One of the current joys in the garden is in the beauty and the wonder of some of the vegetables that we have left to go to seed. This week we harvested parsnip seeds, selected from the best of last year’s crop. The plants were 8ft tall when the seeds had matured sufficiently for the plants to be cut. Not quite ready yet are the leek seeds from the late variety ‘Bandit’.
Again, we selected and saved the most wonderful specimens of last year’s crop, and left them to live on into their second year (like parsnips they are biannuals). They also are taller than me (I am 6ft 5in) and have incredible, joyful pompoms of seeds forming that were absolutely covered in a dozen types of insects a few weeks ago. We have also been collecting poppy seeds and then shaking them out of their incredible pods.
Seed saving really is a lost science, a lost art. In the UK today, agriculture is dominated by F1 hybrid seeds which are truly industrialised seeds. They can’t be saved on the farm, and help to concentrate control of the seed business in the hands of a few big businesses. One hundred years ago all seeds were open pollinated – locally adapted, containing a healthy genetic diversity, producing true offspring and a wonderful variety of produce.
There has been a 75% loss in this biodiversity since then and there are very few people keeping the remaining populations of OP seeds alive, despite our future being reliant upon them. Because of this, we are only growing OP seeds, and are saving a few varieties each year. Later this year we will be hosting an event launching a group called south west seeds saver’s cooperative – a grower’s led seed saving group, that will endeavour to contribute to keeping alive one of our most precious inheritances – an inheritance that has always been in the hands of the people – peasants or farmers in particular – and must come back into these people’s hands.
I was in Brussels last week for a meeting as a representative of the Landworker’s Alliance, learning about the current legislation which is in process of working itself through the EU Commission and Parliament. There is huge pressure being put on governments by multinational companies to open the gates for GMOs into Europe and to introduce very controlling legislation regarding the control and marketing of seeds.
Seeds have been at the heart of ceremonies for cultures around the world always, and it is well over time that we stood up to claim them back as our own – not patentable, not something a company can open, but the product of countless generations of peasants who have worked with nature to create an increasingly rich diversity of seed for future generations.