Author: Jennifer Schell • Date: March 17, 2014 • Appears in:
“Seed is the embodiment of bio cultural diversity. It contains millions of years of biological and cultural evolution of the past, and the potential of millennia of a future unfolding.” Dr. Vandana Shiva
The Seedy Days of Early Spring
Seedy Saturdays have become an annual event in communities across the country over the past few years. Uniting those interested in plant biodiversity, heritage and organic gardening and seeds, this community of ‘green thumbs’ have the chance to meet, exchange and purchase seeds, share tips, expertise, plans and enjoy the general merriment of finding common ground in a farmer-style market setting.
Heralding the change of season and the inevitable arrival of springtime, it is time to plan your gardens! The seeds available at these seed-focused community markets feature heritage and/or rare, hard-to-find varieties that are seldom if ever found on the seed racks in garden centers or even catalogues.
This annual event has been occurring across Canada for 25 years! Seedy Saturday creator, Sharon Rempel first organized her green community to get together for a sharing of ideas and seed swap in Vancouver in 1989. Seedy Saturday and Sunday events are both a wonderful celebration of the importance of seed saving as well as representing the heart of food security in every community.
Sunshine Farms in Kelowna, BC are renowned for their seed saving efforts and for their impressive catalogue of seeds offered for sale amongst other things. Farming for 25 years now, John and Sher Alcock are a much loved and respected part of their community. They are pioneers in educating consumers and farmers about the importance of seed saving and are responsible for spearheading a seed swap in their area as well being a big part of the local Farmers Market.
John explains, “We started saving seed really from the time we started farming, interested in [replanting] some of the tomato varieties from some of our previous generation, growing and saving seed out of thrift to cut the seed bills in coming years and to ensure that we could get the varieties we wanted. The thing is, it became apparent that the number of varieties in the more common seed house catalogues were declining.”
The seed saving movement touches on a much bigger issue – maintaining the integrity and nutrition of the heritage varieties. John says, “We believe that it is important to preserve the genetics of past generations - literally thousands of years of plant breeding and selection - and not allow them to be lost because the seed corporations see profit as the prime motivator in seed production. Most seed commercially produced and sold currently is for hybrid varieties, those that will ripen all at once, handle being mechanically harvested, sit on the supermarket shelf for weeks and taste nothing like the vegetable it is supposed to represent. No wonder kids don't like their vegetables, the supermarket varieties are tasteless, they don't really represent 'fruits of the land’, they are of some other land and not grown in fertile living soil, they are grown industrially, and virtually hydroponically with water and chemicals with the soil only as a growing medium. Although hybrids are not necessarily GMOs, they represent a narrowing of genetic diversity which makes us more susceptible to the vagaries of weather in this era of climate change.”
Are you inspired to plant your own garden? Here are some tools for you to start. Happy gardening!
Sunshine Farm offers an amazing array of seeds available for sale at their farm or from their online catalogue at: http://www.sunshinefarm.net
If you cannot find a local Seedy Saturday in your city, make a visit to your farmers market and ask them!
Here is a listing of Seedy events happening across Canada on the Seeds of Diversity website Seeds.ca website: http://www.seeds.ca/ev/events.php
In the US, some online resources for seed savers would be:
Please note: Soil Mate have received no incentive, nor have any affiliation with the organisations/companies mentioned in this article.
Sunshine Farm Seed Saver Guide
Seed saving is an ancient tradition practiced by farmers and gardeners alike. It’s easy to carry on this tradition and maintain a link to our past, carry it to the future, and be connected to the Earth through one of it’s basic cycles, selecting, saving, planting and savoring.
Select your best plants for seed, those that are true to variety, ie: do not replant bean seed that does not look like the original seed you planted (save it for the soup pot). By selecting plants that perform well in our own gardens, we are selecting for an acclimatized variety that should consistently do well in our climate, weather and discrete conditions.
Check the Latin Name to ensure that you avoid unintentional crossing. Plants with the same Latin name may cross with each other. (Refer to the cart in the center of this booklet to determine the Latin name). For Example, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and kohlrabi, collards, brussell sprouts all belong to the same genus (Brassica) and species (oleracea) and will cross with one another.
Isolation distance is the distance plants need from other plants with the same Latin name to maintain genetic purity. (Refer to chart).
The minimum number of plants needed is noted in the chart. This is important to prevent inbreeding depression which may show itself in a weakened line. The larger the ‘gene pool’ the better chance of maintaining a healthy diversity and as much genetic information as possible.
Don’t use bio engineered seed it could be patented, or have proprietary rights. (Certified Organic ensures that it is not bio-engineered).
Annuals which produce seed in the first year are easier - such as peas and bean which are self-pollinators and easy to shell when completely dry.
Bi-ennials produce seed in the second year - such as carrots, celery, parsley, parsnip, cabbage and broccoli. These may need to be kept in a cooler, or mulched over winter.
At Seed Harvest, dry most seed - most seed is harvested dry - peas and beans clean easily and like radish and mustard, should be ripened in the field. The pods can be picked and cracked by rubbing in screens with gloves.
Harvest tomato seeds ’wet’ - select ripe, true to form fruit. These benefit from a short fermentation process. Scrape the seeds into a bucket, mix with a little water and stir, label right away. Keep in a warm area for a couple of days, stir each day, breaking up the mass. On the third day, pour off the top and then pour the seeds which have settled to the bottom into a colander and then onto a board to dry. Cucumbers can be collected in the same manner, as long as they have completely ripened to an orange.
Squash - have four species, Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita moschata and Cucurbita mixta. Cucurbita pepo includes summer squash like scallopini, zucchini, acorn, spaghetti, delicata.
Cucurbita maxima Includes buttercup and hubbard. Cucurbita moschata includes butternut. Cucurbita mixta includes cushaw squash. Let the fruit completely ripen on the vine (so the skin is impenetrable to the finger nail), scrape out the seeds and stringy flesh - put the mass in a bowl and work with the hands to break it up. Seeds which sink are usually viable. Strain them in a colander, and spread on a board to dry thoroughly. Discard flat seeds, keep the well formed plump seed.
Plant Characteristics to look for when selecting could include: earliness, drought resistance, pest and disease resistance, vigor, colour, hardiness, flavour and productivity.
Use open pollinated varieties - those which come true to variety from seed (not from hybrids, often designated F1).
Know your plant distances or Isolation boundaries - to avoid unintentional crosses. Please refer to the attached planting guide for ‘isolation’ distances for different varieties.
Save from a number of plants - to keep your gene pool diverse. Please refer to the attached planting guide for ‘Minimum plants needed’ for different varieties.
Collect seed from your strongest plants - which are most true to the original. Eliminate any unhealthy, or misshapen plants from those you plan to harvest seed from (they will likely still make great eating!).
Use Screens to clean the seeds - selecting the screen size most suited to filter out the seeds and leave any chaff or debris. Make sure to work over a board or bowl to collect the smallest seeds.
Seed Storage - Most seeds should be stored in a cool, dry, dark, airtight environment, if these conditions are maintained, they should remain viable for several years (refer to chart).