An extensive backyard garden can be a substantial source of food, while some long-term disaster is playing out. But I consider it highly likely that, in such a situation, all stores will quickly sell out of gardening seeds. So your main source of seeds for planting will be seeds that you bought and stored, and seeds that you harvest from your garden, and save to plant the next crop.
But, as you may have read on other survival and prepping type blogs, hybrid gardening seeds are not suitable for use in seed-saving. Hybrid seeds do not come true to type when the seeds from the first generation of plants are saved and replanted. What you end up growing in that second generation is unpredictable. Of course, it will be the same species of plant, but not necessarily the same cultivar. The qualities of the plant, from color and size to productivity and nutrition, may vary greatly in subsequent generations. This occurs because the plant is a hybrid; that particular cultivar can only be produced in the first generation by a controlled cross between two different varieties of plant.
If you want to save your own seeds, you will need to buy the type of seeds that are non-hybrid; these seeds are called heirloom or open-pollinated. The term heirloom implies that the particular variety has been grown from saved seed for many generations of plants (or many generations of gardeners). Therefore, the variety is stabilized; it comes true to type, meaning that the qualities of the crop will be reliable from one planting to another. The term open-pollinated means that the plant is not the result of a hybrid cross, in which pollination is carefully controlled. This is the type of seed that you should prefer: heirloom or open-pollinated.
Most seed catalogues have a number of seeds that are heirloom or open-pollinated. But if the seed says “F1″, it means that it is a first generation hybrid, which is not what you want. The larger seed companies only offer a limited number of plant varieties that are suitable for seed saving. Combine the seeds available from any 5 or 10 commercial seed catalogues, and you have dozens of varieties to choose from — only dozens. The typical commercial seed catalog is a few dozen pages in length.
I’m a member of Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), an organization that brings together gardeners from around the world, who save seeds and offer them for sale through the Exchange. Each year, about this time (late January), SSE offers its Yearbook containing a list of all the varieties of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds for sale from members to other members. The 2011 Yearbook offered “13,876 unique varieties (and 21,711 total listings) to members from members, making it one of the greatest sources of heirloom varieties in the world.” Most of these thousands of varieties are unavailable from commercial seed companies. The typical SSE Yearbook is 500 pages in length, yet it has no photos and only a brief description of each variety.
If you are interested in gardening and seed-saving as a way to prep for short- or long-term disasters, join us at SSE.