At some point, anyone who tends a vegetable garden in the hopes of producing their own food will likely ponder what it is, exactly, that they are burying in the ground and hoping will sprout? What is the story behind the seeds? After all, since these seeds will grow to produce the food they eat, shouldn’t everyone give it some thought?
And it’s a question worth asking. Food can be labelled and sold as Organic so long as it’s grown following certifiable organic principles, but the seeds that grew the plant are often developed with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. When it comes to seeds, there is a good chance that when buying a packet from a stand erected as a seasonal feature in a store, the seeds in that packet will have a background of pesticides and fertilizers. If growers wish to find organic seeds, especially heirloom organic seeds, they’ll have to search them out.
To be certified organic, a seed must be grown by a certified organic grower. Certified growers do not expose their seeds to any chemicals during the growth of the parent plant, the harvest of its seeds, or the post-harvest processing. At our home, we prefer to plant heirloom organic seeds. Our nation’s ancestors saved and planted these seeds. They knew the seeds to be dependable, and when growing food for a family in a climate of poor food security, dependability was paramount.
Furthermore, unlike conventional agriculture, where seeds are treated and bred to produce an easy-to-grow and easy-to-ship commodity, heirloom varieties taste better and are infinitely fresher. I think the best example of this is the tomato. Typical tomatoes - red, glossy orbs - bought at a grocery store are not picked at their ripest. Instead, the harvest is timed to ensure the fruits remain aesthetically pleasing upon their arrival at the store and remain so while sitting upon the shelf. This means the tomatoes are plucked from the vines before fully ripe. If too green, a shot of ethylene gas will quickly redden their skins to give them the appearance of ripeness while keeping them firm enough to withstand the rigors of transportation. In contrast, heirloom tomatoes show greater variety in shape, size, and colour than those bright red spheres we’ve come to think of as tomatoes. And all that variety in appearance coincides with a variety in tastes, nutrients, and culinary uses. The organic heirloom tomatoes that we choose to grow are picked when they are ripe and flavourful. The transportation consists of walking from the garden into the kitchen.
The best way to ensure your seeds meet your standards is to grow them yourself; after all, that’s how heirloom seeds came to exist in the first place. Seed saving is nothing new, but it’s experiencing a resurgence in popularity due to the flood of genetically modified ingredients in our food.
As stated before, saving seeds was a necessary protocol for survival a century ago. Today, our collective culture is experiencing a different kind of uncertainty in its food supply: we’ve relinquished control of our food to big business and entrusted the government to keep us safe. Nurturing plants, harvesting their abundance, and saving their seeds is counter-cultural, but an increasing number of people are awakening to its inherent value, hence the growing popularity in saving seeds and the creation of non-profit groups, such as Seed Savers Exchange, Organic Seed Alliance, or Seeds of Diversity, and websites and other resources offering instructions for seed saving how-tos.
If for some reason you’re unable to acquire the seeds you want, or perhaps the seeds you attempted to grow failed, you can purchase already started seedlings. Finding organic seedlings can take more searching out than finding organic seeds. The vast majority of seedlings bought from a nursery, unless labelled organic, are sure to have been treated with some form of synthetic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or fertilizers. Among these treatments are the neonicotinoids; a persistent insecticide that inhibits the ability of bees and other pollinators to navigate, feed or reproduce and increases their susceptibility to diseases.
Local nurseries, neighbourhood plant swaps, fellow garden enthusiasts or even an Organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation selling off a surplus of seedlings, might be your best bet for organic seedlings. Otherwise, you’ll have to trust the labelling at a garden center. Alternatively, you could re-evaluate that particular plant’s role in your garden. Perhaps the hoped for crop will never thrive because you’re trying to grow it beyond its range or the site conditions are too stressful. Now could be the time to consider replacing the plant with something else.
In the end, if you are what you eat, who wouldn’t want to feed their family the freshest, healthiest, and most ecologically viable food? The best way to ensure that is to grow your food yourself from seeds you consider appropriate.
Rebecca Harrold homesteads and homeschools on a 23-acre property in rural Ontario, where she is engaged with all types of wiser living skills. She believes that restoring the land to its healthy, sustainable state will increase its resilience, and in turn, the resilience of the people who depend upon it. Connect with Rebecca at Harrold Country Home and on Instagram. Read all of Rebecca’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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