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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Being your own seed bank

I’ve been shouting at everyone for about 2 years to get off their asses and start gardening as a defence against poverty and food shortages brought on by peak oil and financial crisis. During this time I realized several things

1. A very small portion of the population gardens for food

2. A very small portion of the population know much about food or how it’s produced; an extreme example is here.

3. Of those who do garden many use hybrid seeds which do not breed true and should not or can not have their seeds harvested and saved from season to season. This makes you reliant on seed companies who essentially control the food supply.

4. If something happens and many people decide they want or need to garden for survival the available seed supply for local gardeners will be hopelessly insufficient to meet the publics demand. Such an event might require several years of gearing up by smaller seed companies and seed saving gardeners to meet demand for open pollinated seeds.

5. As rightly brought up in the comments, saving your own seed allows you to collect seeds from those particular plants that are best adapting or climatizing to your local climate and soil. Eventually, several plant generations later I will have a local plant regardless of where it originated or where I purchased the seed.

These revelations caused me to begin buying seeds, not just seeds I needed for a particular years gardening plans and not even the seeds of things I like to eat best but just seeds. The point of this is not some attempt to get the entire collection like an 8 year old with hockey cards. The point is to build up a personal seed bank that contains a good variety of different vegetables, herbs (medicinal and culinary) as well as oil and fibre plants just in case they were ever needed.

All the seeds I buy are open pollinated so I can save their seeds for future years and most are heritage crops which were selected for taste rather than durability in shipping like the tasteless shit we get from the grocery store most of the year.

My first purchase was a collection from AAOOB foods of 34 varieties of veggies, herbs and fruit in a 2 gallon plastic pail ready to freeze for long term storage, this kind of purchase is an easy, nearly anyone can do, food insurance policy. Even if you can’t freeze them they will still remain viable for several years in a cool dry environment, stick them on a shelf in the basement.

Since then, I’ve found this company which offers what looks to be a better deal with more varieties, the only issue is they don’t break down the kits so you know what varieties of seeds you are getting ahead of time, still 60 varieties from 25 vegetable types all open pollinated for $90 US is a damn good deal as is the 275 varieties from 30 vegetable types for $375. Even better these kits have southern and northern variations to ensure you get plants suitable for your climate. A kit like this would make you a micro seed bank able to freeze for long terms storage for your personal use or to disperse to others in case of need.

I’ve also purchased individual seeds packages of heritage crops with the intention of using my limited garden space and growing out a selection of them each year in rotation to increase the amount of seed I’m storing. For example this year I will plant Ardwyna paste tomatoes, a bean variety called Orca, Bronze Amaranth, Kamut, Potimarron squash and hulless barley called Faust.

In each case I’ll only plant a few grams or maybe an ounce of each species but by only planting 1 variety of each species to avoid crosspollination and using proper seed saving techniques I can probably increase my hoard of seed in these varieties by 15-50 fold, an ounce become pounds, a gram an ounce, and I’ll still be able to eat from these plants crops. Each year I will rotate to different varieties in order to increase them as well and to replace and refresh the vitality of seeds that have been frozen for too many years.

At some point I’ll be able to share my seeds with other gardeners or if I get a bigger plot of land perhaps I can even start my own online seed store. In either case I’m increasing the supply of seeds for myself and others and just as important, I’m preserving the genetics of heritage crops that are being squeezed out by often sterile or genetically unstable hybrids. Do you honestly think that in a time of food crisis that large seed companies like Monsanto won’t screw us over by buying and killing heritage seed companies so that you will be forced to buy new sterile seed from them each and every year at a new and inflated price?

Provided you are not surrounded by other gardeners who will pollute your genetics everyone should try seed saving. If you do have fellow gardeners too close perhaps you can agree to sow the same types of plant, or offer to grow beans for both of you while they grow tomatoes for both of you. This would allow you to garden yet maintain the isolation of species required to breed your seed true.

A network of people working together locally could maintain and increase a wide variety of seeds and trade back and forth. They could also support local community gardens with seeds or make seed packages for distribution to people frequenting food banks. A return to local food is probably in our future but it’s not going to happen without some help from individuals taking part in saving and increasing the quantity of open pollinated seeds. If you don't garden consider doing so. If you do garden make it count!

While far from complete or adequate (I’m currently light on root crops and medicinals) the green Assassin Seed Bank currently contains

Bronze Amaranth

Barley - Faust

Beans- all dry bean or multi use varieties.
Mitla Black Tepary
Nez Perce
Jacob’s Cattle
True red cranberry
Good Mother Stallard

Blue Jade
Strawberry Popcorn
Stowell’s Evergreen

Carrots- I forget

Cucumber – Bushy

Flax – a fibre variety

Kamut- Polish Wheat

Opium poppies- you never know if modern medicine will survive the coming chaos, pain abatement or euthanasia may be up to you. Seeds are so good in baking, if you don’t need to pass random drug tests.

Parsnip - Harris Model

Long Island Cheese

Sugar beets – I even have the instructions to make molasses and sugar from them.

Sunberry- I have no clue what a sunberry is but figured I’d give it a try

Tomato -
Ardwyna paste


Wheat – Hard White Spring

I've purchased most of my seeds from Salt Springs Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange or Richter’s Herbs

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Theresa said...

Thanks for writing about this very important topic. I have been reading "Gardening When it Counts" lately, and the author makes the very good point that it is important to grow the seeds you save, so that the plants can adapt to the changing climate and environment, and the seeds that do the best can be collected for the next year.

He makes the point that seed banks are a good thing, but if the environment that the stored seeds grew in is different than the environment they are expected to grow in, in say 10 years from now, then they will be less productive. So your plan to grow out some of your seed each year and then re-collect it makes a lot of sense. That's what I plan to do as well.

ChristyACB said...

Great Post! I too am saving seeds and ensuring I have a nice, clean and truly bred supply. While not enough to qualify as a seed bank, it is enough to bump up and supply a few neighbors if need be.

As for Monsanto, they've actually been patenting heirloom varieties that have nothing to do with them. It turns out now that the first one to bring a seed to the patent office gets the patent, and they aren't wasting time. Get your heirlooms now. Only by owning the parent and propagating your own seeds from a source aquired before the patent was made allows you any rights. Amazing, huh?

Matt said...

Interesting article - I'd appreciate more details on how you are going to store your seeds long-term.

Also, you might want to visit www.seeds.ca, as they are doing the very thing you talk about - preserving genetic biodiversity by facilitating seed trades. They also saved a lot of varieties from potential patents in Canada, since they catalouged them before we had such legislation.

GAB said...

AGGGG, you got to be kidding, these evil bastards need to taken to task, whats next lisensing the human geonome so you have to pay a royalty to breed?

Gab said...

Ok Matt I'll try to do a short article on seed saving but I'd recommend http://astore.amazon.ca/survivalblog-20/detail/1882424581

It tells you all the idosyncracies of each plant type and how to process and store the seed.

Simply cool, dark and dry are the important factors.

Doyu Shonin said...

Ages ago (we're not young) we got an envelope of runner beans and now we are up to almost 20 pounds of the stuff! This is where the rubber hits the gardening road ...

viagra online said...

I am one of those who do not know much about food or how it os produced. I know I should be more careful with the things I eat.