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TheGardenTalks: The State of Seeds
Highlights from the first Hawai'i Public Seed Initiative workshop
In the not so distant past, seeds were one of the most valuable currencies one could have. Just imagine for a moment no Home Depot, no Internet, and no seed catalogue sales. Where would we get our seeds? In years past, seeds were a strong commodity, and special varieties would be handed down from generation to generation, moving across time and across countries: Auntie’s beans, Uncle’s tatsoi, the yam from my grandmother’s garden, and the basil from my family in Italy. The first settlers to Hawai‘i brought with them canoes filled with vegetative propagation materials for bananas, kalo, and sweet potatoes, among many other Polynesian staples.
Seeds are the heart of the garden and once you grow a plant that is extraordinary—good to eat, vibrant, and disease resistant, you will want to grow it again and again. My success story is with snow peas. Yum. You know they can cost $6.00/pound in season and they are not even organic! I’ve grown them many times over the years—placed them carefully in good soil, used organic seed, planted them during cool weather and even then the plants were weak with very small yields. Well, four years ago, I planted my snow peas and they filled the fence-line with happy vigorous plants just busting with crisp pea pods. I was so excited I marked seeds off for saving very early on—selecting the best during the mid crop—not too early or late and hoped for more. One day I even came home to see my neighbors leaning on the fence happily chomping on peas without even putting a dent in my harvest. Now, it’s my fourth year of saving and sharing this seed and I am hooked.
If you have even the tiniest interest in learning about saving seeds, growing plants suited for your microclimate, and gardening you’ll be interested to know that The Ceres Trust (whose name pays homage to the ancient Roman goddess of agriculture) recently funded a statewide Public Seed Initiative designed to help Hawai‘i’s farmers and gardeners to select, grow, harvest, store, and improve seed varieties that will thrive in Hawai‘i. The Public Seed Initiative will consist of two workshops on each of the five main Hawaiian Islands over the course of the next two years. The goals of the project are to increase the community’s knowledge of and practical experience with seed production.
Here on Kaua‘i we had the honor of hosting the first workshop on November 6-7, 2011 at the Kaua‘i Community College and the Kilauea Community Garden. The leaders and organizers were Regenerations Botanical Garden with Paul Massey, Jill Richardson, and Marshall Paul, and Hawai‘i Island counterparts Lyn Howe and Nancy Redfeather. Food by Chef Keli Ranke was local and delicious: taro enchiladas, breadfruit lasagna, and a chocolate coconut dessert complemented by passion fruit dressings, and Roselle mint teas. Other local plant celebrities such as Jeri Di Pietro of GMO Free Kauai and Waioli taro farmers Chris Kobayashi and Dimi Rivera joined in. Nancy Redfeather, Director of the Hawai‘i Island School Garden Network, presented the how, why, and when of saving our seed. She described not only the history of seed-saving but also the huge changes in the diversity available today—plus providing a frightening glimpse into the economics of seed and the large conglomerates that own much of that seed. Then, Paul Massey and Jill Richardson, joined by Glenn Teves, Russell Nagata, and Hector Valenzuela of the Hawai‘i Cooperative Extension Service, brought to the table information on how to grow seed that is acclimatized to our unique island microclimates and how to save it for use in years to come.
The workshop was filled with a wealth of information—following are a few of my favorite quotes.
“If you don’t plant you won’t harvest.” Glenn
“We grew plants and saved seed because without doing this we would go hungry.” Ruth
“Always know the name of the plant. This is so important in knowing the lineage and for some plants, like taro, represents an essential part of Hawaiian culture.” Chris
“Only save seed from disease free plants. Learn some of the common indicators and keep your plants healthy.” Hector
“Think about the characteristics you are looking for—such as drought tolerance, good flavor, and early harvest, and select for those.” Russell
In addition to the nuts and bolts of saving seeds, the workshop offers a glimpse into what it might look like if we were to recreate the ancient pathways of seed-saving carved out for us by our ancestors. Following their lead, we can use observation and careful selection to share disease-free materials and grow out stabilized seeds, creating food security on our islands. Contact Lyn Howe, Workshop Coordinator, to learn more about future Hawai'i Public Seed Initiative workshops.
Imagine planting your garden five years from now with seed you have helped create. Growing seed in a small backyard garden is fun and satisfying. But the idea of selecting, tasting, harvesting, saving, and then growing seed from crops that you have fine-tuned with your community for your unique neighborhood conditions is quite another story. It transfers that power of growing our own food right into our own hands, which is at the heart of food security.
TheGardenTalks is brought to you by Colleen Carroll, Director and C.E.O. of NatureTalks. Colleen lives on Kaua’i and gives inspirational presentations on gardening. The most popular presentation is The Power of Plants to Transform Community.To see more of NatureTalks stories on gardens and gardeners, see the book, It’s About More than Trees. Colleen created NatureTalks to connect people with nature. This report is adapted with kind permission from Colleen’s website NatureTalks.