Environment » Nature

Just Like Grandma Used to Grow

Heritage seeds get a helping hand from the dedicated gardeners at SODC

Harrowsmith gardeners are no strangers to heirloom seeds, those traditional varieties from our grandparents’ gardens, from ‘Brandywine’ tomatoes to ‘Bloody Butcher’ corn to ‘Mostoller’s Wild Goose’ bean, and all manner of lovely, unique, old-fashioned flowers.

Each one has a special place in history, complete with intriguing folklore around its name and the gardener who originally raised it. For generations, dedicated growers have preserved the best seeds after each harvest, saving them carefully for next season.

Most heirlooms are not available commercially anymore, if they ever were. They’ve largely been supplanted by hybrids, which are more uniform and therefore better suited to large-scale, mechanized agriculture.

The problem is, wonderful heirloom seed lines die out when people stop growing them. During the past century, three-quarters of the world’s food biodiversity has vanished. Of the remainder, two-thirds of existing plant varieties remain inadequately collected, preserved, and documented, and 90% are commercially unavailable to gardeners and farmers.

It’s just as true here in Canada. That’s where Seeds of Diversity Canada (SODC) and its over 1,300 members and growers come in. SODC works with the national seed bank to protect seeds for the future and keep these rare varieties in the hands of growers through exchanges such as “Seedy Saturdays.”They recently launched their own seed library, to boot.

“We’ll take a handful of good seeds, split it in half, and give one half to the national seed bank. They keep those seeds alive and safe, through flood, fire, and the ravages of time,” explains Bob Wildfong, SODC’s Executive Director. “We make the other half available to regular gardeners. So the people’s seeds are safe and accessible.”

To learn how you can get involved in SODC’s various activities, make a donation or access the seed bank, go to www.seeds.ca