By Robin Booker

Last spring Chris Strachan’s great grandmother gave him seeds from an old pole bean variety—their heritage can be traced back to seeds she brought with her from Poland during theSecond World War. He immediately realized how precious a gift it was.

 

“These are the seeds she had from when she was little, so I assume she got them from her mother. It’s an old family seed,” Strachan said.” “It’s a beautiful purple colour, great yielding, good for canning and fermenting.”


Strachan grew the seeds to maturity and for the first time harvest seeds to save for the following year.


This year Strachan wants to harvest more seeds from other kinds of plants in his garden, so he attended a workshop in Regina called Seed Seed Revolution: a sustainable Gardener’s Guide to Growing the Right Seeds. 


The February 23 workshop was the first of four pre-spring workshops put on by Regina based Root & Branch, a company that offers sustainable food and garden support in order to promote the quality and sustainability of Regina’s local food supply.


Nikko Snyder has been providing garden workshops for Root & Branch for more than a year, but this was the first time she facilitated a seed saving workshop.


“I think it’s important for home gardeners to consider all the different elements in their gardens. Whether it is seeds or fertilizer, there are all sorts of different impacts beyond our backyards,” Snyder said.


“From the perspective of being more self-reliant and independent communities, it is important to understand how our food supply sustains itself from year to year. It is important to understand how at risk our food supply is because we have gotten away from the practice of saving our own seeds.”


The workshop focused on the practical and philosophical issues involved with choosing, growing, saving and storing the seeds.


 Special attention was given to understanding pollination, as well as the different plant classifications where cross-pollination may cause problems.


Snyder said ideal seeds for the sustainable gardener are open-pollinated, grown in your region, untreated, grown sustainably, saved yourself or fairly traded, and chosen for taste.


Benefits of starting your own seeds and when to do so for different garden plants were discussed, as were methods to isolate flowering plants. Time isolation requires a good understanding of plants days to maturity, so that varieties of the same species flower and set seed at different times. Mechanical isolation includes bagging, caging and hand-pollination.


Snyder described to the couple dozen garden enthusiasts in the Creative City Centre what characteristics are desired when choosing which plant to take seeds from: Germination vigour, earliness, disease resistance, insect resistance, drought resistance, stockiness, uniformity trueness-to-type, productivity, storage ability, flavour, colour and shape of fruit, and bolt resistance.


In order to avoid inbreeding depression, seeds should be saved from a large number of plants to help increase genetic diversity. Some plants such as corn need a relatively large population size for best seed saving results.


Post harvest wet and dry processing were described, and when these method should be used.  Storage techniques and concerns were also covered in the workshop.


Ross Heintz, along with other members of his community garden, drove in from in Moose Jaw for the workshop.  Heintz said more people are becoming aware of the importance of locally grown foods. He plans on helping provide information sessions at the community garden with the information he gained from the workshop.


“It’s important to come to things like this to share with other people who also have similar interests. There are so many resources in this room. We all have knowledge to share with other gardeners. That’s what community is about,” Heintz said.

Last year Strachan took a preserving workshop provided by Root & Branch, and he said it helped take his urban farming to the next level.


“The knowledge and the networking have helped me considerably. The people here at these workshops are great sources,” Strachan said.


Root & Branch is holding three more gardening workshops at the Creative City Center in Regina before the end of March.


March 10, 10 a.m. — 1 p.m.  Eating Year Round From The Sustainable Garden.
March 16, 10 a.m. — 1 p.m.  The Frugal Gardner: Growing Food For (Next To) Nothing.
March 30, 10 a.m.  – 1 p.m.  Sustainable Gardening For Beginners.


For more information visit rootbranch.ca, or call 306 209-8552.

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