Winter being all about the seed, I happily do my part. Baking Blue Kuri kabocha squash pies in order to extract the seeds and add them, after drying, to the big jar. Cleaning Divina lettuce seed, outdoors on a rainless day, pouring from one tub to another and letting the breeze carry off the downy fluff. Germination testing: four days in, and most of the seeds, old as well as new, have already sprouted, many at 100%. I feel wealthy with so much concentrated plant potential all around.
|Blue Kuri is a Japanese heirloom Kabocha squash|
Another cause for celebration is the arrival in print of a reliable and comprehensive seed growing textbook, finally: The Organic Seed Grower by John Navazio (published by Chelsea Green). I’ll continue to use the Organic Seed Alliance’s handy booklet, A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers (for which Navazio is co-author), and beginning seed-savers need look no further. The Organic Seed Grower provides the hard-core next level of understanding for gardeners, farmers, and communities moving toward local and regional resilience and food sovereignty. It’s got both the macro – agricultural seed history, reproductive biology – and the micro – pertinent details for a wide array of vegetable crops.
One thing I especially appreciate is the way Navazio debunks the myth of the strict separation between self-pollinating plants and cross-pollinaters, replacing it with the reality of a continuum that shifts according to changing conditions. He does the same with the myth of standardized isolation distances, leaving us with the need to pay close attention every step of the way – which sets us up as growers in a co-creative relationship with plant evolution. Just the way it used to be, the way we came to have all these wonderful vegetable foods in the first place. Here’s a passage from the book:
“The fact that there is no such thing as perfect isolation can be intimidating to anyone seeking genetic purity in seed. But it can also be liberating once everyone involved in seed production realizes there is no such thing as absolute purity and that some genetic mixing is inevitable whenever seed is produced. It then becomes your responsibility to be much more involved in the process of determining the isolation distance based on the biology of the crop and the environment and topography of the location where you’re growing it. You must also get more familiar with each seed crop, realizing that your selection of off-types, outcrosses, and seed mixes is the only way in which the integrity of the crop will be maintained as it passes through your hands to farmers who will grow the crop now and into the future.
“Knowing that genetic mixing and variation is inherent in the process puts us back in touch with our true role in the process. This is the same role that our ancestors who first domesticated these plants had. This is the way that we integrate these crops into our lives. The genetic integrity of the crop then becomes a reflection of our commitment and involvement in the process. The crops that we grow and use thus become woven into our communities and into the “culture” of our agriculture.”