Efforts are underway in our city to develop more seed saving capacity by training more seed savers. I believe another goal is to grow out seed in our local area so it can acclimatize to changing local conditions.
I was trained in how to segregate tomato plants, document their growth, and save their seeds. I was given 16 plants and I spent the summer worrying about my new babies – the Hugh tomato.
Suppose they didn’t grow? Would this plant be lost for all time?
Diversity is like an insurance policy buffering us against disaster, disease and failure. You never know when we may need the unique qualities of this or that version of a plant. For example, this year I grew four types of tomatoes. Two of them became mushy and split due to inconsistent watering (excess rain and my fault). Two of them did just fine, so I still had tomatoes to eat but not enough to can.
I am absolutely fascinated by the story of seeds. Each generation of a plant carries forward everything its parents learned about living on the earth – how to deal with wind and water, lots or little nutrients, lots or little sun, an ever increasing amount of carbon. That plant ALSO learns and its seeds carry that knowledge into the next generation. It adapts – sometime better and sometimes worse.
What my Hugh tomatoes learned was how to be tasty! Some of them – the ones that weren’t under protective cover — cross-bred with red tomatoes on the other side of the garden and they were amazingly beautiful, yellow with a blushing pink bottom J. (I didn’t save those seeds for Seed Savers; I kept a few of those.)
Planning for a Diverse Harvest
I’m sure it’s obvious but be sure to plan for early, mid and late season crops so you’ve got something to eat all the time. Transition Longfellow hosts a winter seed sowing workshop every year. We plant early spring crops – spinach, lettuce – in milk cartons and leave them out in the snow. As the weather warms, they grow when they’re ready. By springtime I’ve got 50 little lettuces ready to put in the ground.
And then I inevitably make the mistake of actually putting 50 lettuces in the ground because I’m enthusiastic. It’s a mistake because I can’t use that many at once. I need 10 lettuces in week one … and 10 in week two … and 10 in week three. I need to put in kale and collards, too, not just lettuce. This ensures I’ve got something all summer long and into frost season, and that my garden isn’t overgrown.
I will admit that I don’t worry too much if I find that some of my plants have gone to seed. I harvest lettuce seeds. I’ve had kale and collards regrow from where I left them in the ground the year before. It’s free food.
Another part of diversity in my garden is planting flowers along with the vegetables. I always have one garden with a marigold border for my husband. My new favorite is borage flowers and I must admit I let them go a bit wild because I love to eat the flowers. We have lots of happy pollinators.
Diversity Can Be Messy
Permaculture values the wild places. They need to be protected. Earlier I wrote about zones. A permaculture design usually includes a ‘zone 5’ area which is left for nature to do as it will. I’ve got spaces in my yard I don’t touch – and spaces I touch only once a year.
When I see a “weed,” I wonder about its potential. Will it put out a pretty flower later if I leave it now? I’ll love it for its qualities – it’s airy and light, it’s pleasantly lobed, it’s functional, it has lovely purple flowers (yeah, you know the one I’m talking about). I’ve often been rewarded by beautiful wild flowers for my efforts – such as the lovely flower of the yellow goat’s beard.
Because my love is in the details, I sometimes overlook the fact that too many of these unexpected visitors will make my garden look unkempt. That’s why it’s good to have an area you can leave to its own devices and love for its many surprises.