‘Seeds’ for Thought
by Kayla Siefried – Education Coordinator at the Compost Education Centre

The New Year is well under way! Though it’s hard to believe, the cold windy days are getting longer, slowly. And soon the gardener, both the novice and the well-seasoned, will begin dreamily looking at the hundreds of different seed packets at garden centres, leafing through seed catalogues, and cruising Seedy Saturday booths. Some will take their time wondering what to plant or how to plant, others will be so eager with their garden plans they’ll happily be risking nettle stings as they dive into their garden patches.

I’ve been thinking a lot about seeds ever since I saw the movie “SEED: The Untold Story”. It was an extremely beautiful movie, with various forms of art interweaving stories from a diverse array of people and cultures. The central theme of the film was the relationship to seeds these people have and the importance of seeds to all of humanity. While it raised alarms about the loss of seed diversity and the privatization of seeds by huge companies, it also told inspiring stories of ordinary folks making a massive difference. And it inspired me to look so differently at the sunflower seeds that sit on my desk here in a bowl, which I diligently harvested from a giant sunflower in the garden. When I held a seed the day after seeing the movie, there was a weight of inspiring knowledge that sprung forth – I was holding generations and generations of a plant. An endless cycle of seed, leaf, flower, seed… Food for generations.

So while it’s likely we’ll get caught up in figuring out which cucumber is easiest for a newbie, or which carrot may grow the straightest, let’s also remember the importance of the life force you hold in your hands when you cradle a seed.

And to quench you’re thirst for gardening know–how, come on out to a workshop offerred at the Compost Education Centre in Victoria (www.compost.bc.ca). And, here are some common terms you’ll see in seed catalogues and on the backs of seed packets (All definitions have been sourced from the West Coast Seed Company – www.westcoastseeds.com/garden-resources/glossary):

Open Pollinated: Plants produced by crossing two parents of the same variety, which in turn produce offspring just like the parent plants, are referred to as open pollinated. Many growers prefer open pollinated varieties because their characteristics are extremely reliable from year to year. Gardeners who like to save seeds should select open pollinated varieties.

Hybrid: When pollen from one plant variety is used to fertilize the flowers of a different variety, the resulting seed will produce a hybrid variety. The resulting plant (known as F1 hybrid) will have characteristics from both of its “parent” varieties. Hybrid plant varieties will not produce seeds of a predictable or reliable quality. Hybridization is altogether different from genetic modification, as genetically modified / engineered organisms have been modified via human actions with the gene of a separate species.

Organic: Organic is a broad term given to food that has been grown without the use of synthetic chemicals, fertilizers, seed treatments, pesticides, herbicides, and so on. In the case of meat, animals are raised without the use of antibiotics, steroids, etc… Vegetables (and other plants) grown in this way produce “organic” seeds. Certified Organic growers, seed handlers, and packers must adhere to strict rules regarding the methods they use, and they are subject to audits by regulatory bodies in order to maintain their certification.

Germination rate: Germination rates for any given variety of seed are achieved by actually taking samples from specific lots and germinating them in a controlled environment. The rate literally refers to the number of seeds out of 100 (or more) which germinate successfully within an acceptable period of time.

Heirloom: This describes any vegetable variety grown consistently for over 50 years that is not under patent, and has particular qualities that make it desirable. An heirloom tomato variety grown today should produce fruits with all the characteristics of flavour, texture, and aroma as the same variety grown 50 or even 150 years ago.

Heritage: This term is used to describe Heirloom seed varieties that boast a particular ethnic or cultural lineage. Some people use the two terms interchangeably, but “heritage” implies nationality, as in “Italian heritage tomato” or “French heritage squash.”

Kayla Siefried is the Education Coordinator at the Compost Education Centre, which provides composting and ecological gardening education to residents of the Capital Regional District (CRD) and Greater Victoria, British Columbia, check out our learning opportunities at www.compost.bc.ca!

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