Local Seed Swap
Happy National Seed Swap Day!
This morning, I participated in my local seed swap, held at our library, and sponsored by the University of Illinois Extension. There were volunteer Master Gardeners on hand who helped to organize the morning and to give advice on how to start seeds.
I brought in almost 20 different types of seeds to share.
I have been saving seeds for a long time. When I purchase seeds I always make sure they are open-pollinated varieties. You cannot save the seeds from hybrids, as they will not produce seeds like their parents. You also need to be sure that when you are collecting seeds, you select from the strongest plants/fruit and have the qualities you are looking for (early development, best color, amazing flavor). By doing this, overtime you will develop small differences in your crops that work the best for the microclimate you are gardening in.
Seed saving is an art. I remember my Grandfather saving
all his tomato seeds. I also remember one disastrous year when he mistakenly purchased a hybrid, saved the seed, and got plants with a strong root-stock, but it never bloomed. Knowing when to pick the "fruit" is only half the battle (normally they should be picked slightly over-ripe). Extracting and storing them for next season is the next step. I highly recommend the book Seed to Seed for exact directions on how to save seeds for a variety of plants.
Starting in 2013, the Department of Agriculture started to crackdown on local seed libraries and seed swaps. There were seed libraries in Pennsylvania and Minnesota were ordered to stop "lending" seeds because they did not do a full test of all seeds available. Seed tests are normally the law in most states so that what people are planting are viable seeds and true to variety. Which is great for commercial farmers. (Its also great for those of us that purchase seeds and we want them to be true.) However, when you are trying to help a community of urban/suburban gardeners get access to free seeds, test on the scale required are impossible. This is why events like local seed swaps are so important to maintaining seed variety and developing varietals that work well in a very local area. The laws seem to be changing (at least in Minnesota), but there are also organizations (like this one from Wisconsin) across the country to help preserve our dwindling seed heritage. If you want to learn more about the business and politics of seeds, you might want to see Seed: The Untold Story.)
I met some really great people today. Some were my
neighbors, with whom I have exchanged seeds and plants before (my oregano always gets out of hand and needs to be divided!)
Others were new to starting seeds indoors. (I wish the gentleman who is going to start onions from seed for the first time luck! And I will definitely post my roasted radish recipe on this blog after my first spring crop for him and his wife to try.)
I also met a couple who had seeds from Slovenia. I exchanged some of my Painted Lady and Dragon Tongue beans for a Paprika-style pepper and a very unusual radicchio that does just fine in our climate of cold and snow. She told me to plant it in the spring, but it is not ready until the following year. Her husband explained the flavor as bitter, buttery, and tender. I can't wait!
Now that I have my saved seeds organized, new seeds from the swap today, and four of my favorite seed catalogs well-circled and dog-eared. I'm ready to begin planning my 2017 garden.