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From Seed to Soil to Table Part One, from apothecary gardens

An important part of wellness for me is growing much of my own food. The entire process of the growing season, which, technically, begins in February if you count seedlings sprouting under grow lights in the basement, is comforting. The sound of the seeds rustling around in their packets, their various shapes and sizes. The scent of the potting mix, and watching for tiny, delicate green sprouts to emerge. Transplanting seedlings in the garden beds and nurturing the plants until flowers transform into food. Comforting, all of it. The magic that happens when seed, soil, and the elements come together never ceases to amaze me.

Growing my own herbs, fruits, and vegetables means that I know where my food comes from, beginning to end. From helping to start the germination process all the way through harvest time, there's an intimate relationship with the food I've grown. Gardening is an enriching experience that teaches one patience, observation, and adaptation.

On March 22, 2013 I attended a seed saving seminar at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, which was most informative, as well as a seed swap afterwards. I learned a great deal and felt equipped to effectively save pure seed from the various plants that were to be grown in that year's garden, as well as each year going forward.

The seminar made me glad that I did not save seeds from the previous year's garden. Had I, seeds saved from fruit where multiple varieties of the same family of plant were grown would not have been pure to the individual adult plants. For instance, four different varieties of melons grew in the 2012 garden. Seeds saved from those single varieties would have actually been a natural hybrid of all four types due to cross-pollination. If those 2012 seeds had been planted the following year, the melons grown would not have been the same fruit grown from pure parent seeds, and less so year after year.

Multiple varieties of one genus can be grown but some care is required to prevent cross-pollination if you want to grow and save pure seed. To this end, growing each genus a specific distance apart from another, tenting each genus, or covering each flower with a bag and pollinating by hand are viable options to prevent cross pollination. However, since I am only a backyard gardener, I plant just one variety of plant genus, with the exception of self-pollinating plants such as tomatoes. I have been known to ask gardening friends and neighbors to participate in sharecropping so that we can all maximize our yield and have more of a variety of fruits and vegetables.

The seed saving seminar was led by a staff member of Seed Savers Exchange, who also donated many seeds to the seed swap held later the same day. Vegetable, flower, and herb seeds were also donated by the Chicago Botanic Gardens and Master Gardeners. Gardeners such as myself were welcome to bring saved or leftover seed packets to share at the swap. From the swap I gathered ranunculus and helichrysum flower seeds. Also, swapped personally with a Master Gardener named Don, he gave to me a packet of Penstemon digitalis "Husker Red". He was delighted to have a few of leftover vegetable and flower seed packets I had brought with me that day.

While walking around the seed swap, I noticed that a couple of experienced gardeners were using a book Seed to Seed as their reference guide. I finally asked two gentlemen, tomato connoisseurs, who were seated at the same table together, if they had copies of the book for sale. They did not but I knew immediately that if these folks, who possessed years of gardening experience each, referred to that book, it's a book that I wanted in my gardening library. Soon after, a copy of Seed to Seed arrived at my doorstop. It is chock full of valuable information.

Like I was saying...

Seed to Seed is a complete seed-saving guide that describes techniques for saving the seeds of 160 different vegetables. This book contains detailed information about each vegetable, including its botanical classification, flower structure and means of pollination, required population size, isolation distance, techniques for caging or hand-pollination, and also the proper methods for harvesting, drying, cleaning, and storing the seeds.

Seed to Seed is widely acknowledged as the best guide available for home gardeners to learn effective ways to produce and store seeds on a small scale. The author (Suzanne Ashworth) has grown seed crops for every vegetable featured in the book, and has thoroughly researched and tested all of the techniques she recommends for the home garden.

Included with my book order was a copy of the sixth edition of Garden Seed Inventory by Seed Savers Exchange. This book is a reference guide with the mission of preserving our garden heritage. Included inside the front cover: An inventory of seed catalogs listing all non-hybrid vegetable seeds available in the United States and Canada.

While waiting for those two books to arrive at my doorstep, I came across some information on the Internet that resulted in close to five hours of research pertaining to GE/GMO seeds, the greedy entity known as Monsanto, the Safe Seed Pledge, and Monsanto-free companies. I'll now attempt to compile the details I found in a concise fashion, so as to allow you to read, research, and make your own informed decision about where you'll purchase your seeds and plants from in the future.

