Landrace Gardening: True Garlic Seeds


true garlic seeds

A cloned crop like garlic has limited potential to become localized to a particular garden. The glorious success of landrace gardening happens because genetically diverse crops are subjected to survival-of-the-fittest and farmer directed selection. After a while, the varieties get closely aligned to the local environment, the farmer's way of doing things, and the culinary habits of the community. 

In the 2011 growing season I was chatting with a few other plant breeders. We decided that we should be growing garlic from pollinated seeds so that we can create new varieties of garlic that can be regionally adapted. It's a daunting task, because very few varieties of garlic make seeds any more.

What's Wrong With Garlic?

Garlic is a crop that has been grown primarily through cloning for perhaps ten thousand generations. When scientists did genetic analysis on garlic they found that plants with the same genetics were being offered under many different names. This indicates that there are far fewer varieties of garlic being grown than it would appear by looking at a list.

Cloned crops create a food-security risk, because when a pest finally overcomes a variety's defenses, it overcomes the defenses of every clone of that variety. Entire crops can be lost in a single season. Genetically diverse seed grown crops are much less susceptible to crop failures.

As a result of being cloned for eons, the small amounts of normal chromosome damage – that are typically eliminated through sexual reproduction – have accumulated in garlic. The vast majority of varieties have accumulated so much damage that they have lost the ability to flower or to produce seeds.

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