Dr. Vandana Shiva, a world-renowned scientist and environmentalist. Navdanya, meaning “nine seeds” in Hindi, saves endangered seed varieties through its seed vault, and provides support for local farmers. They also conduct research on sustainable farming practices at their own organic farm in Uttarakhand, North India.
Navdanya has collected roughly 5,000 crop varieties, primarily staples such as rice, wheat, millet, kidney beans, and medicinal plants. Navdanya’s outreach program has established 111 additional seed banks in 17 Indian states. Navdanya has also created a learning center, Bija Vidyapeeth in Doon Valley, Uttarakhand. Bija Vidyapeeth offers courses on biodiversity protection, agroecological practices, water conservation, and more.
11. New York City Native Plant Conservation Initiative
In 2008, the New York City Department of Parks &; Recreation (DPR), in partnership with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG), started the New York City Native Plant Conservation Initiative to promote and conserve diverse native plant species. Launched with 34 endangered species, the initiative hopes to preserve New York City’s biodiversity and generate awareness surrounding the conservation of urban plant varieties.
DPR and BBG use their research on endangered plants to create new management strategies in the interest of promoting future biodiversity in the city. Additionally, the New York City Native Plant Conservation Initiative has a list of all native plant species in the city, which is used to develop seed transfer zones without diminishing the genetic fitness of the native plants.
12. The NSW Seedbank
The NSW Seedbank began in 1986 as an initiative to collect wild seeds for the Australian Botanic Garden in Mount Annan. Over the last three decades, the seed bank has grown to save and preserve Australian native and threatened plant species.
After a major upgrade in 1999 and creating a partnership with the Millennium Seed Bank in 2003, the NSW Seedbank launched a range of horticultural research projects in their on-site laboratory. NSW Seedbank now documents 600 threatened plant species and 81 threatened ecological communities.
13. Seed Savers Exchange
Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) is a non-profit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. SSE’s mission is to “conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered food crop heritage for Future Generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.”
Headquartered in Decorah, Iowa, Seed Savers Exchange began in 1975 and its seed bank is now one of the largest in North America. Individuals and organizations become members of the seed bank and SSE facilitates communication and exchange of seeds among members.
Aside from their primary seed bank location at Heritage Farm in Decorah, SSE also maintains seed banks at the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, Colorado and at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. SSE also offers services to nonmembers through the sale of more than 600 heirloom varieties.
14. Slow Food International
Slow Food International is a movement that began in the mid-1980s to give individuals an alternative to fast food and fast lives. Slow Food International believes in “neo-gastronomy,” or the recognition of the strong connections between plate, planet, people, and culture, and has more than 100,000 members in 150 countries.
The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity was created in 2003 as a subcategory of their Terra Madre initiative to increase and preserve food biodiversity. The Foundation’s Ark of Taste program collects regionally and culturally significant food products to catalogue and promote their global consumption.
Their goal is to preserve history and traditions relating to food products around the world. So far, 1,200 products have been catalogued internationally, including the Pampin Mamey Sapote, native to Central America. Many national and local Slow Food organizations have begun their own seed saving initiatives to preserve heirloom varieties.
15. Svalbard Global Seed Vault
CGIAR and conservationist Cary Fowler founded the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in 2008. The vault, also known as the “doomsday vault,” rests more than 1,100 kilometers south of the North Pole. Seeds are stored in permafrost conditions, approximately -18 degrees Celsius, to ensure preservation. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault acts as a sort of insurance policy for other seed banks around the world, only accessing the seeds if the original is destroyed.
The Seed Vault can hold up to 2.25 billion seeds in total, equaling 500 seeds of some 4.5 million crop varieties. Priority for space in the vault is given to seeds that can ensure food production and sustainable agriculture, and the collection is primarily composed of seeds from developing countries. The seed vault is managed by the Norwegian government, the Global Crop Diversity Trust, and the Nordic Genetic Resource Center.
For almost a decade, researchers at the Svalbard Seed Bank in Norway have been collecting and storing samples of seeds from around the globe, meticulously preserving them in a vault carved 400 feet into the side of a mountain in the Arctic Circle. Then, one day in October of 2015, something unprecedented happened: researchers began taking the seeds out, rolling 138 black boxes containing 38,000 seeds out of the steel and concrete vault, through its doors and back into the world.
The Svalbard Seed Bank is perhaps the most famous example of a seed bank, or gene bank — a place meant to conserve biodiversity so that, in the event of a catastrophic event like drought, disease or war, key crop species can be repopulated. For the first Svalbard withdrawal, that catastrophe was manmade — the seeds had been sent to Svalbard before rebels took over another seed bank in Aleppo during the Syrian Civil War. The seeds removed from Svalbard — a mix of cereals, wheat, barley, fava beans, lentils and chickpeas — were sent some 3,000 miles to Lebanon and Morocco, where scientists will continue research that had begun in Aleppo. Researchers hope that their projects will help develop new, hardier strains of these crops that could eventually withstand climate change or disease.
