Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sourcing Plants and Seed
Part 1 - Seedy dreams

Samples of all the types of beans I saved from my garden this year, painstakingly arranged for what purpose I am not sure... we'll say to go with the dream theme cause I certainly didn't have THAT much time to waste.

It's the time of year we start to dream. Just like when we are snuggled in our beds, our dreams can be strange, disjointed, wild, frightening or just impossible. We scour seed catalogues, websites, our own stock and lust whilst planning for next year's (im)perfect garden. It's one of my favourite gardening activities!

Where can I get my seed?

The Establishment

The first place you'll notice seeds is a rack at a grocery or hardware store. Unless you are lucky, these will likely be from one of the big seed houses like Mckenzie. The selection, at first, might seem exciting but as you go from store to store, you'll feel the deja-vu of global capitalism's so-called choice. This even plays out across small seed companies as well but to a much lesser extent. Plant nurseries (Richmond Nursery sells OSC seeds and Make it Green sells Seeds of Change), Seed and Feed stores, even health food stores (Rainbow Foods sells Eternal Seeds if I remember correctly) or other places where hipsters* and garden fanatics hang out often sell seeds too.

The Wild Wild Web

Much greater choice can be had by exploring the many small seed houses from those aimed at hybrid-friendly agri-complient customers to those in the heirloom/native or bust camp. There's something for everyone and lots in between. Try Seed of Diversity's diverse web listing of places to buy seeds. The problem is that you may want a dash of this and a dab of that from a bunch of different places which can add up to big shipping costs.

You don't have to stay in country, though locally produced seeds have a better chance of being adapted to local conditions, pests, weather and gardening practices. Though I've gone no further afield than Europe and the US, Canada is pretty lenient about admitting seeds into the country. Just remember to check the currency conversion so there are no surprises in price.

Seedy Celebration

Better yet, you can wait (if you can wait) for a Seedy Saturday/Sunday festival where lots of small seed houses will be gathered in one spot to sell their wares. This is great for most seeds but not for ones with exacting germination requirements such as those that are best sown fresh in the fall or that need to be planted indoors before February / March which are the most common dates for seedy days. They also mostly cater to the kitchen garden crowd.

Not all big business

Just like crocheted dollies and ideas, individuals sell seeds on the internet. I've gotten some really nice plants this way but it can be a gamble as I have also gotten duds. Dave's Garden has a feedback facility so you can rate your interaction with companies including one (wo)man operations as does ebay of course. For example, I've had good success with seeds and plants from Yuko's Open Pollinated Seed and Casey's Heirloom Tomatoes.

It's a mission

Some seed savers are in the business of preserving seed strains, such as heritage, or otherwise interesting species, cultivars and so on. They often belong to a seed saving organization through which you can get seeds. Seeds of Diversity is one of these as is the Seed Saver's Exchange in the U.S. Here in Canada, Salt Spring Seeds also has their own Seed Sanctuary.

Swap Meet and Round Robin

Of course in the seed world, there is more than one currency. You can trade seeds for seeds. Seedy Saturday usually has a swap table. Plant forums such as Garden Web often have trade sections. If you hang around plantophiles for long enough, you'll notice they are mostly a generous sort. So much so, that the mere mention of a plant can act like a magical incantation as those very seeds end up in my mailbox (thank you everyone!!). On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are scammers too looking to get free seeds for 'charities' only to resell them or that promise a trade but never deliver. Thankfully I've almost never encountered this.

Plantcycles, horticultural societies and the like often have swaps or round robins. I've never done the latter so I refer you to this definition.

Seed Trading Etiquette

There are often rules for different clubs or organizations but here's my take:

1. Packaging: Use something that is easy to open and close but that will not spill and write on it as much info as you can such as the common name, botanical latin name (I really must remember to do this), seed source, year seed was saved, any problems with seed such as low germination or special germination requirements.

2. For your own seed, make sure people know what they're getting: If it is an outbreeder, did you isolate it or could it have crossed with another plant, cultivar or weed? Was the parent population low? Remember that there are distance requirements between different cultivars of inbreeders too but these are less likely to be adhered to by backyard seed savers. Also, some inbreeders such as beans can be crossed by insects in certain areas.

3. Disease and pest issues: If you have an important seed born disease then it is probably best to keep it for your own use but at any rate, you should inform the recipient. There are some standard precautions taken for certain vegetables such as fermenting/bleach treating tomato seeds or freezing dry bean seeds to kill weevils if they are a problem for you. Also, be careful to remove all pests and weed seeds from your seeds. This is a good reason to remove chaff.

4. Storage requirements: Some seeds germinate MUCH better if they do NOT dry out after collection and so could be shipped moist packed. These are typically those that are best sown fresh. For examples, see Gardens North's catalogue. I can't think of any examples of this requirement for common vegetables though. Others may be easily crushed like sunflower or cabbage seeds so should be packed in bubble wrap.

5. Amount of seeds: This will vary on the type of plant, the rarity and how much you have. If you are planning to give far fewer seeds than normal, make sure the recipient knows. Also most people don't want to grow 50 tomato plants of the same variety so 10-20 seeds is plenty but they could easily sow 50 peas.

6. Postage: Normally if you are trading something more or less equivalent then no postage changes hands but otherwise, it is customary to offer. I never ask figuring all that paid postage can go into my karma bank.

That's not all

There are genetic databases, grocery stores and markets, gardens, the wilds and more but I'll tackle those subjects in different posts. P.S. As sourcing is my obsession this time of year, I thought I'd make it my winter posting theme.

Part II coming up next week: Not all seeds are created equal from hybrid, heirloom, landrace, GMO, species, GREXes and more.

* Not just for geeks, agrarians and grandparents anymore. Gardening is trending right now, especially edible gardening. Food is a big topic for good reason I'd argue. And I like the sudden influx of company. It was lonely way back when people's eyes used to glaze over when I started talking plants. Wait, they still do sometimes... At any rate, it's a garden party!


1 comment:

Robin said...

Great post! I do a detailed inventory to see what I need first. Then I hi-light what I need and add some new varieties that I want to try to my list. Then I check different sources for what I need and want. This keeps the number of places ordering from to a reasonable amount. Some places can really get you on shipping!