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Community Seed Network

For farmers and gardeners who practice the time-honored tradition of preserving seed and trading with neighbors and friends, the swapping circle just got a whole lot bigger.

Logo for Community Seed NetworkA collaboration between the Seed Savers Exchange and USC Canada has launched an online resource for seed savers of all experience levels known as the Community Seed Network (CSN). The website (communityseednetwork.org) is designed to serve both as a database with tools for seed savers, community organizers and seed librarians as well as a platform for users across the continent to connect and swap seeds.

In recent decades, community-organized seed preservation has resurfaced as an alternative to purchasing packaged seeds every year from major seed companies. Organizations like the Seed Savers Exchange and USC Canada have long supported grassroots efforts to take back seed sovereignty, but the internet affords a unique opportunity to vastly multiply access to vital skills for seed preservation and to develop community infrastructure. Continue Reading →

Seedsman on a Mission

In 1979, a 25-year-old college freshman from Idaho stood over a bare garden plot in the backyard of his newly purchased home in Missoula, Montana, and asked himself, “Now where am I going to get seeds that will grow here?”

Bill McDorman smiles as he stands in his corn patch

Bill McDorman, shown in his corn patch in September 2018, has pursued a lifelong career of nurturing regionally adapted seed varieties and encouraging the people who save them.

Answering this question would lead author, speaker and educator Bill McDorman on a lifelong career of nurturing regionally adapted seed varieties and encouraging the people who save them. His quest to re-normalize seed saving motivated him to co-found the Down Home Project, Garden City Seeds, Seeds Trust, High Altitude Gardens, the Sawtooth Botanical Gardens, Seed School and the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance (RMSA), as well as to serve as the executive director of Native Seeds/SEARCH and to author the book Basic Seed Saving.

Known by many in the seed saving community as a mentor, McDorman has personally trained over 1,000 seed savers through his Seed School (created by McDorman and his wife/RMSA Deputy Director and cofounder Belle Starr), including 13 students who went on to start bioregional seed companies.

McDorman is a refreshing advocate for the benefits of seed saving — not because growing seed was easy throughout his life in the Rocky Mountain West, but precisely because it was hard. The difficult climate and soil conditions led McDorman toward an ethos of seed saving that goes beyond the basic idea of finding and using open-pollinated seed varieties. He goes a step further to illuminate the values of local, regionally adapted seeds that will perform better in their unique bioregion. Continue Reading →

Restoring the Seed Commons: Call for Clarity on Intellectual Property Rights

The seed industry has been changing rapidly. After recent mergers (Bayer/Monsanto, ChemChina/Syngenta, Dow/DuPont), just three companies dominate the global seed trade. Increasingly, giant multinationals are using Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) to reinforce corporate power. As gardeners and farmers, we are losing the right to work with our seeds, and most seed companies aren’t telling us.

Closeup of organic spinach plant

‘Abundant Bloomsdale’ spinach. Bred by Organic Seed Alliance and cooperating organic farmers. Thick, broad, succulent, sweet dark-green leaves. Highly savoyed. Upright plant form keeps leaves out of the mud.

Our ability to save seeds, even of some heirloom varieties that have been passed down for generations, is threatened. Now, when you shop for that favorite seed variety in your preferred seed catalog or on a website, you need to ask if you are buying the seed or merely renting it for a one-time use. Are you getting full rights to use the seed as you may wish, or are you renting permission to use the seed only for a single purpose and for a single season?

The Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) has identified four seed freedoms:

1. The freedom to save and grow seed for replanting or for any other purpose.
2. The freedom to share, trade and sell seed to others.
3. The freedom to trial and study seeds and to share and publish information about them.
4. The freedom to select or to adapt seeds, to make crosses, or to use them to breed new lines and varieties. Continue Reading →

Saving Your Own Tomato Seeds

Saving your own tomato seeds from homegrown heirloom tomatoes will give a better tasting and producing tomato as it adapts to your location in just a couple of years. You only need a few fruits and some simple tools to get started.

