Vegetable Plants and Seeds
Choosing to address vegetable plants and seeds brings up the chicken and egg conflict: which is more important to approach first?
In the early Spring we generally attend something called "Seedy Sunday" in our neighboring city of Nanaimo. This is a trade show gathering of organic farmers and seed savers who offer their seeds and plants for sale to gardeners. There are also interesting and valuable workshops and lectures related to seeds and farming or gardening. The emphasis is on farming organically and avoiding the spread of GM (genetically-modified) terminator seeds. Read more about this scary phenomenon
here in a brochure by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.
Like grannies from time immemorial, I truly do not want to leave my grandchildren in a worse world than I was born into myself. It seems evident to me that sustainable agriculture is an idea that begs to be passed down. Actually, I would like to see my grandchildren's generation take it from the idea state and apply it broadly to our globe... are we leaving them the resources to do that?
Getting back to the topic of vegetable plants and seeds-- I was told the other day that when one wants to save seed (part of being 'sustainable' is to have your own food seed to plant so you are not dependent on the big multinational seed companies), it is very important to consider the entire plant that you derive the seed from. What qualities do you want to encourage with your line of produce? Vibrant colour? Early production? Delicious taste? High yield? Late in bolting to seed? Size of fruit? Storage life? Disease and insect resistance? With these features in mind, take a look at the plant(s) you are taking your seeds from. Do they meet your criteria? If not, DON'T save seed from them.
You can even refine your strain of plants more if you very carefully choose only the most desirable healthy plants to take your seeds to save. And it is generally a good idea to save from many plants to have a broader genetic diversity (exceptions being the self-pollinated, inbred plants like peas and beans or squash and pumpkins).
TECHNIQUES FOR MAINTAINING PURITY:
If you are growing particular long-standing "heritage" seeds and want to maintain their 'true' qualities' then you will need to have an awareness of how to keep the plants from being pollinated by other strains of the same species. This can get pretty complicated for the 'weekend gardener' and you might just feel like giving up. You really need to decide what your goals are. Do you want that maintain that lovely succulent flavour that you have only ever encountered in your Granny's heritage tomato stock, or are you okay with the standard tomato taste? Do you really love little Brussels Sprouts, teeny-tiny little cabbages that you can eat in one mouthful-- but hate the larger Brassicas like cauliflower? Well, interestingly, if you plant them all nearby each other (or if your neighbor has a different variety), in time, you will likely have a broad range of leaf sizes, colours, textures and mouth-sizes-- but still all Brassica family members. You need to decide how important the purity is for you.
Some techniques include:Isolation Distancing~ the size of your plant population, geographical and vegetation barriers, and whether your pollinator insects have alternate forage sources all have a bearing on the distances you need to maintain between various plantings. Sandy, my bee-keeper friend, is now having to assess whether she returns her hives to a friend's yard since he now has a new neighbor himself-- will the new guy use the Monsanto herbicide Round-Up? If that happens, then Sandy's friend will not only face the "bio-science" threat to his plants, but he will no longer have Sandy's bees to pollinate his heritage rhodos and his vegetable plot. Sounds like an all-round lose-lose situation.Time Isolation~ Different varieties have different maturity dates and can be planted at an earlier or later time to avoid flowering and being receptive to pollination when a nearby different, undesirable plant, is sending out its pollen.Mechanical Isolation by caging or bagging~ involves covering the plants with either bags or cages to prevent unwanted pollination by insects, the wind, or through self-pollination.Hand Pollination~ the fairly labour-intense act of tying a bag around the unopened blossoms and transferring pollen, when they are ready, from the stigma, and retying the bag to prevent other pollination from taking place.
**Remember to mark plants that you plan to keep the seed from so they don't get accidentally eaten by family members (a brightly-coloured ribbon should do the trick)
**If you are going to all this trouble, please keep at least brief records so you can refer back to them in years to come.
STORAGE:Store only thoroughly dried seed-- don't allow it to become damp after the initial drying.Keep the storage temperature as low as possible-- placing dry seeds in a glass container with a lid on it, and marking on the container the date, seed variety, and other pertinent information, and then placing in the freezer, is a great idea.It's not a good idea to plant all your seeds in one year in case there is a crop failure. Also, don't EAT ALL YOUR SEEDS from year to year-- always have some seed stock that you faithfully maintain. I was so blessed to have had, in my last yard, 'wild' and prolific spinach that my old friend Louise's husband brought over from the Ukraine when he came in the 1930s.
Here is a picture of my bee-keeper, seed-sharing new friend Sandy in her stall at the Seedy Sunday Gathering in Nanaimo, March '08:
SEED SAVING EXCHANGES:Seeds of Diversity Canada at www.seeds.ca is a charitable organization whose purpose is to search out and preserve heritage varieties. They publish an annual Seed Exchange Directory.Seedy Sunday events take place all over the globe.
A really fine idea to encourage sustainability among your family and community is for you to adopt a heritage vegetable variety to grow and share.
Thanks so much to Jessica Snider, Environmental Educator at the Nanaimo Seedy Sunday event for the information she provided in handouts and in the informative workshop on Seed Collecting and Storage. You can call Jessica at (250)722-2292
SEED MAP: Exploring the State of Global Agro-Diversity