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My Seeds Are Coming!

February 5, 2009


I just received confirmation that my herb, vegetable, and flower seeds are on their way. I placed a pretty sizable order- actually, a really ambitious order. But, I have MJ’s help, as well as some friends with whom we’re sharing the garden. I think it will be okay. I got the usual suspects in the herb family: parsley, basil, catnip (there’s a reason our cats like me best), chervil, cilantro, dill, fennel, lavender, oregano, peppermint, sage, and thyme. I even ordered six different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, which has all of us very excited. There are plenty of other vegetables coming, but I’m also excited about the ornamentals. I ordered Black Mammoth Sunflowers just to be obnoxious. A 9-10 foot tall plant sounds great!

I bought my seeds from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, based in Mineral, Virginia. An important reason to buy my seeds from them is the fact that they offer varieties suited to our part of the southern United States. Growing from seed is a small financial investment, but the investment of time is pretty fair. There are other great seed companies based around the country, but a variety that a seed company in Maine says does well may struggle here (just as an example).

Perhaps the most important reason to buy from them was their Safe Seed Pledge. In short, they pledge that

…[they] do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants.

The actual pledge is more detailed; you can visit their site to read the whole thing. If you’re not familiar with the issues of genetically engineered (GE) seed, I’ll spare you a long-winded diatribe. I will simply mention that with GE seeds, companies are patenting and restricting the availability of the most essential first step in food production. There have been distressingly few studies of how these GE plants perform in the field, especially in terms of cross-pollination. It is illegal (patent violation) to harvest seed from a GE plant, as the contract with the seed company states that new seed must be purchased every year. The bigger problem has come when GE plants’ pollen is carried on the wind and cross-pollinates with non-GE varieties in neighboring fields, where the farmer never bought GE seeds or signed a contract with the seed company. The companies producing GE seed have in multiple cases trespassed on private farmland to take crop samples, discovered that their plants have cross-pollinated with the farmer’s open-pollinated seed… and successfully sued for biopiracy!

The more I learned about these and other business practices, the more I felt I needed to source my seeds from a provider who shared my values- namely, that the ability to grow our own food, and harvest our own seed if we so choose, is fundamentally important. I came across this page on Fedco Seeds’ website; it’s a great place to learn a little more about what I’ve superficially touched on above. The search didn’t just turn up gloom and doom, though. I learned a lot about open-pollinated varieties of seeds, and I’m amazed at the network of home and professional seed-savers who are working hard to revive and maintain heirloom seed varieties. The catalog descriptions of heirloom varieties are much more interesting than the descriptions of engineered plants. Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter Tomato is a great story, and there are plenty more just like it.

I was walking home with a friend of mine last week, and while discussing our spring garden plans he made the comment “it amazes me how political gardening can be.” I guess he’s right, but I don’t think it’s political in the divisively partisan, Spy vs. Spy way in which we think of politics today. After all, plenty of people at all points of the political spectrum garden. If gardening is a political act, then I think it’s because it’s an activity that inspires cooperation (gardens are easier if resources are shared), demands sharing (who can eat 60 pounds of zucchini?), and still speaks to the self-sufficiency of the American spirit. Most importantly, gardening requires optimism. This spring, I will shove dead-looking little seeds into dirt-filled trays, believing they will germinate and become starter plants that I can then harden off and plant outside. I then believe that these plants will thrive, not be eaten by the neighborhood rabbits and groundhogs, and will give us great-tasting, nutritious produce as a reward for our labors. By the time you’ve gone that far out on a limb, it’s an easy task to believe that we can make this a better world while we’re at it.

Will gardening save the world? Probably not. But it’ll give us a great banquet when we get there.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. shwankie permalink
    February 5, 2009 2:54 pm

    Great Post! And, we’re super excited for the seeds. Speaking of which, remind us about it when we see you next.

  2. February 5, 2009 4:47 pm

    Interesting post, thank you. I find some bioengineering practices very distressing. It is important to remind people that these things are happening. Look at what happened in India and the cotton industry, and also look at the Monarch butterfly and the strange corn they were growing that was killing it…
    It can be a little frightening at times.

  3. February 6, 2009 1:10 am

    I found you via the Garden Rant Comments. Great site. I often wonder about seeds sellers locality. For instance, I bought from Scheeper’s Kitchen Garden Seeds because I saw they were based in Connecticut, nearby NYC. Acclimated seeds from acclimated plants. But then I see they have growers, but locations undisclosed. So I then question where each variety of seed I bought is coming from. I suppose I’ll need to dig deeper.

    I like Johnny’s because I know they are growing their own, but I’ve also spent time in Maine and have visited their facility. I agree with you about acclimated plants, but whenever I visit Maine, I have a weakness for picking up a few perennials because they are so inexpensive compared to my area. They generally do well here, although our summers are quite a bit warmer and so are our winters. To be honest, I don’t recognize death in the garden so much, I fill the space so fast with something else!

  4. virginialandscaping permalink*
    February 6, 2009 8:25 am

    Yeah, I’m aware that SESE’s growers are all around the South; but having grown up in RI, I’m keenly aware of how different our heat, humidity and soils are from the Northeast. Gardening’s an odds game, and I figure anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon improves my odds of success!

    You have to be resilient to be a gardener- it’s like being a scientist, failure only points you towards future successes. Props to you for gardening in NYC. I can’t imagine the challenges, so I’ll stop whining about my quarter-acre of rich VA soil now.

  5. February 7, 2009 8:53 pm

    Might not save the world by itself, but every little bit helps 😉

  6. February 10, 2009 8:26 pm

    Well, in NYC we don’t have groundhogs and woodchucks, rabbits or deer grazing on our plants.
    So I’ll count my blessings I suppose!


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