The researchers working on these seeds, both in Aleppo and around the world, were lucky. They were able to ensure that duplicates of their seeds existed somewhere other than their gene bank, and they were able to quickly and effectively identify the seeds they needed when they had to make a withdrawal. For hundreds of gene banks around the world — especially those operating at a regional or national level — this could easily not have been the case.
Gene banks are often thought of as a last line of defense for biodiversity — a reassurance that even if the worst should happen, there are backups in place to ensure that the world can still access crucial crops like maize, or important stores of genetic material, like a strain of wheat that grows particularly well in dry climates. In reality, however, gene banks face a slew of problems, from missing key pieces of biodiversity to a lack of communication between gene banks to uncertain funding.
In conservation, there are two primary methods of preserving a particular plant, animal or piece of genetic information: in situ conservation, where the sample in question is preserved within its ecosystem (either naturally, or human-made) and ex situ conservation, where the sample is preserved outside of its ecosystem. Seed banks, or gene banks, are one of the primary methods of ex situ conservation — a place where seeds, cuttings or important genetic material from crops, both domesticated and wild, are stored, catalogued and preserved for future research.
Beans at the CIAT gene bank in Colombia. (Neil Palmer, CIAT (BY CC-SA))
Gene banks are a relatively new concept tied to a very old idea: collecting plants of interest in a particular space in the interest of scientific inquiry. They trace their roots back to botanic gardens, which originally served as repositories for the academic study of medicinal plants as early as the 16th century. Later, as European Imperialism expanded across the globe, scientists and collectors would bring back plants from exotic locations to gardens like the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, in England. In addition to being used for science, these plants served as the basis for the burgeoning commercial trade of crops like coffee, cocoa and palm oil.
As European collectors increasingly filled botanic gardens with crops from faraway locales, the scientific underpinnings of the gardens became less of a priority. In their stead, breeders began creating collections of plant genetic material that could be accessed to help introduce valuable traits into plant breeds. Then, in the 1960s and 70s, the idea of collecting this genetic diversity in an organized and systematic way — in gene banks — was born.
Today, there are some 1,750 gene banks around the world, preserving more than 7 million samples of seeds, cuttings or genetic material. There are massive, international gene banks like Svalbard, which is managed by the Crop Trust, with help from the government of Norway and the regional organization NordGen. And there are regional gene banks, which operate with small budgets in remote areas. Both are crucial to preserving biodiversity, yet for smaller gene banks, the difficulties associated with acquiring, storing and disseminating the genetic material can be difficult to overcome. International gene banks like Svalbard often have the help of organizations like the Crop Trust and endowments that help them maintain a relatively steady staff of long-term researchers and funding — luxuries that national and regional gene banks can sometimes lack.
“Gene banks are an anthropogenic construct,” Christina Walters, research leader for plant germplasm with the USDA’s National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, located in Fort Collins, Colorado, says. “They are only as good as the infrastructure we humans provide, also the imagination that we humans apply to them. Gene banks don’t create biodiversity any more than libraries create literature.”
One major piece of biodiversity that gene banks are often missing are crop wild relatives — the undomesticated, but related, strains of staple food crops like corn and wheat. A recent study conducted by the Crop Trust looked at 1,076 wild relatives related to 81 species of some of the most important staple crops in the world. The researchers found that 70 percent of those wild relatives are insufficiently represented in the world’s gene banks. Perhaps more concerning, they found that 29 percent of those crop wild relatives — some 313 species — aren’t represented at all in gene banks.
That’s a problem, most of all because crop wild relatives often have evolved to grow in less-than-ideal conditions, thriving in places where relatively low moisture or extremely high altitude. As climate change shifts precipitation patterns and global temperature, it’s difficult to say what traits will become most important for crops, which is why preserving traits — even those that previously have not shown much promise for commercial growing — is crucial.
“Think of the human race: we didn’t know anything about Ebola 20 years ago, and we had no idea we would need a vaccine for Ebola,” Charlotte Lusty, gene bank programs coordinator for the Crop Trust, says. “It’s the same for a plant in a field. If you’re growing corn or wheat in a field, you have no idea what you’ll need or what disease will come, and that vaccine will come from a gene bank.”
The Svalbard seed vault is filled with more than a million distinct seeds, but keeping them in cold storage is only part of what the vault does. (Dag Endresen , via Wikimedia Commons)
In addition to missing crucial pieces of genetic diversity, gene banks, especially at the national and regional level, often lack the kind of consistent funding necessary to ensure that the projects can carry out their long-term missions. A gene bank is about much more than collecting plant genetic material for storage — much of the day-to-day work of gene banks involving preparing and shipping samples to researchers and breeders around the world. Directors of gene banks often like to show off the cold-storage rooms, where the genetic material is stored — but those areas are often fairly low-maintenance and low-cost compared to the challenge of actually maintaining the collections.
