Seed School

Reader Contribution by Cindy Conner
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Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, newly formed in 2014, held a six-day Seed School at Onsen Farm in Buhl, Idaho the first week of November. I attended as both a student and as a presenter on seed libraries. While we talked about seed libraries, Neil Thapar of the Sustainable Economies Law Center joined us through Skype to give an update on what is happening between seed libraries and state departments of agriculture that want to regulate them as they would seed companies. The seed library movement wants to be proactive on this front and he is working on wording for potential legislation that would clearly separate seed libraries from the state and federal seed laws.

Much happened during the week. What I don’t cover here you can find at Homeplace Earth. We had some hands-on seed threshing and I was happy that Casey O’Leary of Earthly Delights Farm had brought carrot seeds for us to thresh and winnow. I had some carrot seed to thresh back home and was wondering about the best way to do it. Casey had a lot more seed heads than I did and you can see in the photo that we used the stomping-the-seed-heads-in-a-tub method. I’ll put mine in a crock and use my sauerkraut stomper for that job, or I could just rub the seed heads between my hands. Once threshed, carrot seed needs to be separated from all the chaff that accompanies it. It is amazing how much you can clean it up using screens of various sizes. Winnowing in front of a fan helps finish the job. When first threshed, carrot seeds appear to be surrounded by little hairs. Abrasion, such as rubbing it with your hands or putting it into a container with rubber balls and shaking it, will remove that. We rubbed some with our hands, but not extensively, and I see that the carrot seeds that I gleaned from that project are relatively smooth. For home use, you don’t have to worry about that extra step. If you were selling seeds or putting them through a seeder, it might be a consideration.

Although there was plenty of time in the classroom, we were outside another day to harvest Glass Gem corn grown by neighbor Wayne Marshall. It was interesting to see the variety of colors that showed up on those ears. We were not very efficient pickers, but we had a lot of fun. It is rather slow going when you take the time to strip off each husk to admire what you’ve found. Wayne also has a blue flour corn project going on and we enjoyed seeing the genetic diversity he had in those ears. Genetics, selection, and breeding were among the topics discussed in the classroom.

Saving seeds is something anyone can do. You can be as exact as you want to avoid cross pollination, or you can let things cross just to see what happens or to seriously work with the resulting diversity to breed something unique to your garden. Through Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, Bill McDorman and Belle Starr teach one-day and six-day versions of Seed School and in 2015 they will be embarking on a teacher training program. If you aren’t already, I hope you become a seed saver. Learn all you can wherever you can and share what you know with others.

Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to

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