by Nance Klehm for arthurmag.com (“homegrown counterculture”)
In early February at THE SEED ARCHIVE’S “Seedy Sunday” event in Chicago, 70 people came by to pick up and learn about seeds.
It was a bit of a pile-up.
Four gallons of homemade, homegrown (last season) posole was never slurped so fast. Experienced growers shared their seeds and carefully picked through the collection, taking the most rare and unusual. The inexperienced came empty-handed and stuffed their pockets. As my friend Erik said: “Wait until they have 200 radishes to harvest and have to figure out what to do with them.”
Particularly exciting arrivals to the SEED ARCHIVE were blue lotus, mandrake and white alpine strawberries.
A public-access seed archive relies on its PUBLIC, which to me means a broad, diffuse network of folks growing seeds out and bringing them back. Completing this cycle is essential to not just the seed’s continued life but the vitality of the archive as a community resource.
Seeds require care and discipline. Many seeds can only be stored for a short period of time. Potatoes need to be grown out every year to remain viable. Lettuce seeds last only a year or two before they reach the end of their shelf-life. We can’t just stuff seed away and we can’t just grow things out willy-nilly.
Taking an informal poll here (in case any of you wish to respond, you are invited to): Why were people taking so much seed—far too much to grow and use?
The latter question came to mind as Vandana Shiva stepped up to a podium of a packed auditorium in Chicago a few days later. Here’s a picture…
Shiva comes from a farming, conservation and teaching family and as an environmental activist has a PhD in quantum physics. She is a GRANDMOTHER WARRIOR fighting Monsanto and the other four transnational corporations that control our global food supply—pushing GMO’s, toxic pesticides and herbicides affecting our seed and therefore farmers and their families, rural communities and ecosystems of plants and animals, soil quality and even us urban consumers. She uses an old form of resistance—inspiring a dedicated (read: strategized) and devoted (read heart-solid) group of people, mostly women to put their bodies on the line. Besides writing over 15 books, she has brought down the likes of Monsanto and Cargill on seeds and Coca-Cola on water rights. Shiva travels the globe extensively inserting toothpicks between our eyelids so we can see what the heck is going on. And like the toothpicks, it ain’t comfortable.
Four years ago I had the privilege of serving her on her week’s teaching residency in England. She was puffy, her breathing heavy, full of congestion. She was so unhealthy that it made me question the ability of a human, any human to hold such a large public identity and still remain whole and vital.
She looked better in Chicago, speaking about the Chipko movement of the early ’70s, an organized resistance to the destruction of forests in India. Village women organized the Chipko. It was thousands of women hugging trees that stopped the destruction, and popularized the action and use of ‘treehugging’ around the world. Chipko’s position was simple: forests support food, fuel and fodder, and stabilize soil and water. In other words, forests are integral to subsistence. That is: Ecology = Economy.
Press coverage of the Chipko movement:
Vandana Shiva also spoke about the great Bengal famine of the mid-1940s, when hundreds of thousands of Indians died due to the maldistribution of rice. Finally, women armed with broomsticks confronted the British East Indian Company to demand a lessened “tribute” of their rice crop so they could actually feed their families. Their message being: Let us keep more of the rice we grow or kill us now. Women and broomsticks, mind you. Witchy farmers, but not witches.
Shiva always talks up the idea of SEED SOVEREIGNTY. She started an organization called NAVDANYA whose mission is to protect nature and people’s rights to knowledge, biodiversity, water and food. Navdanya works with almost half a million farmers and urban people to establish and maintain 34 seed banks throughout India. These seed banks hold 2000 rice varieties, numerous grains, pulses and greens – some of them drought resistant, some salt water tolerant. They hold and share the crops that for thousands of years have been selected and cultivated and saved and passed on from generation to generation.
THE IDES OF MARCH
In today’s world, toxic land increases, but nutrition does not. Since we are what we eat, it’s time to start planting and cultivating and foraging our lands. But we need to know how to do that before we start stockpiling seed. When two separate attendees to the SEED ARCHIVE’s early February ‘Seedy Sunday’ event proudly reported sowing every single seed they brought home immediately after the event, my smile cracked. Too early, folks! You gotta wait til after the last frost of the season before you plant.