“It’s not a huge investment to do that,” Lusty says of collecting and storing seeds. “The difficulty comes in monitoring them, making sure they remain viable and distributing those seeds.”
Take, for instance, a country like Venezuela, which is in the midst of an economic crisis that has manifested, at least in part, with rolling blackouts across the country. When those blackouts occur, the country’s gene banks — of which it has several — don’t have the electricity necessary to ensure that the seeds remain at an optimal temperature for preservation. Within a few days of a sustained blackout, those collections could be completely lost to the world.
“When it comes to national gene banks, there we are in a very difficult situation. It’s very much the government that needs to recognize the importance and value of these collections,” Lusty says.
The challenges associated with regional and national gene banks are a large part of the reason why organizations like the Crop Trust and CGIAR, a global agricultural research consortium that manages 11 gene banks around the world, are so focused on ensuring that no gene bank is an island unto itself. The Crop Trust has campaigned for years to raise an endowment that can be used to help gene banks secure the kind of consistent funding necessary to make long-term investments in research and staff. According to Lusty, the endowment is currently large enough to make anywhere between $5 to 6 million available to gene banks each year — which, considering that a medium-sized gene bank needs about $1 million annually to operate, is far from enough.
“Sadly, governments generally don’t put the kind of resources they need to behind these gene banks to be able to allow them to work to this level, which is why it is essential for something like the Crop Trust to at least support these international gene banks,” Lusty says.
In a perfect system, international, national and regional gene banks would all function in tandem, working to preserve the greatest amount of genetic diversity with the least amount of duplication. That means that regional gene banks would largely focus on collecting species native to that particular area, with larger international gene banks serving as back-ups to these collections.
And the system does function like that, at least some of the time. But to help the world’s gene banks run even more efficiently, experts like Lusty say that it’s increasingly important for gene banks, at every level, to have a clear way of communicating what they have — and what they need — with one another. To ensure this type of communication pathway exists, the Crop Trust helped set up an online tool known as Genesys, in 2008, that acts as a kind of open-source catalog for participating gene banks. But Genesys remains incomplete, with missing collections that employees at the Crop Trust are working to have included in the database. In April, Brazil’s national agricultural research organization, EMBRAPA, announced that it would add its collections to Genesys, which was a major win for the Crop Trust’s continued expansion of the database.
Ultimately, the image of a gene bank as a “doomsday vault” might be the biggest challenge to overcome. By thinking of gene banks as static, apocalyptic programs of last resort, researchers like Walters worry that the day-to-day role that gene banks play in ensuring food security is ultimately lost on the public.
“People don’t really consider gene banks as actively used — like a library,” she says. “ National Plant Germplasm System distributes 250,000 accessions a year. People think of gene banks as if they are a warehouse, as if it’s merely an exercise of putting seeds in bags and putting bags in the freezer. But the utility and the accessibility of the genetic resources in the gene bank is the big story.”
What Are Seed Banks: A Complete Guide
A seed bank, as the name suggests, is used to store seeds to preserve their genetic diversity. In another way, seed banks can be considered as a type of gene banks as they are intended to preserve genes. This gives you a brief guide about seed banks and how they work.
Why Store Seeds?
There are numerous reasons to store seeds. Some of them are mentioned below.
- To increase yield, nutritional quality, taste, disease resistance, and drought tolerance of crops
- To conserve biodiversity ex-situ by precluding the loss of genetic diversity in imperiled or rare plant species
Why Seed Banks?
Plants that were used centuries ago are not used frequently nowadays. Seed banks are, therefore, used to preserve their cultural and historical value. Seeds in seed banks are stored at a constant low temperate and moisture to guard them against the loss of genetic properties. Seed banks can also be considered as seed libraries that contain information about combating plant stress and how to create genetically modified seeds. Seed banks are not a new initiative and date back to several decades and centuries. According to 420expertadviser, seed banks are the best way to go for purchasing high-quality seeds at affordable prices.
Storage Conditions and Regeneration
Seeds have life, and keeping them alive and viable for an extended period requires adequate storage temperature and moisture. As these seeds mature to the mother plants, many of them acquire the innate ability to survive death. Moreover, the survival of these orthodox seeds can be extended by low temperature and moisture storage. However, the level of dryness and moisture is variable and depends upon the longevity required and investment that is affordable in the infrastructure.
According to the generalized rule, the relative temperature (in Fahrenheit) and humidity should be less than 100. Another rule suggests that the reduction of temperature by 10 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity by 1 percent can double the life span of a seed.
