Commentary

Ron Krupp: Saving seeds — gardeners are the stewards of our genetic heritage

This commentary is by Ron Krupp, author of “The Woodchuck’s Guide to Gardening,” “The Woodchuck Returns to Gardening” and “Lifting the Yoke.” He’s working on his third garden book, “The Woodchuck’s Guide to Landscape Plants and Ornamentals.”

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, hatbands 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 midsize 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 multinationals. 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.

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. Cross-pollinating 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 cross­-pollinating plants of the same species, they need to be isolated from each other by specific distances.

Check out a  great  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.”


We are halfway through our Spring Drive. Will you support local journalism and help us send brand new books to 3,000 Vermont children by April 30? We will send one book for every donation we receive through our partnership with the Children's Literacy Foundation.

Commentary

About Commentaries

VTDigger.org publishes 12 to 18 commentaries a week from a broad range of community sources. All commentaries must include the author’s first and last name, town of residence and a brief biography, including affiliations with political parties, lobbying or special interest groups. Authors are limited to one commentary published per month from February through May; the rest of the year, the limit is two per month, space permitting. The minimum length is 400 words, and the maximum is 850 words. We require commenters to cite sources for quotations and on a case-by-case basis we ask writers to back up assertions. We do not have the resources to fact check commentaries and reserve the right to reject opinions for matters of taste and inaccuracy. We do not publish commentaries that are endorsements of political candidates. Commentaries are voices from the community and do not represent VTDigger in any way. Please send your commentary to Tom Kearney, [email protected]

Email: [email protected]

Send us your thoughts

VTDigger is now accepting letters to the editor. For information about our guidelines, and access to the letter form, please click here.

 

Recent Stories

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Ron Krupp: Saving seeds — gardeners are the stewards of our genetic..."