Local seed exchanges hold pleasant garden surprises

Coming local seed exchanges include:

– Seeds of Diversity at Norfolk Street United Church, Guelph on   March 12 at 1pm; and

– Fergus Horticultural Society meeting at Victoria Park Senior Centre in Fergus – March 16, at 7pm.

Historically, saving seed began with our native people. Year after year, enough seed was put aside to replant each spring. European immigrants brought seeds with them from their gardens and farms. Our early farmers continued to save and replant seeds for centuries.

In essence, today’s crops have evolved from seed that has been saved from last year.

Interested home gardeners have realized the value of seed saving and have developed a network of seed exchanges.

Seeds of Diversity is Canada’s heritage seed program for gardeners.  The organization is a source of information about heirloom seeds, seed saving, plant diversity, garden history, and seed heritage.

A seed exchange is a gathering of gardeners, during which the participants trade extra open pollinated and heirloom seeds for those collected by other gardeners.

Often seeds obtained from a seed exchange are grown organically. That is to say, that most are fertilized through the use of compost and manure. Heritage seeds are also included in the collection. Newer varieties have been also diligently saved.

Whether packing seeds for personal use or to trade, there are a few guidelines to follow, that may make the job easier.

Place collected seeds in sealable envelopes. Paper is a plant product that breathes and will allow the drying process to continue, if the seeds are not fully dry.

Store collected seeds in a dry cool environment. Always record the year harvested and where they were grown. It is important to label the package with the botanical name as well as the common. Books and the internet can be valuable resources. Record the colour of a particular variety of flower. The variety of a particular vegetable should be part of the description. Tomatoes are a classic example:  cherry versus beefsteak.

Record the name of the person who collected the seeds or the location where collected. Maple keys collected at a particular historical site may mean more to the grower as the plant matures.

In preparation for this year’s exchange, volunteers met to process seeds.

The first step was seed cleaning. The majority of seeds were harvested and bagged last fall. They were still “on stalk” and needed to be picked off individually. It was very tedious task but it was amazing how much was gathered in such a short period of time.

One older gentleman, who obviously spent many years farming, knew a “quicker way” of removing the seed. He simply grabbed the bags and began to flail them.

Eyebrows began to rise in amazement. He explained that farmers have been removing seeds for years. Threshing is the process of removing the seeds from the rest of the plant. Normally, threshing was done in the field by a machine.

Threshing or thrashing is the process of separating the edible kernels of grain (seed) from inedible chaff and stalks following the harvesting of a crop.

Naturally, the ripe seeds fell to the bottom of the bag and the chaff was easily removed.

The farmer asked many times, “How much cilantro seed could be used at a seed exchange?”

Generally, seed envelopes are exchanged one for one; else wise cash remuneration is collected.

Before exchanging any seeds, it is a good gardening practice to make sure they are viable, that is, to make sure they will sprout.

A germination test can be done by placing a few seeds on a damp paper towel inside a Ziploc bag.

Simply label the bag with the species and the date of the germination test. Check in a few days to see if they have sprouted. If they sprout, they will grow.

Dates for exchanges are posted on the internet and local Newspapers. A good internet source for additional exchanges is the Seeds of Diversity Seedy Saturday/Sunday site.

Exchanging seeds with other home gardeners is good way to expand a garden collection. Usually, it is done without spending any money but just collecting and trading seeds each and every year.

Often heritage varieties or specific colours of flora are no longer commercially available but may be found at seed exchanges. For gardeners who are hoping to grow some long forgotten or new varieties this season, trading seeds may bring a pleasant surprise.

Ron Stevenson is a member of the Fergus Horticultural Society