Saving Seeds, Saving Stories

IMG_4506Seeds have a story to tell. And their stories are often unique. A few gardening seasons ago, I purchased some vegetable seeds from the Iowa-based Seed Savers Exchange. Along with seeds grown on their own property, the SSE has a network of seed-saving gardeners around the United States and the world for the purpose of sharing saved seeds. This is how I have acquired most of my seeds in the past few years.  With each packet of seed I receive in the mail, I become acquainted with another seed saver and often learn the stories of the seeds they have sent me.

One of my favorite seed stories came with some English pea seeds purchased from a gardener in Little Mountain, South Carolina. A note explained that these seeds were “from the Lindler family of Little Mountain, SC. It is said to have been grown in this area since Colonial times, thus the name ‘English pea’.” Reading this, I realized I had been given more than just seeds – I had been given a story. A history. No, I don’t know all the details. But I do know this – there has been a hard-working attentive gardener planting these English pea seeds in his/her garden each year from the earliest days of our nation. Back when plows were pulled by horse or mule and water was drawn by bucket from a well. Back when saving seeds was their only guarantee of a garden the following year. Through the Civil War, two world wars, drought, floods, industrialization and technological advances, farmers in Little Mountain, South Carolina have faithfully and attentively grown these English peas and saved its seeds, not just for their own future garden, but for folks like me who want to do the same. My motivation to keep this story going, to preserve and persevere in my own part of the world, inspires me to garden for more than just a desire to grow food. I want to have a small part in this history and keep this seed story going into the future.

My first season (2016) of growing these English peas was moderately successful. For the most part we picked the pods and ate the sweet-tasting peas right in the garden. They were delicious! I intentionally left some pods to dry and saved the seeds for the following year. However, due to family circumstances, I have not been able to garden again until this year. Unsure of the viability of my saved peas, I gave them a try indoors in some peat pots. I am excited to see these English peas have begun sprouting!

To add to my excitement for gardening again, I am happy to be sharing these same English pea seeds with my son and daughter-in-law for their new garden. And I will be passing along this seed story to them as well. What will your first seed story be?

Seed Savers Exchange

Note: The website for the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa, due to overwhelming demand for seeds, is temporarily not accepting new orders. However, if you click on the “Exchange” title on the top bar, it will take you to the gardener exchange site, where you will be able to search for seeds and request them from the specific gardeners you see listed. Seeds from this exchange are free – you will pay shipping. Most of the time I have received my seeds in the mail within a week. Please read each gardener’s profile for specific information. Happy gardening!

 

Seeds of Hope

green bean seeds 6My 2017 garden has not been one for the record books. The main reason for this is the amazing opportunity my husband and I had to travel this summer, due to a generous gift of time and funds from the church he has led for over 25 years. Thirteen thousand miles and a thousand pictures later, our unforgettable summer has come to an end. But there is always next summer for the “garden of my dreams”.

green bean seeds 2One redeeming quality of my less-than-useful garden this year has been saving seeds for next year. My green beans in particular became overgrown, with bean pods ripening past the point of enjoyable eating. So I allowed the pods to dry on the plant until the beans inside were nearly bursting out of the pod. Then, after removing the dry pods from the plant, I pulled each one open and removed the dried beans, preserving them as seeds for next year’s garden.

The Seed Savers Exchange first opened my eyes to the benefits of saving seeds. The typical seeds you buy in a store are generally hybrid seeds, meaning the seeds it produces in its first harvest may no longer contain both elements of the hybrid, thus making it unable to reproduce itself the following year. Enter the Seed Savers Exchange! They offer fantastic resources on saving seeds, such as this award-winning book, The Seed Garden.  A few years ago I ordered several types of seeds from them. My green bean crop this year was grown entirely from seeds I saved last year, which was grown from seeds I purchased from a Seed Savers source the year before. Free seeds and free green beans every year sounds like a great plan to me!

green bean seeds 1This morning I enjoyed some quiet moments on my screened-in porch, listening to the birds sing while I pulled bean seeds from crunchy pods and dreamed of the 2018 harvest already in my hands.  My favorite thing about gardening? Hope. Hope that is found in something as tiny as a seed. Hope that keeps me going, that calls me to try again. Hope that is still present in something that seems as useless as a dried bean pod, telling me there is another season of harvest yet to come. Sometimes all we have is a tiny seed of hope – but that seed of hope can grow into something beautiful if we don’t give up.

Sweet Potatoes, Round Two

sweet potato plants About a year ago I wrote a post describing (or more accurately, complaining) about my attempt to grow sweet potatoes.  Not realizing the maintenance level of starting sweet potatoes for the garden, I found myself babysitting my sweet potato in a mason jar for several weeks, hoping that the one measly root it produced would somehow turn into something profitable.

Well, I owe my sweet potato an apology.  I did my part, and it did its part. Last summer I planted the sweet potato starts that had come from the original potato, and – to my surprise – I actually harvested some sweet potatoes!  Not many, mind you, but sweet potatoes nonetheless! Though rather small in both in size and quantity, we did get to taste a few home-grown sweet potatoes before the season was done.

In addition, I was able to save about 4 or 5 smaller sweet potatoes to be my seed potatoes for the next growing season. After all, that is what I am ultimately after – producing and saving my own seeds from year to year. Though I had expected those small sweet potatoes to shrivel up over the winter,  I am happy to report that the potatoes did survive and, in fact, have produced a healthy batch of new sweet potato starts for my garden this year! So for those of you, particularly in the northern states, who would like to try growing sweet potatoes, please let me encourage you – it can be done! Here are pictures of my current sweet potato project and our progress so far.

sweet potatoes in bag

My sweet potatoes were stored in a paper lunch bag over winter

sweet potato seeds

Each sweet potato was wrapped in simple white paper inside the lunch bag. Look how small they were!

sweet potato starts

When removed from the paper bag this spring, the sweet potatoes already showed signs of new starts.

sweet potato plants

Just a few weeks after placing the sweet potatoes in jars of water, healthy new starts appear!

spring sweet potato plants

After carefully removing the starts from the mother plant, the starts were placed in shallow water to grow roots. Here are the rooted starts now taking off in recycled yogurt cups filled with my compost dirt.

In a few weeks, when the weather is warmer and my sweet potato plants are bigger, I will be planting them in my garden.  Hopefully we will have a few more to eat this fall, along with some more starters for next year!