By: Karen Cohen
Some of us like diversity. For others it seems like a curse word. I come from a place where diversity reigned supreme and I loved it. Different cultures, foods, ideas; it’s all blended and for me, diversity enhances the human experience.
We are losing diversity in our garden choices by submitting to huge seed companies who push their products in big box stores. They focus on just a few specialties. They spend their bucks on research, alter and even improve their seeds. That’s all fine but in the meantime, the seeds that perhaps your Aunt Helen grew in her backyard garden, or Grampa John grew in his back 40 acres are almost extinct. Only we have the power to bring back diversity in every sense of the word
Why do we need diversity in the garden? By diversifying our crops, even in our small home gardens, we protect our outcomes. When certain beetles, for example, invade a farm, they can quickly destroy that crop. Commercial seed companies typically grow monocrops. That means one crop. Huge fields of corn like the ones grown in Iowa, the US’s biggest producer of corn, are susceptible to crop failure if certain things go wrong. That’s why they invest all their big bucks into making certain that the crops don’t fail. They alter their seeds to become more drought resistant, more disease resistant, more apt to grow under varying conditions. They patent their corn seeds because they have developed formulas to make their seeds grow the way they intend them to grow. Maybe the seed will require certain chemicals to help them grow and the genes of the seeds may be changed to adhere to what the producer wants and sells with them. Patented seeds owned by its “inventors” cannot be sold or traded by anyone including the farmers who grow it. That’s a law.
By diversifying our garden crops, which means having many different varieties of vegetables, we may lose one to a certain disease or insect infestation but we don’t lose our entire garden. As we grow our seeds, the plants adapt to our specific soil conditions and weather conditions. Swapping seeds with your neighbors can aid gardeners in growing specific crops ideal to their home gardens.
When you plan to save seeds, it is very important to label the moisture proof storage packet with the year and variety. Some seeds can last hundreds of years under the ground, some expire within a year. Onion, parsley, and spinach seeds, for example, are viable for up to one year. Always check the back of your commercially produced seeds for the expiration date. I wouldn’t advise saving seeds from these veggies because they may not grow back the following year from saved seeds. Asparagus, carrots, and turnips can last up to three years if properly stored.
An easy way to test the viability of a seed is to dampen a paper towel, drop in a row of one type of seed, fold it over, label it, and let it sit for a few days in an obvious place so you don’t forget it. Moisten it daily if it dries out and then wait. A seed will germinate by sending out a small green “tail” or shoot. That means it can grow! I often sprout my seeds this way, especially big seeds like squash or peas, to be sure they germinate. If they don’t, I toss them into the compost pile.
To keep your seeds safe from “outside forces” like pollinators or even just the wind, you can place a seed baggie over the flowers that you want to collect and protect. I cut up nylon pantyhose and fasten sections around flowers with elastic bands. The flower will eventually dry up and the seeds will drop. For vegetable seeds, such as pumpkins, I allow a healthy one to remain on the vine for as long as possible until it falls off on its own. Then I allow a few more months of sitting, untouched on the ground so its “ripens inside” before the frost hits. Scoop out the seeds, wash them carefully, dry on paper towels and then select the plump ones to save in paper envelopes when they are completely dry.
Word of warning: if pollination has occurred without any supervision or protective covering, we call that promiscuous pollination. Many of us don’t really care who or what parents came together to produce a certain veggie or flower; surprises are considered fun!
Last year, West Virginia University Extension Family Nutrition Program gave a challenge to resident gardeners called Grow This. They gave out free seeds to volunteer participants to grow at home. This program has been around now for six years. Every year, new to gardening folks appear to take up the challenge. It’s exciting and the slots for volunteer growers fill up quickly every year. Over 2,500 gardeners applied just this past year! Roma tomatoes, cukes and brussel sprouts are being grown this year. Anyone can follow the progress of this project on Facebook, Grow This page. If you sign up for their newsletters, you will be informed of next year’s challenge along with classes in canning and more!
According to Google search, diversity follows three C’s: curious, courageous, and committed. Are you any of these or all?
(Karen Cohen is an organic home gardener and is hosting our community’s first annual seed/plant exchange (FREE) on Apr. 23 at 11 a.m. at the General Lewis Inn in Lewisburg. If you would like to participate, please email email@example.com to get on the list.)
For a PDF on saving seeds, check this out: www.southernexposure.com/growing-guides/saving-seeds-home-use.pdf
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