By: Karen Cohen
Many local gardeners and “wanna be” gardeners assembled last month for a community seed and plant exchange in Lewisburg. It was a free event and open to the public. No one had any agenda or things to sell. Willingness to trade ideas, tips, seeds, trees, and plants was our only motivation.
Spread out on tables and garden walls in the General Lewis Inn’s backyard, were scores of free seed packets; some from home gardeners’ own collection and some from High Mowing Organic Seed Company who generously donated over 100 seed packs that expired in 2022.
Folks, including the Inn’s owner and biggest plant fan, Sparrow, came bearing “gifts” of cacti starts, quince seeds, blackberry bush roots, and paw paw seeds, just to name a few things. As all the items were spread out for all to view. Contributors were encouraged to take what they wanted and as much as they wanted.
There were new faces from the neighborhood along with local well known gardeners, such as Edith and Torula. Both have been avid gardeners for over 40 years or more and are well versed in growing herbs, plants, veggies, and all things green. Edith brought with her a huge plant encyclopedia to offer as a reference book that day. Experts and novices mingled with one another and trading was brisk and fun.
Some unusual items were shared such as shiso plants also known as perilla leaf. This is a herb in the mint and basil family that grows abundantly in the mountains of China and India. It is used in many Japanese dishes and imparts a citrus/minty flavor to foods. It can be used as a side garnish or in a salad, too. Easy to grow like any mint, it can quickly spread from seeds and roots. Helpful advice was given: keep it in a pot outside rather than planted directly in the ground to keep it under control. I’ll take my potted plant indoors in the winter months to keep it alive.
River birch and red oak saplings found immediate takers. Sprouted potato tubers were eagerly collected bya different individuals since there were plenty to go around. Herbs such as sage, oregano, and mint came in small pots ready to be transferred into garden soil. Blackberry and elderberry bush roots along with strawberry bare roots with I.D. tags were also swapped. Within about one hour, over 30 gardeners had happily perused and collected so many various items in baskets and boxes to take home.
Eddie Fletcher, a local woodsman and artisan gave a short lecture on ramps and the importance of sustainable harvesting. Ramps are a type of spring onion, or wild leek, and are in season for a short few weeks only and are slow spreaders. Seeds from ramps are difficult to collect because the edible leaves disappear into the forest floor within a few weeks after sprouting and are hard to find. Eddie urged people to harvest responsibly, never take a whole patch of ramps, leave plenty behind, and don’t trample or disturb an entire patch. I learned that ramps are very particular where they like to grow. Forested, leaf mulched soil is ideal and they prefer colonies to grow. The United Plant Savers organization warns that ramps may become extinct if over harvested. Ramps need up to seven years to reproduce from seed, have a low germination rate, and can take up to two years to germinate. Always leave some for next year!
One important reason to exchange seeds collected from your own plants is to keep diversity going, especially with what I call, “old time” seeds. A woman brought bean seeds called Tinker Crow pole beans, when I researched I found Turkey Craw pole beans and they looked the same. Another gardener shared spotted turtle beans, a type of kidney bean. Another reason to swap locally grown seeds is the success rate will be high since the seeds come from plants which grew up here. True locals in every sense of the word. Adapted to our climate, soil conditions, amount of rainfall, and growing zone, these plants and seeds we exchanged will grow well year after year.
The Seed Savers Exchange provided 25 free catalogs for this event. They offer for sale over 20,000 heirloom and open pollinated seeds. That’s a lot. When I buy seeds through this non for-profit organization, I look for offerings of seeds grown in the same type of climate and plant hardiness zone as mine. For me, that’s Zone 5. New England states and some of the northern central states such as Iowa and Wisconsin are all listed as Zone 5.
Polling the participants afterwards, everyone had positive remarks and clear enjoyment at this exchange. One woman stated her goal is “to create a permaculture garden which is both edible and beautiful.” A young couple who shared and swapped stated, “We would love to keep swapping with (all of) you! Our goal is to continue expanding our container garden (veggies and fruits) in the backyard, and to grow continuously blooming perennials in the front yard that are more “set it and forget it.”
More exchange dates and gardeners meetings are underway. Fall is another great time of year to collect seeds. Right now I am collecting seeds from dinosaur kale, a large leafy dark green kale packed with vitamins. With my Osaka purple mustard greens, I leave a few seed heads forming on these, let the seeds drop on their own to the ground and then in the following year, spring will bring on germination. I dig up the little seedlings, share them, move them into bigger spaces and keep the greens coming into my sauté pan almost daily! If you would like some mustard green starts, just email me if you are in the Lewisburg area, for drop off.
(Karen Cohen is a home gardener, nature lover, and avid explorer. Join in the next seed/plant home gardener exchange by following the Facebook page: Greenbrier County Community Seed and Plant Exchange set up for home gardeners interested in sharing info, plants, and seeds within our community. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)
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