7. HISTORY OF SEEDS, SEED ARKS AND FAVORITE SEED CATALOGS:
Seed Plantings In Spring
THE HISTORY OF SEEDS
When we plant a seed, we create a direct link between our ancestral past and our potential future. The seed we plant has traveled around the world, from farmer to farmer, from native populations to traders and conquerors to royalty and eventually
back to farmers.
The carrot seed that we plant originated in Afghanistan, tomatoes and peppers in South America, potatoes in the Peruvian Andes, eggplant in central Asia, watermelon in tropical Africa. Most of our Brassicas originated in the Mediterranean basin. Lettuce was first noted in Greek and Roman times. (The word ‘romaine’ is an adulteration of the word ‘Roman.’) Peas are quite ancient: the oldest saved seed found at the Spirit Cave site on the Thai-Burmese border, dates back to 9750 B.C. Peas were also prevalent throughout the Mediterranean region to the Near East and central Africa. Their paths have led them in and out of popularity and through a long culinary history.
North America, the cultural melting pot, is also a wealth of genetic diversity. Seed traveled northward from Central and South America, carried along footpaths by native populations. It came with early European settlers, and later treasured seed from the old country came sewn into the hems, hat bands, and suitcase linings of generations of immigrants, a piece of their culture. More recently, seed has come with the Vietnamese, Laotian and Haitian immigrants as well as from the former Soviet Union.
Over the last century, our increased dependence on seed companies has drastically reduced our direct links to our seed heritage. Small, regionally based seed companies like Fedco and Johnny’s in Maine and High Mowing in Vermont can offer varieties that perform well in the surrounding climate.
Of great concern are the immense multinational seed-chemical-pharmaceutical corporations that buy up the biggest companies that have bought out the mid-size seed houses that have bought out the small regional companies. They control what seed gets grown and who can buy it. Local varieties that do thrive in our little frost pockets draw no attention from the corporate eye unless they have genetic traits of value to research.
Seed Saving - We have all lamented the loss of a favorite variety, no longer available in any seed catalog. Even as self-sufficient home gardeners, our food supply is in the hands of the multi-nationals. One can only start to save the seed from those important varieties, or start to seek varieties that never were in a seed catalog.
Interest in saving seed is rising. This year Seed Savers Exchange had 991 of its members listing 19,622 varieties of seed, including 11,044 unique listings. Members are offering nearly twice the number of open pollinated varieties as the entire mail order garden seed industry in the United States and Canada. Once again, home gardeners are the stewards of our genetic heritage.
Seeds of Change is an organic seed and food company owned by Mars, Inc. The company is based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Seeds of Change offers a big selection of heirloom seeds for both the home gardener and the market gardener.
Seed Basics - Many of us start to save a few beans or tomato seed, and learn as we need more information. A few basics are helpful. Every plant has a botanical classification. Each vegetable belongs to a family: carrots, parsnips and parsley to the Umbelliferae; tomatoes, peppers, eggplant to Solanaceae; etc. Families are divided into genera with subdivisions being species. Lettuce, Lactuca sativa, is in the Compositae family, the Lactuca genus and sativa species. Plants of the same genus and species can potentially pollinate each other.
Plants are either self-pollinating or cross pollinating. A self- pollinating plant has flowers that pollinate themselves, often before opening, or they pollinate another flower on the same plant. Insects are not strongly attracted to them. Crosspollinating plants transfer pollen from one plant to another, by insect or wind. Male and female flowers form on the same plant or plants are entirely male or female. If growing two or more crosspollinating plants of the same species, they need to be isolated from each other by specific distances.
Check out a great and through book for gardeners - Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners, by Suzanne Ashworth & David Cavagnaro & Kent Whealy. I write about seeds in my first book, The Woodchuck’s Guide to Gardening.
THE SEED ARK
A freezer at the New England Wild Flower Society’s headquarters in Framingham, Mass., holds the “seed ark,” an extensive collection of seeds preserved from rare and endangered plants in the region. Bill Brumbach, the group’s conservation director, said plants are often viewed as “second class citizens” when it comes to conservation.
This ordinary-looking freezer in a sturdy cinderblock shed at a suburban Boston botanical garden holds what might be New England’s most important seed catalog. Inside the freezer in Framingham are tightly sealed packages containing an estimated 6 million seeds from hundreds of plant species, bearing obscure or hard-to-pronounce names like potentilla robbinsiana. They are rare varieties of plant life native to the region – in some cases found nowhere else in the world – and are in grave danger of vanishing from the landscape.
The “seed ark,” as it’s playfully dubbed by the New England Wild Flower Society, is not unlike Noah’s biblical vessel in its quest to preserve from calamity a rich diversity of life. The ark contains plant seeds threatened by natural disasters, climate change, unchecked development or simply being trampled afoot by unsuspecting hikers.
The society’s 2015 survey of more than 3,500 known plant species determined that 22 percent were rare, in decline, endangered or perhaps already extinct. Plants don’t get the same protections under the federal endangered species act as animals said, Brumback.
