Dennis Touliatos, coordinator of Lancaster Seed Library, provides us with a short project update in this week’s column.
In June I gave a talk on seed saving at Lancaster University’s Ecohub to a bunch of aspiring organic farmers.
The Ecohub is a brilliant food growing project at Lancaster University that combines multiple elements such as vegetable growing, beekeeping and a young forest garden to communicate about the importance of local, organic food with the university campus community. I therefore felt like I was in the right place to talk about the neglected art and science of seed saving!
This feeling was further reinforced by the group – they were very well informed and enthusiastic as they are participants of LESS’ FarmStart Organic Growers’ Support Course. This course has enabled around 20 local residents to develop the skills, expertise and experiences required for small-scale organic commercial growing. The course covers crop planning, growing under cover, harvesting, handling and packaging, pricing, marketing, distribution and selling, and of course seed saving!
I first presented the Lancaster Seed Library – our local seed saving project that has cabinets based in Lancaster’s central library and growing beds at Claver Hill community farm. I was happy to learn that several course participants had used the seed library to donate and borrow seeds.
We discussed how seed saving could be considered a political act and why its important in terms of maintaining and increasing genetic diversity. (Around 75% of plant genetic diversity has been lost due to farmers relying so heavily on hybrid seeds). We also explored how seed saving is one of the first steps needed to move towards food sovereignty: “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods; and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems”.
We explored the mechanics of self and cross pollination, and how seed savers can use several techniques to ensure that the seeds they grow are true to type, are viable, and adaptable. For example seed savers can use isolating cages to protect their seed crops from the pollen of plants of the same species and to keep saved seeds from those plants true to type. Hand-pollination is another technique used to pollinate plants when natural pollination is either undesirable or insufficient.
We looked at both annual and biennial crops and how you can save seed from each. An annual crop requires only one growing season to produce seed and complete its life cycle e.g. corn, beans, squash and tomatoes. Whereas a biennial crop requires two growing seasons to produce seed and complete its life cycle. Examples include carrots, beetroot, chard and cabbage.