14 December 2008

Seeds saving - why?

This is the plant we're saving for its seeds. Sorry, it's a bit overexposed.

There is a celery plant in our vegetable garden that reminds me every day how important it is to save vegetable seeds. Celery, unlike a lot of other common vegetables, is biennial. That means that it will only flower and produce seeds in its second year. My pineapple is similar, it produces its fruit in the second year. Many popular vegetables are annuals - and that means the seed can be planted, and will mature and reproduce all in the space of one year; and if it's an open pollinated plant, you can collect the seeds for planting the following season.

Celery flowers - these fine wispy flowers will soon turn into black seeds ripe for the picking.

First a word about open pollinated seeds and hybrids. Plant open pollinated seeds, they are reproductive. Doing so will ensure biodiversity for the coming generations. Open pollinated seeds are old vegetables whose seeds have been passed down through the generations without anyone tampering with them. And they taste like vegetables should taste. There are many more varieties of open pollinated seeds than hybrids, and they have fabulous names like Pink Brandywine, Lazy Housewife Bean, Mortgage Lifter and Purple Tiger Chilli - they were all named by the people who used them, not by multi-national companies. Open pollinated seeds may be harder to find though, so look online if you don't have a seed company nearby. Try to buy seeds from a supplier near you because those seeds will match your conditions better than those grown half a continent away.

On the other hand...

Hybrid seeds were developed by altering the makeup of particular plants to produce vegetables with certain traits. A good example of this is the supermarket tomato. When I was a girl, way back in the 1950s, tomatoes were large soft skinned fruit that weighed in at around two per pound. This was fine when we all bought our vegetables and fruit from the green grocer, but when supermarkets opened for the first time, when self serve was still a novelty, the stores wanted tomatoes that could be dropped on the floor without splitting, and they wanted four per pound. Tomato growers came up with a new tomato that was smaller and tough skinned. Store keepers were very pleased, housewives were not - they didn't taste like tomatoes used to taste. Over the years we've come to accept that bland tomato taste and only people who grow tomatoes in their backyards, or buy open pollinated tomatoes from the organic market, know the true taste of tomatoes.

Hybrid vegetables are strongly promoted by some seed companies because you can't save seed from them and therefore have to re-buy seeds every year.

Open pollinated seeds, which are now becoming quite popular, will produce vegetables exactly the same as the parent plant for year upon year. It will save you money to grow them, the vegetables are better, you'll help maintain genetic diversity by growing them and they taste divine.

Heritage chooks are a similar thing to open pollinated vegetables. They will go broody, sit on eggs, and happily raise chickens. They are reproductive. There are some chooks now - Hylines, Isa Browns and Lowlines - the familiar small red chook, that have been modified to not go broody and to keep laying eggs. This shortens their lifespan. Like hybrid vegetables and their seeds, Isa Browns and their sisters are programmed to be replaced frequently. Those companies prefer that we buy our vegetable seeds and chickens over and over again instead of taking control of our own gardens and flocks with open pollinated seeds and heirloom chooks.

It's all an encouragement to let someone else take over our food requirements so we don't have to worry our pretty little heads about it. Pfffffffft. If we allow that to continue, we will lose these old skills forever and we will be totally reliant on someone else, or worse still, a commercial enterprise, to feed us.

Self reliance ... make a step towards it every day.

So on to saving seeds ... which I will finish tomorrow by writing about how to select, save and store seeds.

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