A few considerations on saving your own tomato seeds: select fruit that are fully ripe or even just slightly overripe to get mature seeds; choose fruit with the characteristics that you are looking for — best-looking, best-tasting, earliest, latest or perhaps, largest. This will help you achieve more of the same qualities next year.

Finally, make sure that you are choosing open-pollinated or heirloom tomatoes, as hybrids from the store won’t grow true to what you started with. Saving some of your own seeds helps carry on an ancient gardening tradition many generations old.

The fermentation method duplicates what happens naturally when a tomato falls off the vine, ferments and then rots, leaving the seeds ready to germinate next spring. Continue Reading →

Interview: Scientist, Author, Activist Vandana Shiva Leads Movement to Restore Sovereignty to Farmers

Acres U.S.A. is North America’s monthly magazine of ecological agriculture. Each month we conduct an in-depth interview with a thought leader. The following interview appeared in our January 2016 issue and was too important not to share widely.

Vandana ShivaAmericans who visit India often come back more or less overwhelmed by its vast size and complexity, and if they are not stunned into silence they are at least much less willing to engage in generalities. Timeless beauty, explosive economic growth, persistent poverty and about a billion people all make for an intense experience if you’re used to the predictable movements of cars and shoppers. One thing that does emerge from the ancient nation’s recent history, though, is the way societies that seem chaotic and disorganized to outsiders actually offer opportunities for their citizens who are willing to act with boldness, imagination and fierce resolve. Gandhi was one such actor, and Vandana Shiva may well be another. Increasingly well-known here as an author and lecturer, her popularity makes her a pain in the neck to proponents of industrial agriculture. (Corporate ag apologist Michael Specter recently honored her with an attack in The New Yorker.) It’s a whole other story back in India, however — there Shiva is a force for change not only among the commentariat but also on the ground. She agitates for legislation and political change at one end of society while leading a movement to empower farmers at the other. Shiva is that rarity in modern life, an intellectual who sees possibilities for action in the world outside her study and moves to set them in motion, working with fellow sojourners to build and sustain a counterforce opposing the corporate status quo over the long haul. On a recent trip to California, Shiva spoke with Acres U.S.A., covering an amazing amount of ground. Readers who need a little context are advised to consult Wikipedia on the Bhopal disaster — a 9/11-scale tragedy linked to agricultural chemicals — in particular and modern Indian history in general.

Vandan Shiva interviewed in Acres U.S.A. magazine

Read the interview here (PDF).

Natural Coating Protects Alfalfa Seeds

alfalfa

Scientists have developed an alfalfa seed coating that is effective against several soilborne plant pathogens. Photo by Deborah Samac.

U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists have found that a natural seed coating can protect alfalfa against some soilborne diseases. Alfalfa is a $10 billion-a-year crop in the United States, but producing it can be a challenge. Farmers in the Midwest often plant it early in the spring when the soil is cold and damp. That makes the seeds vulnerable to a number of soilborne diseases.

To minimize the damage, most alfalfa seeds are coated with a fungicidal treatment. But the treatment, mefenoxam, is ineffective against the pathogen causing Aphanomyces root rot (ARR), which is common to Midwestern soils.

Demand for organic alfalfa for organic dairy operations is also increasing, and alfalfa treated with a fungicide can’t be labeled as organic. Many organic dairy farmers would like to expand but may face a roadblock due to a lack of available organic feed, according to Deborah Samac, a plant pathologist in the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Plant Science Research Unit in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Samac wanted to see if coating alfalfa seeds with a naturally occurring mineral would protect them from soil diseases, including ARR. The mineral, zeolite, comes from degraded volcanic rock, has antifungal activity and qualifies as an organic soil treatment. Samac also wanted to assess zeolite’s effects on the health of plant roots and beneficial soil microbes. Continue Reading →