I came across The Healthy Home Economist blog; in particular, the post titled The Four Steps Required to Keep Monsanto OUT of your Garden. It is here that I learned that in 2005 Monsanto purchased the world's largest vegetable seed company, Seminis, Inc. This means if you buy seeds from a company that otherwise sells safe seeds, including an array that are certified organic or heirloom seeds, yet are supplied to them by Seminis, you're now putting money in Monsanto's avaricious grasp. My sympathy for the companies affected by this buy-out. I cannot imagine that they're happy about being indirectly associated with Monsanto. I've also read from several different sources that these companies are receiving letters from customers who ask for a list of Seminis-supplied seeds so they can avoid buying them. Some of these are heirloom seeds that are top sellers. Some of these companies are weighing their options as to whether or not they should cease carrying any of the seeds that are supplied by Seminis. However, many of the seeds in question are irreplaceable; there is no other source for them.

The first of the four steps to keep Monsanto out of your garden is to "avoid buying from the seed companies affiliated with Monsanto." I reviewed the list of companies to avoid just two days before the Garden Seed Inventory book was delivered. Once I had opportunity to have a look inside the book, I recognized some of the companies names from the To-Avoid list. One by one, each company on the To-Avoid list was crossed out in the seed inventory book. Personally, I do not want to knowingly support Monsanto in any way. Monsanto also owns the DeRuiter seed brand. It's not an easy decision to make; I want to support independent seeds companies as well as do my part in preserving rapidly vanishing heirloom varieties, and these companies are truly innocent bystanders, but I want to say no to Monsanto. Heck, a part of me wants to buy the seeds only available from one or two sources, even if they are supplied by Seminis, and start my own seed library. Seeds are life. The heirloom seed heritage should be protected and preserved.

The second step on The Healthy Home Economist's list is to buy seeds from "companies Monsanto has not bought and are not affiliated with or do business with Seminis." The list of companies, compiled by Occupy Monsanto, happily, is lengthy. One company name, however, was strangely missing from the list - Seed Savers Exchange (SSE). How could the largest seed stewardship be omitted from such an important list? Especially since Seed Savers Exchange were one of the first to sign the Safe Seed Pledge.

I was about to submit a comment to Occupy Monsanto asking that they include Seed Savers on their Monsanto-Free Seed Companies list when I decided to utilize the 'find' feature and see if someone had done so already. Also to learn if mention was made as to why they had been omitted from the list. I quickly found my answer.

A comment made on March 1, 2013 from "NOGMONC" basically says that the list "sadly" includes SSE. The comment goes on to say that SSE has "partnered and contracted with the likes of the Gates Foundation, Syngenta, Dupont & Monsanto just to name a few on the construction [of] Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway." I am aware of the Svalbard Seed Vault and that SSE participates in seed storage there, but was not aware that Monsanto is a large financial contributor of the vault's construction.

A mere twenty-five minutes later, "Occupy Monsanto" responded to "NOGMONC" indicating that they thought they "had already removed them after finding out a couple of things many months back, they're off the list now." Occupy Monsanto has yet to reply to a query asking what else they've learned about SSE, so I'm left to wonder if it's something more than the affiliation with Monsanto and other pro-GMO entities.

"NOGMONC's" comment also includes a link to a safe seed company list compiled by Farmwars.

For anyone who is interested, the depositor guidelines for the Svalbard Seed Vault can be found here.

It makes me uneasy and suspicious that Monsanto is a financial contributor of the Svalbard Seed Bank. Hopefully, Seed Savers Exchange have done their due diligence to ensure that what they have deposited in Svalbard are safe from the possibility of being patented by Monsanto. If that were to ever happen we would lose so much more than just seeds. We would be losing the freedom to plant our own diverse seeds, the freedom to plant and grow nutrient dense foods with a rich history, and the freedom to make choices about the food we grow and eat. Seeds are life. We must protect our right to save our own seeds and not succumb to a greedy entity who seems to have a desire to get rich by making us sick.

This will be an ongoing series. Please stay tuned for more seed saving and gardening information.

Lisa of Apothecary Gardens

Created By
Lisa Rising
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Created with images by Gabriel Jimenez - untitled image

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