Seed Conundrum

Reader Contribution by Cindy Conner and Homeplace Earth

I have some brown cotton seeds that I have been calling Nankeen Brown. They are smooth, with no lint, otherwise known as naked. I grew them out in 2005 and saved the seeds. Beginning in 2011, I have grown them every year. Recently I saw some Nankeen Brown cotton seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. To my surprise, they were fuzzy seeds! How could that be? Although I can’t find printed proof of it, I thought I had bought my original brown cotton seeds from them. I know the folks at Southern Exposure, so I contacted them to ask about it. Anything they can find shows that Nankeen Brown has fuzzy seeds. What a conundrum!

I am still not sure how the mix-up with the cotton came to be, but it caused me to think about what seeds look like and how they express themselves. You can’t tell by looking at different varieties of tomato, squash, or kale seeds which ones fit which variety descriptions. Of course, it is evident when you grow them out. Tomatoes can be different colors and shapes, and have distinct flavors. The seeds for yellow squash and zucchinis look the same, but their production is different. If you were looking for Red Russian kale and ended up with Lucinato, with its pebbly surface, you would be in for a surprise, but you wouldn’t know by looking at the seeds. All of that potential in such tiny packages is nothing short of amazing. 

Beyond the descriptive characteristics we can see in the grow-out, there are many other nuances that help things adapt that we can’t see. A multitude of genes are involved in any living thing and the greater diversity, the better. When different situations arise, different characteristics come to the forefront to deal with them. We (plants, animals, and people) are not static creatures. Keeping with plants as my example, within the same variety, some plants will adapt to climate changes more readily by doing well in heat and humidity better than other plants, or germinating in cooler or warmer soil better than expected. Some plants are better at fending off disease that may take out some of your crop. If you watch for evidence of those kinds of things, you can save the seeds of the plants that do well for you in your garden, essentially breeding your own strain of that variety. Read more about that at Homeplace Earth.

My daughter is doing the grow-out of those fuzzy Nankeen cotton seeds for Southern Exposure this year and I am looking forward to seeing her harvest. No matter what the name, seeds are wonderful things to experiment with. Whether it is saving your own seeds, breeding your own vegetable varieties, or just observing what is happening in your garden, there is always something to look forward to and always something new to learn.  

Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.

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