Ramblings from The Ridge
It’s been a busy week on the Ridge. We’re well past the halfway point of winter and quickly headed toward the start of a new growing season. We’ll bring our planting rack up from the basement this week. Our seed order has been placed; we’re looking forward to experimenting with some new vegetables this year. Last week, I tested some of our old seeds and determined which ones where still viable. I also tested a few seeds that we saved from last year’s garden.
One of the ways you can be more self-sufficient is to save your seed from year to year. There are a few things you need to know BEFORE you buy seeds this year so that you will be able to begin saving your seeds for successive years. Some of the terms you will hear when discussing seeds are: hybrid, heirloom and open-pollinated. I will begin by trying to define these terms and then explaining why you might choose this type of seed.
Hybrid seeds are a cross between a male of one plant and a female of another plant for the express purpose of achieving the best characteristics of each plant. Such as crossing a large growing tomato with an early producing tomato to get a large-growing, early tomato. Hybrids are crossed to attain a more disease resistant plant, better flavor, size or color. The down side of this crossing means that the seeds saved from these plants will not produce true to their seed so that the traits of the hybrid cannot be reliably reproduced except under a controlled environment.
Open pollinated seeds will produce true to their seed. These seeds can be saved from year to year for generations. Open pollinated means that the plant can be pollinated by wind, insects, or other tomatoes in the same area. Careful attention must be paid to growing and spacing in order to avoid cross pollination with other tomatoes in your garden or your neighbor’s garden.
Heirloom seeds is a term used to denote seeds that have been saved for 50 or more years. Many people believe that all heirloom seeds are also open pollinated; this is not necessarily true. There are a few hybrid tomatoes that have been grown for over 50 years that are now considered heirloom.
So now you’re probably wondering; “ What’s the big deal?” and “Why bother?” The whole thing just boils down to how much control you want to have over what you eat and whether you are just going to take what seeds are accessible at your local box store and when the Big Six seed company decides that you don’t need to eat that kind of vegetable anymore, that seed will no longer be available.
Now you’re thinking, “Big deal, there are 50 choices of tomato seeds when I go to Big Box.” Think about this-the Big Six control 98% of the world’s seed sales. In 1981, there were 5000 non-hybrid varieties of vegetables available in seed catalogs. By 1998, due to “cost cutting” measures, that number had been reduced to less than 600. Most of the seed catalogs that begin arriving before Thanksgiving purchase their seeds from the Big Six and are subject to the whims and wiles of the Big Six. This includes the latest nightmare, GM (genetically modified) seeds.
GM seeds are produced in laboratories where the genes of certain seeds are purposely manipulated to accept things that are not natural pollinators, such as animal or bacterial genes to produce a “super seed”. These seeds may be resistant to certain insects or chemicals which sounds like a good idea. However, GM seeds can also be modified so that they need certain chemicals to trigger their growth and production…guess who sells these certain chemicals? You guessed it- the Big Six! Do you see where this is headed?
There are many helpful sites and various publications where those interested in saving seeds and preserving heirloom varieties can gain incite and knowledge in this area. It may be time to consider starting to save your own seeds while it is still legal.
Spring is on the way. Our first Gardening Seminar was on Saturday…a couple of brave souls faced the elements to attend. Check out www.bigoakridge.org , if there is enough interest, we may reschedule this session.
Until next week, Paula