Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ordering Seeds with Steve Solomon and TEOTWAWKI in mind.

TEOTWAWKI, for the innocent, is The End Of The World As We Know It.

I don't live in fear. We don't sit on guarded stashes of dried food. I like modern civilization a lot, and have no desire to revert to a mythically idyllic Luddite or Amish existence.
But I am aware that we are living in extremely interesting times. Peak oil, climate change, financial collapse, the list goes on. The collective memory of the Winter of Famine, 1944/45, is imprinted deep in my psyche. What if next year brings massive crop failures, and seeds will be unavailable or at a premium in 2012? Just in case, a bit of preparation for potential scarcity doesn't hurt.

How does this affect the choice of garden seeds? At first glance one would opt for open-pollinated everything, and start saving seeds like mad. We have an active seed exchange in town. However, after reading and re-reading the chapter on seeds in "Gardening when it counts" by Steve Solomon, I am not so sure that hybrids are always a bad thing. This book is worth buying for the chapter on seeds alone. It has become my Bible, and I have a shelf full of garden books.

To recap Steve: saving one's own seeds is perfectly fine and recommendable in the case of self-pollinated plants, like beans, peas, lettuces and tomatoes. Select the best plants and collect some seeds, or in the case of lettuces encourage them to go wild. Simple, at least in theory. In practice I am too eager to eat the first good peas or tomatoes, which are exactly the ones you want to mark and let mature for seed.

Getting quality seeds from plants that use wind and/or insects to pollinate is much trickier. As the old timer said, if you want true seed you have to "play pimp to the pumkin".
Members of the squash family are a promiscuous bunch that love to get together with their cousins, with mostly undesirable offspring as a result. The same goes for the cabbage family. Even if one avoids undesirable combinations, it takes more than a few plants to keep a variety going. If too few specimens are used the variety will suffer from inbreeding and die out. Think of veggie Hapsburgs.

It takes a minimum of 200 top quality cabbage plants to keep a variety going. We can see that this is well beyond the scope of the average home gardener. I am happy to leave it to the experts while we can. 

According to Steve many hybrids do indeed perform better. If you  do not plan to save seeds anyway and only have a smallish garden those expensive packages of hybrid seed just might be worth it.

So this is what I am doing this year. First, there are quite a few seeds left over from last year. Alas, the poor things have been abused. You know how it goes. Go up to the garden, take the box along, park it in the shade. Next thing you know it is in the sun. Leave the same box outside on the deck in early fall to freeze at night. Not a pretty picture. I will make sure the seeds sprout vigorously before planting them, and make sure I have replacements as well. So far the leeks were started with 2 year old seed. They came up fast and are growing vigorously, bless their sturdy hearts.

So, for this year: use last year's seed, but have replacements handy and use at the first sign of wimpiness.
Buy what I feel like planting, hybrid or not, for this year and/or next.

For "just in case": buy some bigger packages (much cheaper) of favorite bean and pea varieties, even though I plan to save my own as well. Buy some OP varieties of cabbage, squash etc. Store the seed stash properly. Consider it buying peace of mind.

Sources:
http://stellarseeds.com/
A small company with a limited but high quality selection, all local to my region.

http://saltspringseeds.com/
Dan Jason has been a farmer, writer and activist for many years. His book "Greening the Garden" is a classic by now. I would buy more of his seeds if he were not on Salt Spring Island, a banana belt compared to the West Kootenay.
However, to my great joy he sells some seeds that were produced by Andy Pollock in Houston, B.C., way up North.
I got those and some quinoa.

http://richters.com/
Herbs, herbs, herbs. I still have seeds from last year and, shame, the year before. In my experience it pays to just get some things as a plant. Richters' plants are always good and arrive in top condition, thanks to an ingenious packing system.

http://damseeds.com/
I have been buying seeds from William Dam since my first pathetic efforts in 1970. I was glad to see the company listed in the Bible. Steve is not easily pleased.

That will pretty much do it, but I may also take a look at the 2 other Canadian seed firms for short seasons. http://stokeseeds.com/, and http://veseys.com/

Happy planning and planting everyone!





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