Historic seed bank threatened

Though it hasn’t been on the mainstream news, an historic seed bank in Russia is threatened by urban sprawl. A judge recently cleared the way for the Pavlovsk Seed Station to be destroyed in order that developers may erect new housing developments. Read this from Food Democracy Now:

World’s First Seed Bank Could Be Destroyed
Posted by Lisa on August 10, 2010

“Twelve Russian scientists famously chose to starve to death rather than eat the unique collection of seeds and plants they were protecting for humanity during the 900-day siege of Leningrad in the second world war. But the world’s first global seed bank now faces destruction once more, to make way for a private housing estate.”  – the Guardian, UK

It’s defies logic, but the fate of the world’s first seed bank in Russia, the Pavlovsk Experimental Station, hangs in the balance for something as frivilous and temporary as a housing development. A Russian court will decide this week if, as argued, that the seed bank has a right and the protection to exist considering that it was never apparently registered with the Russian government. If not, it may be destroyed.

According to the Guardian:

“At stake, say Russian and British campaigners for the station, is not just scientific history but one of the world’s largest collection of strawberries, blackcurrants, apples and cherries. Pavlovsk contains more than 5,000 varieties of seeds and berries from dozens of countries, including more than 100 varieties each of gooseberries and raspberries.”

The article goes on to say…

More than 90% of the plants are found in no other research collection or seed bank. Its seeds and berries are thought to possess traits that could be crucial to maintaining productive fruit harvests in many parts of the world as climate change and a rising tide of disease, pests and drought weaken the varieties farmers now grow.” (emphasis ours)

For a unique perspective on this situation, please take a moment to read Wes Jackson’s speech given at the 50th Anniversary of Khrushchev visit to the Garst family farm in Iowa to discuss farming and food with farmer and seed entrepeneur, Roswell Garst. Wes eloquently takes us back in time to realize that the many choices that we have made, from dependence upon nitrogen fertilizers to the abuse of our soil, the consequences of such could not have been realized when the lightbulb went off. The consequences of such are breathing down our necks now.

In his speech at this historic event attended by Nikita Khrushchev’s son, Sergei, Wes asks for a cooperative effort between the Americans and the Russians in agricultural development. He honors in his speech the seed bank that survived as the scientists protecting it starved.

It is time now, indeed, to harken that spirit again. To do anything else is a global tragedy of unheard proportions – and defiles the memory of twelve heros.

Visit the Food Democracy Now website to sign a petition to the Russian government supporting the Pavlovsk Seed Station.



Confession: I haven’t ordered my seeds yet. Why? I’m dithering.

It would be grand to grow two chard varieties, Five-Color Silverbeet and Fordhook, but the beds have room for only one. Furthermore, I really can’t justify eight lettuce varieties; I really need to weed out that list (no pun intended). Last year Yugoslavian Red did very well, but I haven’t grown Green Deer Tongue for a couple of years and miss it. A red lettuce would be nice, too, like Red Velvet. The Seeds Savers Lettuce Mixture is a must-have; some of the best lettuce I have ever grown. I’m not really making any headway.

Beets are problematic as well, as beets are wont to be. I successfully grew Bull’s Blood last year, but they do get pretty big and should be harvested as summer rolls along. Good for summer meals but bad for a big harvest in the fall. I left quite a few until fall and dug them up; they were tasty but huge. So I’m contemplating Chioggia, an Italian heirloom.

Last on the undecided ballot is spinach. Bloomsdale has provided me with many salads and wilted spinach-and-egg dinners, but I’d like to try Viroflay, a French heirloom.

Though I was tempted, I opted not to start my own tomato, pepper and eggplant seeds. I really don’t have a spot to place the trays, and our local greenhouse, Dakota Greens, and Jolly Lane Greenhouse in Rapid City both carry good selections. Jolly Lane expands the number of heirloom offerings every year, even Japanese eggplant.

So back to my catalogues.

Seed Frenzy!

