Taking Inventory: Seeds

Growing pains

Ahh, springtime. When the sun begins once again to shed its warmth across a frozen land. When bats, bears, and squirrels emerge, blinking, from their hibernation. When blossom erupts from the branches of bushes and trees, and farmers begin to plant their crops for the coming year.

Crops are one of Minecraft’s oldest features – added in February 2010, during the Indev phase of the game’s development. To plant crops you’ll need seeds – which also happen to be our item of the week. There are four kinds of seed in Minecraft – for wheat, melon, pumpkin and beetroot. But you might count nether wart, carrot, potato, chorus flowers and cocoa beans as seeds too, and possibly even mushrooms. They all grow stuff, right?

Most of Minecraft’s seeds work in roughly the same way – use a hoe on grass to turn it into farmland, make sure it’s irrigated with water and has access to some sort of light, and then right-click to plant the seed. The plant will go through several stages of growth, which can be accelerated with bonemeal, until it’s finally ready to harvest with a right-click.

Harvesting a crop will sometimes give you seeds (or you might have to put the harvested crop in a crafting grid to get the seeds), so keeping a farm going is easy enough. But how do you get started on your botanical journey? Well, you can either pilfer seeds from a village (be nice and replant any crops you destroy in the process), find them in chests, or buy them from a trader. In the case of pumpkins and melons, you can also find them growing in the wild.

While there might be relatively few types of seeds in Minecraft, real-world seeds come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The smallest are made by certain tropical orchids – too small to see with the naked eye, they float in the air like dust. The largest is the enormous seed of the coco de mer tree – which can be 30cm long, and weighs up to 18kg. It’s a protected species in its native Seychelles, because of its rarity. More commonly, the coconut is also a seed – and a particularly large one, at that.

You might not think about seeds very often, but they’re absolutely crucial to the survival of the human race. It was the development of farming that allowed us to move beyond hunter-gatherer societies and become a real civilization. Without seeds and farming, we’d have no food to eat – even the animals we get meat from rely on seeds for their food. Scientists estimate that there are about 200,000 edible species of plants on Earth, but we eat only about 200 or so (I guess we’re just picky?), and about half of our calories come from just three crops – maize, rice and wheat.

Without those crops, we’d be toast. That’s why there are a number of secure locations across the world which carefully store samples of the most important crops. These “seed banks” could save our bacon, literally, by letting us start over again if a disease emerges which wipes out our production of a particular crop.

The most important seed bank of all is buried deep in the permafrost of the icy island of Svalbard, which lies close to the North Pole. There, about a million spare copies of seeds from across the whole world are stored, in case of disaster. It’s a backup of our backups.

Let’s hope we never need to use it. Have a great weekend!

Written by
Duncan Geere