In 2014, we are working with the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security (BFICSS) to save seeds of heritage vegetable crops. The goal of this organization is to help support and build a Canadian seed system that provides a solid foundation for food security, climate resilience, and community well-being.
For thousands of years, the genetics of fruit and vegetable crops have been hand selected over generations of work. For example, without Dutch gardeners we would only have purple and yellow carrots. There is a very significant difference between hand selecting future generations of fruit, vegetables and grain based on different traits compared to genetically altering a corn plant by inserting the genes from a bacteria strain.
We are growing two varieties of winter squash for seed saving– Waltham butternut and Sweet Meat Squash. The great thing about winter squash is that there are four families (moschata, pepo, mixta, and maxima) that grow in our area. You can save seed from the plants in one of these families if only one variety is being grown. However, if you are growing zucchini, pie pumpkin, delicata and acorn squash together, since they are all in the c . pepo family they will cross pollinate. You might get a squash that looks like an acorn but it will have crossed with another variety and the next generation will not be true to type.
Since Waltham butternut is our only moschata and sweet meat is our only maxima we can save the seed from our best fruit to continue the genetics of these varieties. We are also growing delicata, pie pumpkin, acorn, and spaghetti squash who are all in the pepo family. We are bound to find some funny mixes in the field later this fall.
Our experience in vegetable production has led us to believe that saving our own seed results in plants with the most vigor and highest fruit set. If we are not saving our own seed our second choice is regional seed grown by fellow farmers and gardeners. As our production has expanded it has become more financially difficult to support regional seed producers as there can be a significant price difference between small scale growers and large commercial seed operations. However, a large percentage of our seed purchases continue to come from local producers as we are able to have better crop production, unique varieties, flavours and colours.
Our love of heritage varieties of fruit, vegetables and grain started in 2007 when we met Bob Wildfong at Doon Heritage Village in Kitchener, Ontario. After leaving with Mennonite orange tomato seeds we were hooked on the history and importance of saving seed. This was followed by that great little seed catalogue from Mary and Dan Brittain of Cottage Gardener in the winter of 2007 and the Seeds of Diversity 2007 Directory. It started with those tomato stories. One of my favourites is still that Polish Pink tomato which made its way to Canada on the back of a postage stamp. In 2007, we had a small plot in my parents backyard which we filled with an assortment of vegetables. This expanded to us being involved with four different gardens across Ottawa in 2008. These four different gardens allowed us to experiment and learn about different vegetable varieties.
It wasn’t until 2011 at Helios Farm where we began to experiment and see how we could save seed crops. Now in 2014, after some lessons learned, we are excited to save seed of heritage vegetable crops.
A lot of our inspiration comes from Carol Deppe. Her book ‘The Resilient Gardener” is a must read. In 2011, we grew Carol’s Oregon Homestead Sweet Meat for the first time. We were lucky enough to produce a few sweet meats in the 20+ lb range. One night in downtown Rupert, Piotr and I made six pumpkin pies from one sweet meat winter squash – it was epic, and of course we followed Carol’s pumpkin pie recipe.
Sometimes it is easy to forget why we are farming. We find ourselves in another start up year that is all consuming and exhausting. Words from Carol Deppe are part of the reason why were doing this:
“There is nothing we can do that is ultimately subversive – there is no act of gardening that is so profound a rebellion, there is no act of eating that is so potent a blow for food quality and food system sanity – as to take back the corn crop in our own backyards, and to grow, breed, eat, and save seed of corn based upon an entirely different set of values.”