Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lettuce save...

These tiny dandelion tufts are seed heads of Specked Trout's Back lettuce. Can you tell that lettuce belongs to the Aster family, along with dandelions, thistles, and Bachelor's buttons?

And this is a cute little seed saving kit I got for Christmas:

That's where the Flashy Trout's Back lettuce seeds are going, along with Tom Thumb, a small butterhead lettuce that was sooo delicious when it was in its prime, and other seeds that I plan to save this year.

You don't really have to have a fancy seed saving kit to save seed. Paper coin envelopes from the office supply store -- or fashioned out of used paper -- will do just fine. But if this little kit strikes your fancy, it came from Territorial Seed Company.

Like sewing, knitting, spinning, canning, and growing your own food, there's something basic and satisfying about saving seed from year to year. It's not that we have to any more in these days of global marketing, malls, and shiny seed catalogs. It's knowing that we could if some sci-fi-novel-style disaster struck. Kind of like the Scout who earns a First Aid badge and secretly hopes there will be an accident just so said Scout can dash over and take charge with a confident, "I know what to do!"

With seed saving, there's also the satisfaction of preserving heirloom varieties of seeds that the big seed companies overlook. Maybe it's something that's been in the family for years, or maybe it's something you just ordered this year from a seed exchange. No matter. You're still taking part in an ancient ritual of saving for next year's harvest.

Learning to save seed, grow and preserve food, and manufacture clothing from the sheep or cotton plants on up also makes one a repository of basic survival skills that have kept humans alive for millennia. It is the anniversary of 9/11 after all, and at such a time people's minds sometimes turn to "what if?" scenarios. Too many of my college students think of "cooking" as taking something out of a box and microwaving it. Too few understand where their food comes from. Far too few know that onions have leaves, that potatoes grow in the earth, that someone must actually raise cows -- or that lettuce plants make flowers.

If you want to know more about seed saving, two good books to look for are:

Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth, Kent Whealy

This book contains very detailed information for people who are serious about saving seeds. It stresses the importance of population size for genetic diversity, and discusses techniques for preventing cross-pollination between varieties to keep the seed stock pure. It may be more than the casual home gardener wants to get into, but it's still a useful book, especially the sections on cleaning and storing seeds.

Saving Seeds: The Gardener's Guide to Growing and Storing Vegetable and Flower Seeds by Marc Rogers.

Less detailed than Seed to Seed, this is a good book for the beginning seed saver. Like Seed to Seed, its focus is mainly on food plants, but it does include some flowers as well.

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