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Saving Seeds [Agriculture
Posted on March 2, 2015 @ 05:50:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Last Friday I attended a full day workshop on saving seeds. We went through some concepts such as annuals, bi-annuals, open-pollinated, minimum separation distances, and minimum viable populations (latter two required to ensure seed integrity). We applied these concepts to how we might design the grow out of different species of vegetable plants for seed production. Then we discussed seed processing methods for different types of seeds and finally methods of seed storage.

There were around 20 people in attendance. All were experienced gardeners of one sort or another. We were quite a diverse group of people coming together to satisfy a niche interest. Some were wanting to bathe in thoughts of growing plants again, some were community gardeners, two were operating a CSA, one was operating a market garden, one had kids that were happily involved in her gardening and she wanted to learn more so she could teach her kids more, another couple believed harder times were coming and wanted to be better prepared, one was managing a seed saving library and wanted to enlist us, and there were others, like me, who are interested in becoming better gardens and wanted to learn more about an important topic in master gardening, namely, saving your own seeds.

The population of gardeners is quite diverse. People come to it from a variety of backgrounds and motivations. We all perform many of the same actions but when we consider why we perform these actions there are a huge variety of reasons.

The diversity made me think about how I might segment home gardeners into different customer groups. Imagine that I have a new gardening product or service and was wanting to target the market of home gardeners with my product or service. The size of this market in North America might be around 25 to 35 percent of households. That could also include those just growing flowers; neverthess, it is a good size market. If you mow your lawn are you still a gardener? That might raise the household gardener estimate even higher.

According to Peter Thiel (see strategic small monopolies), it might be a mistake to initially target the home gardener market as a whole with your product or service. He would advise some further segmentation of that market so that you can establish a small monopoly in some segment of it. Ideally you would also not face too much competition for your product or service. When I consider the diversity of reasons people come to home gardening, I don't think it would be hard to imagine that the market of home gardeners can be segmented into finer tuned categories.

One category of gardener you could focus on would be the seed saving gardener. This might only represent 5% of all home gardeners but given the size of the overall home gardener market, that would still be a large target market as home gardening is the most popular hobby in North America.

If you decide to target seed saving gardeners with your product or service, you might continue to ask whether this category can in turn be subdivided in finer categories that you should target first. For example, there might be seed savers who are mostly concerned with maintaining a healthy and diverse seed supply given the many threats to it from large industrial seed producers who mostly sell hybrid seeds that, by design, can't be harvested for seed plasm that will be true to type. So you have your germ-plasm seed savers who are into seed saving for the good of the planet or perhaps just to ensure their own families food supply into the future. They might also want to get more in touch with nature by saving seeds. They are not into it to make money and perhaps believe that to be in it for that reason might be corrupting.

Another group of seed savers are into it for commercial reasons (which does not also preclude them from being in it for other reasons). Open pollinated seed research stalled after the 1970's and hybrid seeds came into popularity for a variety of reasons. Today many people view open-pollinated varieties as outdated compared to newer "hybrid" methods of plant breeding. That, however, is not necessarily true. Open pollinated seed varieties can potentially be bred to adapt faster to local climate, soil, and pest conditions than hybrid varieties. To retain intellectual property on these open pollinated varieties, smaller seed growers are increasingly using open-source forms of licensing to seed distributors. All of this is to say that an open pollinated seed breeder might be a market an entrepreneur could target for a gardening product or service.

When segmenting your customer into a niche you want to target, the process often consists of a filtering operation where you start with a large category and then apply filters to that category that make sense in order to get down to a target market where there there might not be too much competition for your product or service and you might be able to make some inroads quickly.

You might also consider inverting the process of product development by finding a customer segment that you think is growing and potentially profitable to target. You could then design a product or service for that market rather than trying to find a market for your product or service. If my research indicated that interest in seed saving among home gardeners was going to take off, that they might be willing to spend a good amount of money on a seed saving product/service, I might think about solutions I might provide to them for pain points they might experience as they get into it.

I'll probably experiment with saving some seed this upcoming growing season. I've tried it before with barley seed but my seed got contaimated by weed seed that I wasn't able to properly thresh and winnow out. Some of the weed seed also came from soil that was not properly prepared to be free of weed seeds. I gave up on that experiment but I think I might have better luck if I focus on a couple of vegetable plants first that won't be so hard to properly monitor, harvest, and process for seeds.

Seeds should be saved in the exact opposite conditions they need for growth: No light, no moisture, no heat. Putting you seeds in a properly sealed glass jar in the fridge (not freezer) is often a good spot to store them. Having a store of selected seeds that you can use to plant out productive and nutrient dense vegetables in your climate and conditions is a good insurance policy to have and saves any home and commercial grower a large input cost.

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