Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mary Mary.....how does your garden grow? With Seed Savers, of course!

Good morning everyone!   The blog at ETSY published this delightful post on June 23 and I thought it was worthy of repeating for all of us agrarians and would be agrarians, and frustrated agrarians out in cyberspace~
Linzee McCray wrote this article about SEED SAVERS, but go check her shop if you get a chance!   I love this!


"Whenever stress got the better of me during college, I'd walk into town. The mile-long trek and the enormous elm trees that lined both sides of the avenue, their arcing branches creating a lacy canopy, were often enough to soothe me. Years later I revisited that street and the consoling canopy was gone — Dutch elm disease had taken its toll. It was my first lesson in the importance of plant diversity; if the elms had been intermixed with maple, locust, and ash trees, the devastation wouldn't have been so complete. Instead, the elm-less avenue was all sharp edges and concrete.
I thought again of plant diversity this month, when I visited Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) in Decorah, Iowa. On the wooden seed racks in the visitors' center were packets of tomato seeds with names like Black Sea Man and Hillbilly Potato Leaf, beans called Turkey Craw and Lazy Housewife, and squash dubbed Guatemalan Blue Banana, Long Island Cheese, and Yugoslavian Finger Fruit. The variety extended beyond the names: cooks enjoy the diversity of size, shape, color, and taste, while gardeners appreciate the range of days to germination, heat tolerance, and disease resistance. A commitment to preserve these kinds of diverse seeds was the impetus for Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy, who in 1975 started Seed Savers Exchange with the seeds of a morning glory vine and a German Pink tomato. A gift from Diane's Grandpa Ott, these seeds had been passed through the family by his parents, who brought them to Iowa from Bavaria when they emigrated in the 1870s.
 Photos, courtesy of Linzee McCray taken by Linzee and used with her permission (post publishing)
From that grassroots beginning, SSE has grown to include 13,000 members and encompass nearly 900 acres, a site known as Heritage Farm, where heirloom seeds and plants are collected, grown, studied, and preserved. Heirloom seeds are typically more than 50 years old and have been handed down through generations. The red barns and myriad gardens of SSE make it look like a typical farm (albeit meticulously maintained), but it's much more.
"We are a farm, but also a lab, a seed vault, a seed company, we have hiking trails, we publish books, and we're a living museum," says John Torgrimson, SSE's executive director. "We provide an alternate model to more conventional agriculture, especially for home gardeners and market farmers."
  Photos, courtesy of Linzee McCray taken by Linzee and used with her permission (post publishing)
In addition to growing and preserving heirloom vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs, collecting and recording data and storing seeds for future use, a major mission of SSE is "participatory preservation." Each year the organization's members who commit to growing seeds by SSE's approved methods may list their seeds for sale or exchange in SSE's annual yearbook — in this year's book, 700 members offered 13,876 unique varieties of vegetables and fruits. "Participatory preservation is at the heart of Seed Savers," says Torgrimson. "We want gardeners everywhere saving seeds. There's no better hedge against the changes wrought by agribusiness."
When I admired whorls of green and nearly black lettuces growing by the visitor's center, Torgrimson explained that these raised beds are testing grounds for studying varieties before they're offered to the public. Data is recorded — length of time for germination and maturity, water needs, heat tolerance, etc. — and samples are harvested and tasted. It takes an average of three years from the time a seed is collected until it's ready to be sold in the SSE catalog. In other gardens, seeds are "grown-out" to create more seeds, both for sale and for safekeeping. SSE protects samples of its stock in on-site storage, as well as in the USDA Seed Bank in Fort Collins, Colorado and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway.
 Photos, courtesy of Linzee McCray taken by Linzee and used with her permission (post publishing)
Along with collecting physical data, SSE records the cultural history of its seeds. "Every variety, every seed has a story," says Torgrimson. "Many families have seeds handed down through generations."
These seeds are often shared with the SSE. An example is Grandpa Admire's lettuce. In the catalog are notes about its flavor and heat tolerance, along with mention that it was given to SSE in 1977 by 90-year-old Chloe Lowry and named after her grandfather, a Civil War veteran. "People kept these seeds for a reason — heirlooms are survivors that have adapted to weather conditions, to pests, and they taste great," Torgrimson says. "People want them to be saved and distributed." To preserve them, heirloom seeds and tissue culture are stored in climate-controlled rooms until they're "grown out." To prevent accidental cross-pollination in the field, SSE workers go to extremes. Carrots, for example, in the same family as the Queen Anne's Lace that grows wild in Decorah ditches, are grown in isolation tents. Because Iowa farmers grow lots of corn, it's not unusual to see stalks in the Heritage Farm fields with paper bags covering the tassels, preventing a cross between local farmers' crops and SSE heirloom varieties.
  Photos, courtesy of Linzee McCray taken by Linzee and used with her permission (post publishing)
Educating gardeners about these and other heirloom seeds is a central mission of SSE. Torgrimson is delighted that vegetable gardening is growing in the U.S. — in 2009, more than 7 million U.S. households planted vegetables for the first time. He hopes novice gardeners will consider heirloom seeds. "You'd be amazed at what you can grow in a 10' by 10' plot, or in pots if you're in an urban area," he says. His advice? "Keep it simple, have fun, and grow things you like to eat."
Seed Saver seeds are available at more than 500 garden stores throughout the U.S. They can also be ordered online. For more information, visit http://www.seedsavers.org.
About the author: A lifelong sewer/knitter and former weaver/spinner, Linzee Kull McCray, a.k.a. lkmccray, is a writer and editor living in Iowa. She feels fortunate to meet and write about people, from scientists to stitchers, who are passionate about their work. Her freelance writing appears in Quilts and MoreStitchFiberartsAmerican Patchwork and Quilting and more. For more textile musings, visit her blog.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...