Our attitudes toward seeds have really evolved

Seed saving wasn’t always a hobby — until 50 years ago or so — and since the dawn of our civilization, it was necessary to keep seeds to survive.

The seeds that our ancestors kept going in the family or the village belonged to the community. They were commons.

How things have changed in half a century as we have become used to get seeds from a catalogue.

Seed saving wasn’t always a hobby — until 50 years ago or so — and since the dawn of our civilization, it was necessary to keep seeds to survive.

The seeds that our ancestors kept going in the family or the village belonged to the community. They were commons.

How things have changed in half a century as we have become used to get seeds from a catalogue.

If you want to explore an alternate way, come and learn to save seeds at a workshop provided by the Comox Valley Growers and Seed Savers at Innisfree Farm in Royston this Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon.

This is a free, public workshop offered by the Seed Savers, and no registration is necessary. Thierry Vrain and Nick Guthrie will present tools and techniques to collect and clean seeds and answer your questions.

The CVGSS is an active group of gardeners who promote seed saving and educate —  see  www.comoxvalleygrowersandseedsavers.ca for more information. Innisfree Farm is at 3636 Trent Rd. in Royston. Visit them online at www.innisfreefarm.ca.

Before the workshop, take Seeds 101 and learn a few terms.

Say “heirloom” and “variety” and “Open Pollination”? Notice the word “variety.” It means variable.

Heirlooms are predictably variable because their breeding is uncontrolled and their pollen source is anonymous. Open pollination results in plants that vary in the expression of certain genetic traits.

Our ancestors, and this goes back many thousands of years, raised our crops generation after generation, carefully selecting the best plants every year. They swapped their seeds and worked together.

All their plants were open pollinated. The seeds were their way to survival; they were reliable.

Heirlooms have history, time-proven reliability, and they reproduce true to type. They are the survivors. The other clones wiped out, they were less suited to withstand the climate of the region where they grew.

By contrast, hybrid varieties are all very recent heterozygotic clones, also highly variable. They are a mix of two inbred (pure) varieties, and the F1 generation experiences a significant boost in yield.

Hybrid seeds — a new technology of the past 50 years, provide one very significant benefit to the grower, namely he gets 20 per cent more of his crop, sometimes much more if he judiciously uses fertilizers and pesticides.

The bottom line for farmers is that this technology increases profit.  Hybrid varieties are completely unpredictable from one generation to the next.

In other words, when grown year after year, these clones lose the profit-making trait, which is the technology you are buying. The seeds are too unpredictable to have any value, so you cannot keep the seeds from year to year.

The seed corporations have separated production from reproduction. Production remains in the hands of the gardeners and farmers, but reproduction is now corporate property.

Once they have been improved, the seeds are private property. We must purchase those seeds every year, at whatever condition or price.

When you save seeds, you are holding their history in your hands. Literally, holding a seed is holding a story that stretches back, way back.

More and more people on the Island save their seeds every year and swap them. Each year, they hold gatherings in early spring where everyone trades and buys seeds.

— Thierry Vrain

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