by Leigh Mills
It’s time now more than ever for our communities to use locally grown seed in their gardens and fields. In recent years, hundreds of seed companies have been swallowed up by large corporations intent on controlling our food supply. Seeds of Change is now owned by food giant Mars (www.librarianatlarge.net/2011/06/who-owns-ya-baby-seeds-of-change-company-info/). Since 2009, the Seed Savers Exchange board of directors has been regularly sending heirloom seeds to the Svalgard, Norway seed vault. Under contract, these seeds are allowed to be genetically patented and removed from access (www.alturl.com/ajm5w ).
The San Luis Valley is a high altitude, high desert region with a very short outdoor growing season. Local seeds contain a genetic template of the area, are hardier and provide a deeper connection to the land. Gardeners are starting to grow out more of their seed and share it with others. These seeds have been tested and are proven to grow well in our local environment.
When exchanging seeds with other gardeners, here are a few things to know:
Many seeds easily cross pollinate. What kind of precautions did the seed saver make to ensure the seeds’ purity? Squash, carrots, spinach, beets, and certain varieties of leafy greens cross pollinate very easily. If there is enough space between the plants or if screened cages are being used to isolate the plants, then seed purity is more assured. The Heyokah garden is very isolated, so the chance of cross pollination from other gardens is very slim. I rotate plants that cross pollinate within my garden: seeding out orange carrots, red beets, yellow squash and Bloomsdale spinach one year; purple carrots, golden beets, sweet dumpling squash and New Zealand spinach the next.
Make sure the seeds you get are organic, heirloom, and open-pollinated so they will grow out strong and pure year after year. Patented and hybrid seeds are unsuitable for saving since a patent means the seed is owned by another entity and hybrids won’t grow out true-to-form the next year.
Ask how old the seeds are. While some seeds can be stored for over a year or more, even several years and still be viable, it’s best to use seeds that are one or two years old. They will have a higher germination rate and the plant, will be more vital. Seeds can be stored in paper or plastic bags, glass jars and plastic containers like prescription bottles. If the container is airtight, make sure the seeds are dry and mold-free.
Whether you’re getting seeds from a local source, or starting to save them yourself, it is recommended that you study seed saving. Read books, visit internet sites, network with other gardeners and seed savers. Grow plants, observe their cycles and take notes. It took me several years of learning and experimenting with different plants to be able to confidently share my seeds with other people. There’s a lot more to learn and I look forward to it.