Similar to any other storage and preservation facility, seed banks also face challenges. Some common challenges faced by seed banks are:
- Identifying the ideal seed to store is the biggest challenge. The collection needs to be relevant, useful to the public, and provide considerable genetic diversity. The collection should be efficient and unique without any duplicate materials.
- Seed banks intent on preserving seeds for hundreds of years, which is probably a big challenge. Orthodox seeds are susceptible to regular storage customs, but many seed types require unconventional methods. Technology advancements are common and happen at a rapid pace, making it difficult for seed banks to upgrade regularly.
Alternatives of Seed Banks
Other than seed banks, there are a few methods that can be used to keep seeds alive and preserve their genetic diversity. Some of these methods include:
- In-situ conservation is a renowned conservation technique that includes the creation of natural habitats (like National Wildlife Refuges and Natural Parks) to preserve the targeted seed. In-situ conservation is an on-farm process that allows plants to use the process of natural selection.
- Seed Libraries, are similar to seed banks and are used to preserve the local genetic material.
Seeds can be preserved for hundreds, even thousands of years. The oldest carbon-14 seed was the seed of a Judean date palm and was around 2000 years old. In 2012, Russian scientists claimed that they had regenerated a leaf companion from a seed 332,000 years old.
The benefits of seed banking are:
- Preservation of Crop Diversity: One of the most important advantages of seed banks is the preservation of crop diversity. Since different types of the same species exist due to adaptive nature, it is essential to preserve diversity.
- Protection from Climate Change: Since the planet is suffering a rapid increase in climate due to various human activities, it is essential to preserve the crops. Crops are prone to extinction because of climate rise, and seed banks ensure that this extinction is avoided.
- Protection from Natural Disasters: Nature disasters play a significant role in the destruction of crops. Seedbanks are used to safeguard crops from such annihilation.
- Disease Resistance: Crop diseases are contagious and can be deadly for the whole group. Seed banks ensure such diseases are identified and eliminated at an early stage.
- Preservation from Man-made Disasters: Disasters like wars and other man-made blunders can destroy the crops. Seed banks make sure crops are preserved from such human disasters.
Seed banks are an excellent initiative that has been around for decades and centuries. Seed banks are used for preserving the genetic diversity of crops that otherwise are on the verge of losing their existence. Seed banks protect crops from various disasters, including climatic change, natural disasters, and disastrous human activities. Seed banks are usually funded by the public and are considered more like non-profit organizations. Alternatives to seed banks include seed libraries and in-situ conservation.
A seed bank is the reservoir of viable seeds present in a plant community. Seed banks are evaluated by a variety of methods. For some species , it is possible to make careful, direct counts of viable seeds. In most cases, however, the surface substrate of the ecosystem must be collected and seeds encouraged to germinate by exposure to light, moisture, and warmth. The germinating seedlings are then counted and, where possible, identified to species.
In most cases, the majority of seeds are found in surface layers. For example, the organic-rich forest floor contains almost all of the forest’s seed bank, with much smaller numbers of seeds present in the mineral soil .
The seeds of some plant species can be remarkably long-lived, extending the life of the seed bank. For example, in northeastern North America, the seeds of pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica ) and red raspberry (Rubus idaeus ) can persist in the forest floor for perhaps a century or longer. This considerably exceeds the period of time that these ruderal species are present as mature, vegetative plants during the initial stages of post-disturbance forest succession . However, because these species maintain a more-or-less permanent presence on the site through their persistent seed bank, they are well placed to take advantage of temporary opportunities of resource availability that follow disturbance of the stand by wildfire , windstorm, or harvesting.
The seeds of many other plant species have only an ephemeral presence in the seed bank. In addition to some tropical species whose seeds are short-lived, many species in temperate and northern latitudes produce seeds that cannot survive exposure to more than one winter. This is a common trait in many grasses, asters, birches, and most conifers, including pines, spruces, and fir. Often these species produce seeds that disperse widely, and can dominate the short-lived seed banks during the autumn and springtime. Species with an ephemeral presence in the seed bank must produce large numbers of well-dispersed seeds each year or at least frequently, if they are to successfully colonize newly disturbed sites and persist on the landscape.
Although part of the plant community, seed banks are much less prominent than mature plants. In some situations, however, individual plants in the seed bank can numerically dominate the total-plant density of the community. For example, in some cultivated situations the persistent seed bank can commonly build up to tens of thousands of seeds per square meter and sometimes densities which exceed 75,000 seeds per square meter. Even natural communities can have seed banks in the low tens of thousands of seeds per square meter. However, these are much larger than the densities of mature plants in those ecosystems.
The seed bank of the plant community is of great ecological importance because it can profoundly influence the vigour and species composition of the vegetation that develops after disturbance.
Creating a Seed Bank
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