A sampling of the seed catalogues arriving daily

 This is a sampling of the seed catalogues arriving daily in my mail. I’ve recycled a few that I never order from because they don’t have a good germination rate or come from a zone too warm to thrive in the Upper Great Plains. When the snow covers the ground and spring seems an age away, I tend to have delusions of grandeur about the upcoming garden. By circling photos and dog-earing pages, I rack up a wish list longer than the Iliad. However, in time, I come back to reality and pare down my orders. I order from several distributors each year, but my two favorites are Seed Savers and Territorial.

So let the snow fall and wind howl, curl up with a good catalogue and dream of spring.

Fall seeds

Hopefully we’ll have enough fall season to plant fall seeds, but if you want a late season garden, best get those seeds in the ground right away. Unless it starts snowing in September, then all bets are off. Considering that I have every sheet that’s not already on a bed out covering plants, plus a few tablecloths and blankets, I’m not overly optimistic tonight.

However, if I were an optimist, I’d be planting fall spinach, lettuce and greens right now. Many greens are frost hardy and will bear well into fall, even later with a cold frame. I’m planting Regal Spinach, Tah Tsai (a spinach mustard green), Ching-Chiang Pac Choi, and Winterwunder Lettuce. All these varieties are short-season and frost-tolerant. If you live down in the Hot Springs area, you could probably even plant beets for their greens.

Though let’s see if we get through the next few cold nights before I get too ambitious. I kind of think fall is already here.

Adventures with sprouting

Alfalfa seeds soaking

Alfalfa seeds soaking

For the first time ever, I am growing sprouts. I know, I know; it’s so easy, why doesn’t everyone do it? Well sometimes you just need a push. My push happened this spring when sprouts in my area were pulled from the shelves due to salmonella being found in sprouts somewhere in the region. This was not the first time that’s happened. Why am I not sprouting my own seeds, I thought.

When I placed my seed orders this spring, I included an order for sprouting lids which can be used with wide-mouth jars. Simple and economical. I ordered a package of alfalfa seeds and adzuki bean seeds, figuring that would be plenty to get started.

To be safe, I sterilized the lids and the jar I’d be using, and now my alfalfa seeds are soaking for six hours. According to the information on the seed package, I’ll be enjoying fresh sprouts in three to five days.

The mesh-topped lids came in a set of three sizes for different sizes of seeds. They’re called Sprout-Easy Econo-Sprouter Toppers (a mouthful, yes). I bought mine from Pinetree Garden Seeds (www.superseeds.com) but are also available direct from the manufacturer at www.texasbestunlimited.com. I also ordered my seeds from Pinetree, but would like to find a local source for them. Please comment if you know where to buy sprouting seeds in the Black Hills area.

Ordered your seeds yet?

As I gaze out my study window at the blowing snow, it seems hard to believe that planting season is rapidly approaching. Though so far spring seems to resemble winter, soon we’ll be putting in our gardens. Which means, if you haven’t yet ordered your seeds, you’d best get busy!

This year I’m trying more heirloom varieties in hopes of saving my own seed. Seed saving is an ancient tradition, but one that has been nearly abandoned since World War II and the advent of industrial agriculture. Luckily, there have been hardy souls saving seeds these past decades, and we can reap the benefits of their work by ordering heirloom seeds.

Why bother with growing heirlooms? I don’t want to knock all hybrids because hybridization has made tremendous advances in disease resistance, but hybrid varieties don’t produce true-type seeds. In other words, if you save seeds from a hybrid plant, you won’t get that same variety if you plant those seeds. For purposes of preserving plant varieties, heirlooms are very important since they produce true offspring. We lose many plant varieties every year, saving seeds helps combat that loss.

Also, for people interested in self-sufficiency, saving seeds reduces dependence on seed companies. Our food supply is dangerously integrated and industrialized to the point where many nations, not just the US, can no longer feed themselves. People don’t raise food anymore, corporations process it. Being more responsible for your own food, even just summer vegetables, is a good step toward food independence for people all over the globe.

So as your filling out your seed order, look for varieties marked “Heirloom” and some a try this year.