Teams of staffers and volunteers scour some of the region’s most remote areas in search of plants like Jesup’s milk-vetch, a species so rare it grows in just three tiny clusters along the Connecticut River.
Once gathered, seeds are first brought to a facility in western Massachusetts and dried to 20 to 30 percent of relative humidity, said Brumback, explaining that the drying process assures that liquid inside cells won’t expand and crack when exposed to low temperatures.
The seeds are then brought to Framingham, sealed in foil envelopes and frozen at -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit), keeping them viable for decades or even centuries, depending on the individual species.
“If we have the seed bank, we have the genetic material to restore (the plants) and put them back on the landscape,” as a hedge against extinction, said Debbi Edelstein, the society’s executive director.
Source: `Ark’ Preserves Threated Plants, Bob Salsberg,9-11-2017 AP
*The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a huge underground bunker on an island north of Norway where seeds from around the world are stored so that they could be regenerated after an apocalypse.
*My Favorite New England Seed Companies
Fedco Seeds, PO Box 520, Waterville, ME 04903; (207) 873-7333; www.fedcoseeds.com
Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 955 Benton Ave, Winslow, ME 04901; 1-877-564-6697; www.johnnyseeds.comFedco of Maine – my favorite- great informative catalogs
SEED SAVINGS & A SEED PLANTING SCHEDULE IN SPRING
Did you know that a pound of pole beans costs around $10.00. If you plant 2 100-foot rows of beans, they will yield enough beans to last you a number of years. I love to grow pole beans and always save enough to make many bean stews and save enough to plant the following year.
Have you ever paid $3 for a single, large vine-ripened heirloom tomato? Well, a small packet of tomato seeds, which you can buy for about $3 or less is usually enough to plant 50 feet of tomato plants and produce some 75 pounds of tomatoes—or more. I also save tomato seeds and many others as I’m a frugal kind of guy.
A half an ounce of spinach seed can sow a hundred-foot row and yield 40 pounds of greens; an ounce or so of winter squash seed can produce 200 pounds of squash!
The more veggies you can start from seed yourself, the less money you’ll have to front for that production. Some of these seeds can be sown in the garden soil in the spring; others need to be started in a soil mix indoors and transplanted outdoors once the weather has warmed. Seed catalogs (especially Johnny’s and Fedco) give excellent information about how to grow each vegetable. Many gardeners buy all their transplants—tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, but these can be started indoors on a warm, sunny windowsill in mid-spring, at great savings.
Here’s a basic planting calendar to get you started. The dates are approximate and will vary depending on your location, the weather, and the time you have available. If you aren’t able to grow your own seedlings, you can buy them at farmers’ markets, food co-ops, local greenhouses and farm stores in the spring and just follow the transplanting dates below.
------------------------------------------------------------------March 1 Start indoors: celery, celeriac (3/1 to 3/15), onions and leeks (2/20 to 3/15)
March 14 Start indoors: leaf and head lettuce
March 21 Start indoors: peppers and eggplants
April 1 Start indoors: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant
April 10 Start indoors: tomatoes
Start outdoors: beets, carrots, leaf and head lettuce, peas, parsnips (4/15 to 5/15), radishes, shallots (4/15 to 5/30), spinach, turnips, bunching onions for summer harvest (4/15 to 5/1), onions from seeds or sets
Transplant out: leaf and head lettuce, onion seedlings
May 1 Start indoors: melons, squashes, cucumbers
Start outdoors: beets, carrots, leaf and head lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard (5/1 to 5/31), turnips
Transplant out: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower (5/1 to 5/15 when 4 to 5 weeks old), leeks (5/1 to 5/15)
May 14 Start indoors: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower for fall crop
Start outdoors: beets, leaf and head lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach, turnip
June 1 Start outdoors: bush green beans, pole beans, beets, Chinese cabbage (5/30 to 7/30), carrots, corn, leaf and head lettuce, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, turnip
Transplant out: celery and celeriac (6/1 to 6/15), tomatoes
Transplant or direct seed out: melons, squashes, cucumbers
June 14 Start outdoors: beets, corn, leaf and head lettuce, peas, radishes, rutabaga, spinach, turnip
Transplant out: 4/1 sowing of eggplant, 5/15 sowing of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower
June 21 Start outdoors: bush green beans, carrots
July 1 Start outdoors: beets, corn (short season varieties), kale, leaf and head lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach, turnip
July 14 Start outdoors: bush green beans, beets, carrots, leaf and head lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach, turnip; hardy bunching onions for fall and spring harvest (7/15 to 8/15)
August 1 Start outdoors: beets, leaf and head lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach, turnip
August 14 Start outdoors: leaf and head lettuce, radishes, spinach, turnip
September 1 Start outdoors: leaf lettuce, radishes, shallots for spring green onions, spinach (sow now for fall crop and now until ground freezes for spring crop, well mulched over winter)
October 1 Start outdoors: garlic
For more information about growing your own vegetable garden, search the MOFCA website www.mofga.org.