Tuesday, March 9, 2010


The birds are chirping, we're getting rain instead of snow... spring is in the air! Ross and I finally made it to Family Tree Nursery in Overland Park today. It's one of only a few retailers in the state with a Seed Saver's Exchange seed rack.

Why Seed Saver's seeds? Seed Savers Exchange is the largest non-governmental seed bank in the United States. They permanently maintain more than 25,000 endangered vegetable varieties, most having been brought to North America by members' ancestors who immigrated from Europe, the Middle East, Asia. All Seed Saver's seeds, heirloom or not, are open-pollinated, which means you could save the seeds for re-planting and get a predictable result (if you’ve followed instructions for isolation distances). This is in opposition to Monsanto seeds, which are genetically modified and patented to the extent that you need to buy a new supply every year. Not a huge deal to a backyard gardener, but think of all the mid-scale farmers who are trying to do the right thing, but have to buy an entirely new crop every year!

In addition to being unable to replant GMOs ("genetically modified organisms"- yum!?), no one really knows what long-term effects these foods have on the human body. It's a sad day when fruits and vegetables cannot be assumed safe and healthy! Click here to see what some studies are starting to find about GMOs and organ damage. I'm not one for world politics, but I think the E.U. has the right idea to ban GM crops due to lack of sufficient research.

In Good News for a Change: How Everyday People are Helping the Planet, David Suzuki and Holly Dressel state:

We have been told that genetically engineered (GE) material just disperses in nature, but in fact, it is remarkably permanent. Biologically engineered genes and DNA have been found to persist in soil organisms, in insects, pollen, and especially water, and have been found in agricultural ditches as much as a kilometer from the original site. The antibiotic-resistant marker genes used in the process have survived digestion by cattle and even bees, and therefore post a threat of increased antibiotic resistance up and down the food chain. This is one reason why the technology is under a de facto ban in Europe. The genes themselves are not confined to the original, patented plant, but can be spread by wind or pollen to other varieties of the same crop, and even to wild relatives.

Canada is already having tremendous problems with genetically engineered canola, which has not only spread its herbicide-resistant trait to other canola, but is now affecting its many wild relatives, creating what are being termed "super weeds." The situation is so serious that one reason the Canadian Wheat Board is actively fighting the introduction of herbicide-resistant GE wheat, apart from market considerations, is that the species has many wild relatives that could forever become contaminated with herbicide resistance.

This means the seeds used in many gardens and on almost all farms are unsustainable. I want my home garden to be SUSTAINABLE. Hence, the heirloom seeds. Heirlooms also tend to be cultivated over the years to be naturally hardy and resistant to certain ailments (instead of modified to be "RoundUp ready"). Finally, heirloom varieties are prized for their taste!

This year, I'm trying Longfellow Cucumbers, Five-Color Silverbeet, America Spinach, Chioggia Beets, Italian Genovese Basil, and Slow-Bolting Cilantro. This is, of course, in addition to Ross' Cyklon and Mustard Habanero Peppers! I'll share more on these choices as the seedlings (hopefully) grow.

I have all my seedling equipment!

I start the pepper seedlings at the end of March and I will probably start seedling for the others as well, even though you can plant beet, spinach, chard, cucumber, basil, and cilantro seeds directly in the soil after the danger of frost is past. If Ross can help me figure out how to post a PDF page as a picture, I'll show you the cool Seed Saver's chart that tells you when and how to plant the seedlings and seeds. I also have a great library going.

It goes without saying that a home garden is as local as you can get your food. I'm no champion of the 100-mile diet, but I hope to move more and more in that direction each year. I'll post more on locavores tomorrow (or get on my soapbox again, and Ross would say).

For now, I'll leave you with these 6 reasons to grow your own food:

1. The 2009 Edibles Gardening Trends Research Report conducted by the Garden Writer’s Association (GWA) Foundation found that one-third of experienced gardeners grew more edibles in 2009 than in the previous year and 7% of new gardeners planted edibles. The main reason was to "supplement household food supply." Thus, saving on grocery bills. (Don't forget to support your farmer's markets and CSA groups during growing season, too!)

2. Again, nothing is more local than your backyard!

3. Growing your own fruits and vegetables means that you know exactly what does and does not go into your food and exactly where it comes from.

4. Gardeners eat more produce, lead more active lifestyles, and have lower stress levels. (Yes, please!)

5. You can grow your favorite varieties in-season. You can also try new produce that you won't find on the grocery shelves.

6. Having a home garden enables you to teach your peers (and children and grandchildren) where food really comes from.

Don't worry, we have our CSA to fall back on in case my garden is a huge flop not as productive as I'm hoping. I'm starting small this year, just in case.

[Side note: Via American Seeds Inc, Monsanto now supplies Johnny's, Territorial, Nichols, Stokes, and dozens of other home seed catalogs! 5,000 non-hybrid vegetable varieties were available from catalogs in 1981. In 1998, this number was already down to 600. In 2005, Monsanto acquired Seminis, a company that already controlled 40% of the US vegetable market. I wonder how many non-hybrid varieties are available now?!]

*Sometimes I wonder if this world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.* -Mark Twain

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