A seed contains within itself everything necessary for life and the growth of a complete variety of plant with unique tastes, aromas and incredible shapes! Add clean water, air and nutrients, and you manifest that life into its full potential.
Many years ago, as I was beginning my life's work in gardening, I placed many of my seeds in herb jars in an herb rack just so I could see the diversity and beauty of all the seeds. So much diversity and potential was in one place—vegetables, herbs, flowers and grains. It was wonderful—almost unimaginable! We are so fortunate.
Abundance and Vitality
In 1885 the French proprietors of the Vilmoran seed company published an English version of their epic work about vegetable plants and how to best cultivate them. In the Introduction, they bemoaned how much diversity and vitality had been lost in from the seeds available at the time. They looked back to early times and the thriving abundance available then.
We still worry about this loss of abundance and vitality in 2008. Our crops contain much less in the way of minerals and even calories than they used to. Ironically, however, some yields are even higher per acre now than in the past, because the crops now contain more water per pound.
Less than 5% of all the varieties used in agriculture over time to grow food are now available. Most others are extinct or virtually unavailable. On the hopeful side, if we use biologically intensive methods properly, we can remineralize our soils and use the seeds we save to preserve the remaining crop varieties in our gardens, mini-farms and farms. In addition, if grown and saved in different regions, these seeds will become acclimatized to our soils and climates—and will be healthier and produce better for us!
Next Year's Garden in This Year's Garden
So how does seed saving work?
It only takes about 3% more area in this year's garden to grow the seeds we need for our food raising next year. What fantastic efficiency! A good place to begin is with open-pollinated varieties that self-pollinate—such as tomatoes, beans, lettuce, wheat and hulless oats. Why not add the enjoyment of growing some of your bread and oatmeal to your experiences? The primordial feeling evoked by seeing "waves of grain" at home is unequaled! And the taste of fresh-baked bread from freshly harvested seed is something that few of us have enjoyed. Do not let another year pass without this experience!
Many years ago Leo Tolstoy wrote a story called "The Grain"—
Once upon a time some children found in a ravine, a little round something that was like an egg; but it also had a groove down the middle, and so was like a grain of corn. A passer-by saw this something in the children's hands, and bought it off them for a piatak. Then he took it away to town and sold it to the Tsar as a curiosity.
The Tsar sent for his wise men, and commanded them to examine the little round something and to say if it was an egg or a grain of corn. The wise men pondered and pondered, but could not solve the problem. So the little round something was left lying on a window-sill, and a hen flew in, pecked at the little round something, and pecked a hole in it; so that everyone could now see that it was a grain of corn. Wherefore the wise men hastened to return and tell the Tsar that the little round something was nothing else than a grain of cereal rye.
The Tsar was astonished and commanded the wise men to ascertain where and when this grain was grown. So the wise men pondered and pondered, and searched their books, but could discover nothing. They returned to the Tsar, therefore, and said: "We cannot resolve those two questions, for we find nothing written in our books about them. But let your Imperial Majesty cause inquiry to be made among the peasantry, lest haply any one of them has ever heard from his elders where and when this grain was sown."
So the Tsar sent and commanded a very ancient elder of the peasantry to be brought to him. Such a one was searched for, and conducted to the Tsar's presence. The old man was livid and toothless, and walked with difficultly on crutches.
The Tsar showed him the grain, which was unlike anything that the old man had ever seen before. In deed, he could hardly see it now, but half-examined it with his eyes, half-felt it with his hands. Then the Tsar asked him: "Do you know, good grandfather, where this grain was grown? Did you yourself ever sow similar grain in your field, or did you ever in your time buy similar grain?"
The old man was deaf, and heard and understood only with great difficulty, so that he was slow in answering.
"No," he said at last, "it never befell me to sow such grain in my field, not to reap such grain, nor to buy it. When we bought corn it was all of fine, small grain. "But," he continued, "you would do well to ask my father. He may have heard where such a grain as this one was grown."
So the Tsar sent the old man to fetch his father, and commanded the latter to be brought to him. The father of the old man was duly found and conducted to the presence, and he entered it hobbling on one crutch only. The Tsar showed him the grain and, as the old man still had the use of his eyes, he was able to see it quite clearly. Then the Tsar asked him:
"Do you know, my good old man, where such a grain was grown? Did you every ever yourself sow similar grain in your field? Or did you ever in your time buy similar grain from anywhere?"
The old man was a little hard of hearing, yet he could hear much better than his son.
"No," he said, "it never befell me to sow or to reap such grain: no, nor yet to buy it, since in my time money had not begun to be used in trade. Everyone grew his own bread, and, as regarded other needs, one shared with another. I do not know where such a grain as this one can have been grown, for, although our grain was larger than the grain is now and gave more flour, I have never before seen such a grain. But I have heard my father say that in his time better corn was reaped than in mine, and that it was larger and yielded more flour. You would do well to send and ask him."
So the Tsar sent for the father of this old man, and the father was found and conducted to the presence. He entered it without crutches at all—walking easily, in fact—while his eyes were still bright and he spoke distinctly. The Tsar showed him the grain, and the old man looked at it and turned it over and over.
"Ah," he said, "but it is many a long day since I have seen a grain of olden times like this one!" Then he nibbled the grain and chewed a morsel of it. "It is the same!" he exclaimed.
"Tell me, then, grandfather," said the Tsar, "where and when such grain as this was grown? Did you yourself ever sow such grain in your field? Or did you ever in your time buy it anywhere of others?"
Then the old man replied: "In my time such grain as this was reaped everywhere. It was on such grain that I myself lived and supported others. Such grain have I both sowed and reaped and ground."
And the Tsar asked him again: "Tell me, good grandfather, was it ever your custom to buy such grain anywhere, or always to sow it yourself in your own field?"
The old man smiled. "In my time," he said, "no one would ever have thought of committing so great a sin as to buy or to sell grain. We knew nothing of money. Each man had as much grain as he wanted."
Then the Tsar asked him again: "Tell me, good grandfather, where it was that you sowed such grain—where, indeed, your field was?"
And the old man replied: "My field was God's earth. Where I plowed, that was my field. The earth was free, and no man called it his own. All that he called his own was the labour of his own hands."
"Tell me now," said the Tsar, "two other things: firstly, why it is that such grain once grew, but grows not now: and secondly, why it is that your grandson walked on two crutches, and your son on one, while you yourself walk easily without any at all, and have, moreover, your eyes still bright and your teeth still strong and your speech still clear and kindly. Tell me the reason for these two things."
Then answered the old man: "The reason for those two things is that men have ceased to live by their labour alone, and have begun to hanker after their neighbors' goods. In the olden days they lived not so. In the olden days they lived according to God's word. They were masters of their own and coveted not what belonged to another."
To forget how to dig the soil is to forget oneself.—Ghandi
Some good publications for getting started in seed saving are:
• Growing to Seed by Peter Donelan. Learn how to preserve genetic diversity in the smallest area.
• Saving Seeds by Marc Rogers. A good beginner’s guide to growing and storing vegetable and flower seeds.
• Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. An excellent and thorough guide to seed saving.
• The Garden Seed Inventory edited by Kent Whealy. A listing of all vegetable varieties available from seed companies in the U.S. and Canada. An extraordinary resource!
• Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe. For the adventurous!
All these and more are available from www.bountifulgardens.org
Illustrations for "A World of Hope!" by Judy Chance Hope