Check out the USDA ZONE HARDINESS map and find out roughly what zone you are in to know when your frost-free growing season begins.
March 15-30 Zone 8 (SF, Seattle, Gainsville)
April 1-15 Zone 7 (Oklahoma City, Little Rock)
April 15-30 Zone 6 (St. Louis, NewYork)
May 1-15 Zone 5 (Chicago)
May 15-30 Zone 4 (Kansas, Nebraska)
June 1-15 Zone 3 (Upper Midwest/Upper Great Plains)
On the back of many seed packages you will read ‘sow 6 weeks before frost ends’ etc. Knowing this plus where you are on the thawing continuum, you will know when it’s time to sow your seeds outside or inside in your egg cartons and soup cans.
Right now in zone 5 (Chicago) the soil is workable, ready for certain cool season sowing. I’ve planted: peas, potatoes, kale and daikon radishes. I don’t cultivate lettuce or spinach as I prefer wild greens, but it is time to plant these too. Inside I have already sown: tomatoes, chilis, eggplant, basil, lemongrass and a huge bunch of other oddball medicinals and edibles. My horseradish that anchors my center garden and the hops off the back alley is out of the ground a few inches!
No need to wait, though: food is already here no matter how much frost you’re met with in the morning. Plenty of weeds are hurtling through the soil and unfurling: dandelion, dock, ramps, garlic mustard and ground ivy are already big enough to nibble on and in a week or so, I can start delicately picking my dear friend nettles.
– Mix half compost with half clay-y soil or river clay. Use the local soil you have around you. You are reseeding locally, after all.
– The seed ball has to stick together, but don’t make it too dense: the rain needs to penetrate the soil ball and the roots need both the structure and the air space to grow into their location. Use more clay or compost until you get a good mix.
– Moisten the mix so it is quite wet. Mix in 1/2 teaspoon of seed per quart of soil. (If you are metrically oriented, use 2-3 ml of seeds per liter of soil.) More seeds is not better, as too many seeds will crowd each other out.
– Roll a palm-sized ball of soil. set aside to dry. (You will need to distribute the seed balls fairly soon as water + seed = germination! I suggest doing this within 2-3 days after you make them.)
– Bowl, place or lob seed balls into areas for greening and future foraging opportunities.
Questions for Nance:
Nance Klehm website:
There is a nice interactive usda plant hardiness zone map at http://www.plantmaps.com/usda_hardiness_zone_map.php that allows you to zoom in to your area.
Nance asked me to post my email reply in this space:
Subject: “Why were people taking so much seed—far too much to grow and use?”
Um… the overexuberance of first-time gardeners? [I’ve been there.] A compulsion to collect things (especially when they’re free)? The notion that if some is good, more is better?
Perhaps a few of those people had come into ownership of secret underground bases — something Dr. No-ish with volcanic heat, rich soil, an artificial sun, waterfalls and all that — and they wanted to accent the bulkheads and world-domination training grounds with Hungarian poppies and nicotiana.
That’s my best guess.
Speaking of the poppies, though: One of the French women asked me about a certain kind of poppy, and as she described the color, I said, “Oh, I might have those (Blue Hungarian breadseed). I shuffled through all the envelopes on the table, then in my bag, then in my pockets. I was a bit perplexed: where did they go?
I began to tell that woman, “Yeah, sorry, I don’t know what happened to them,” and then this young woman to my right piped up and said “Oh, do you mean these?” And she had the whole packet, unopened (I hadn’t even set aside any for myself) in her binder.
I had to pause for a second so that I didn’t make a really strange face or blurt out “What the hell?” Because, you know, I didn’t want to come off as Mr. Stingyseed, but I was surprised at how people were just gankin’ stuff.
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Here is some video from the presentation portion of Seedy Sunday, February ’09: