Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Tradition: Heirloom and Open-Pollinated Species

Heirloom and Open-Pollinated Seeds vs. Genetic Hybrids (F1)
The Anecdotal Wisdom of Generations Past.

We live a time where hybrids (F1) and seed patents, have nearly replaced the age-old practice of Saving Seeds from heirloom and open-pollinated plant varieties. These ‘hybrids’ and associated ‘seed patents’, LIMIT (genetically and legally), your ability and right to continue growing the same plant from the seeds of successive harvests year after year. Most hybrids degrade after a few generations. Some hybrids have ‘Kill Switches’ genetically engineered into them, so that their production is greatly reduced or fail completely after a couple generations. As for the subject of Seed Patents, there is cause for litigation, on behalf of the Owner the patent, against anyone, whom, offers for sale, trade or distribution of the seeds covered by the patent without the express written consent of the owner. Furthermore, there is cause for litigation, against anyone, whom, offers for sale, trade, distribution, or planting of the ‘seeds obtained form the harvest of plants, bearing the same genetic seeds’.

The symbol ‘F1’ refers to “First Filial” or first generation offspring. F1 indicates that a seed or plant is a hybrid. The symbol ‘PVP’ refers to “Plant Variety Protected.” A seed or plant with a PVP designation denotes the seed variety has a Patent and – Unauthorized Marketing of Seeds Prohibited. Some modern open-pollinated varieties have a PVP designation. Both symbols, F1 or PVP are, in most cases, printed on the seed pack and always included next to the name of the variety in most reputable seed catalogs.

Although, it is true that cross-breading and genetic manipulation has yielded many new and beneficial plant varieties, albeit very few of which are engineered to be Open-Pollinated. If there is a specific hybrid variety, that you want to grow and, you are not interested in keeping seeds, then go ahead and plant them.

A large percentage of gardeners are using hybrids exclusively, thus making them hopelessly reliant on the companies that create and produce the genetic hybrids. It also makes Seed Saving a futile endeavor. If the numbers of people using Open-Pollinated and Heirloom seeds dwindles, these seed varieties are in danger of being lost.

There are several organizations, whose efforts are making great head way in sustaining and expanding the proliferation of Heirloom Seeds. The leading organization is the Seed Savers Exchange and Heritage Farm, a non-profit, member-supported organization of gardeners and plant collectors who save and share heirloom seeds. The Seed Savers Exchange is the national leader in preserving and distributing heirloom seeds. Together with Heritage Farm, they maintain one of the largest collections of heirloom varieties in the United States. The general-public can purchase seeds from them. The revenue form each sale helps support their not-for-profit mission. I strongly encourage anyone interested in growing open-pollinated heirloom seeds, to visit their web site online at http://www.seedsavers.com/. At the web site, you can download their PDF catalog or have a catalog mailed to your home. 

Seed Savers Exchange is a wonderful resource for those interested in building a Seed Tradition of their own.   

When planning your garden, seriously consider using the Open-Pollinated varieties instead of the hybrids. Only the Heirloom and Open-Pollinated species will produce seed that is capable of reproducing itself in kind, year after year. In addition, you have the freedom to keep and use the seed as you wish.

Of course, the tradition of seed saving started with the generations past. For our grandparents, Seed Saving was an essential practice. When they found a plant variety that was of good eating quality and consistently productive, they would diligently save and label “more then enough seed” for planting (and sharing). “More then enough seed saved” was a deliberate tactic, in case of disaster, i.e., late or early frost, flood, drought, or those damn rabbits, squirrels and critters, of which many found their way to the diner table, due to their destructive habits in the garden. The quest to ‘Save and Pass On’ seeds, resulted in gardening success year after year. This single practice insured that family, friends and the next generation, would have plenty of high quality planting stock.

Many of my fondest memories are of my grandma, Alma Duncan, (Mam’ma), a woman of Southern Persuasion. She was a Master Gardener and Seed Saver. I can remember that every autumn there would be seeds of every kind spread out on old newspapers, drying by the heat registers or somewhere out of the way. She would write on the papers the variety name, date and where or whom it came from, so she could identify the seed when stored. Mam’ma passed away many years ago, but I can still see her, squatted down working in her beautiful garden. As kids, we would be out playing near the garden, and often, she would give us small tasks so we would feel as though we were helping her. While she worked the ground, she would look up at us, with hand raised, and declare, “Sow plenty and reap plenty!” Often she would say, “don’t worry, if ya think we’re plant’en too much … we’ll just ‘can’ it all up … for its liable to be a long winter … what we have extra and don’t eat … someone who’s in need, will … for it surely won’t go to waste.” Thanks Mam’ma, you taught us allot of valuable lessons, most of which were realized later. If only more people in today’s generation of gardeners would espouse this simple reasoning, we all would profit.

In our own gardens, we must adopt these same practices for Survival and Freedom. It is up to us now to carry on the tradition. Plant Open-Pollinated and Heirloom varieties and remember to Save Your Seeds. You will be delighted and quite surprised with the wonderfully delicious and unique varieties that will bless your table.

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