When I got back from Seedy Sunday at Hove Town Hall (Brighton 6th Feb), I started reflecting on the practice of seed saving & the implications of the loss of seed varieties. I jotted down the following thoughts but never got around to posting – well, here they are:
I currently save mainly peas & french beans (climbing & dwarf) because their growth cycle is easier to manage. However, in 2009/10 I ventured into unknown territory by saving leaf celery seed – a member of the Umbelliferae, it’s biennial, so I needed to grow plants for 2 years – in the 1st year the plant grows stems & leaves, it dies down in winter, resprouts in its 2nd spring & develops flower spikes. The seed heads ripened slowly, from the top of the stems & the middle of the umbel outward, then downwards. I had to check plants for ripened seed heads – they developed from green through khaki to dark brown, therefore I had to cut small groups of seeds regularly as they ripened, over approximately a month (August-September), as much to catch them as they ripened & before the rain caused the seeds to go mouldy. After that, I just pulled all the plants up & composted as I needed the ground for brassicas. Why did I decide to save leaf celery if it’s so time-consuming to collect, you ask? Check the price of seed in any catalogue that sells leaf celery – it is extortionate for a tiny amount, usually carefully wrapped in waxed paper (makes you feel it must be worth it)- & like parsley, also in the Umbelliferae family, it germinates erratically, so a small amount of expensive seed might only produce a very small number of plants. Also, by growing & saving seed from strong plants I am selecting seed from those that thrive in our local conditions: chalky soil, local climate. Seed companies have taken control of our supply of seeds, produced F1 hybrids that don’t breed true & aren’t adapted to local soils & climates,-lots of uniform plants all ready at once for harvesting. Open pollinated plants don’t all mature at the same time (necessary for commercial production & mechanical harvesting). Leaf Celery is also very hardy & brilliant for soups, salads & casseroles -it survived the winter temperatures of 2010 despite my forgetting to cover the crowns with leaf mould.
The more you sow & save, the more you know what is going to be successful – always within reason, depending on weather, slugs & other pests.
It’s also important to remember that, by taking control over seed production from local farmers & from women, the global seed conglomerates are contributing to impoverishment & dependency on the part of poorer populations, both in the global South & in areas of the global North where ‘grow your own’ is in danger of becoming a ‘life style choice’ due the costs of seed,tools & land, amongst other things.
suggestions for further reading:
*The Seed Savers Handbook, 1996, Jeremy Cherfas, Michele & Jude Fanton, Eco-logic books.
Deals with the politics & environmental reasons for seed-saving. Also includes seed saving details. Excellent, although out-of-print it is available 2nd hand
*Roots of Vegetables, 1997, Ray Warner Thomas Etty Esq
Provides a history of many old vegetable varieties, text extracted from contemporary books & catalogues
*Heritage Vegetables 1998, Sue Stickland, Gaia Books Ltd.
Why our vegetable heritage is important, why it is disappearing & what seed saving groups worldwide are doing to combat this development.
Although I haven’t actually dealt with the activities of the global seed companies (despite my title), this is a topic I’ll return to.