Organic Broadcaster

Books prepare farmers to grow, save diverse seeds

By Jody Padgham, MOSES

“Seeds are a sacred thing. Everything we have now is built on farmers selecting seeds for millennia. All of that genetic diversity is a great gift. Seeds should not be owned, patented, or controlled,” explained David Podoll, organic seed breeder, as he and his family were recog­nized as the MOSES 2014 Organic Farmers of the Year.

With organic seed the backbone of organic production and diversity, the development, cul­tivation, preservation, and expansion of organic seed stock is critical to our future. Non-organic industrial ag has vastly limited germplasm diversity and reduced commonly used seedstock to a few controlled cultivars. Organic producers must counteract these strengthening trends by continuing to reclaim diversity and regional specialization within seedstocks.

One way to help in this effort is to consider producing organic seeds, either for commercial sales or your own (or your neighbor’s) use. If you’re interested in doing this, two books in the MOSES Store offer guidance. The Organic Seed Grower, A Farmer’s Guide to Vegetable Seed Production, by John Navazio, and The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds, by Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough, do a great job of outlining the motivations, principles, and practices of growing and saving seeds.

In The Organic Seed Grower, John Navazio shares wisdom gained from many years of experience as the senior scientist and plant breeder with the Organic Seed Alliance. This comprehensive guide is designed for those producing seed on a commercial scale, although it is certainly full of information useful to the small-scale grower. John wants to see more farmers producing and selling or sharing organic vegetable seeds adapted to their region (such as the Podolls do in North Dakota at Prairie Road Organic Farm and Seed). In his book, John goes into detail on issues important to the seed grower that might not even be noticed by the vegetable grower—such as temperature and relative humidity needs at the time of flowering, the presence of pollinators, and isolation distances.

The Organic Seed Grower begins with a short explanation of crop plant reproductive biology, and then jumps into chapters explaining specific seed-growing details for all nine of the major vegetable families, from Allium (leeks & onions) to Solonacae (peppers & tomatoes). Within each family chapter, John describes the basic background of the crop, and moves to the family characteristics, such as reproductive biology, life cycle and climatic adaptation. Each family is then broken down into the cultivated crops they produce, covering details such as seed production, harvest, cleaning and genetic maintenance. Each family covers from 20 to 50 pages, and each crop gets 5 to 10 pages of detail. The last section of the book focuses on seed grower fundamentals, discussing topics such as seed purity, isolation distances, popula­tion size, climates and diseases.

John has a straight-forward and clear style, in which he explains terms as he goes along, and offers examples of concepts and references to other places in the text where you might get more information. A good glossary helps explain often confusing terminology. The book also includes an index.

Those wishing to isolate, collect and plant seeds from their own garden or farmstead production will want to pick up a copy of The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds. With specific details on 322 vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruits, trees and shrubs, this is a good all-round reference that will give you just enough information about each variety to get a start on seed collection.

The authors begin with a comprehensive section on the basics of saving seeds. They cover everything from seed biology to pollination, from germination to cleaning and seed storage. A short chapter on plant breeding will help those interested in making their own crosses. Each explanation in this section is easy to understand and comprehensive with diagrams, photos and tips.

The largest portion of the book is dedicated to crop-by-crop detail of all 322 varieties. Given the great number of crops, each one gets from a column to a page of details, including flowering characteristics, isolation requirements, seed collection, cleaning and storage, germination and transplanting. Here you’ll find all the basic information you’ll need to go off and experiment on your own. Although The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds doesn’t use the word “organic” anywhere, there is very little mentioned that would not be allowed in organic production, but be aware that the authors may make recommendations that are not allowed in organic production.

In comparing the way the two books present material, I’d compare one to a textbook (The Organic Seed Grower), and the other to an encyclopedia (The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds), though the comparison is not exact, as Seed Grower is very readable and engaging, and Saving Seeds certainly explains general seed saving concepts in full detail.

Anyone interested in understanding how seeds work and the value of seed diversity and preservation will certainly enjoy both books. Those interested in growing vegetable seeds in crop-scale quantities will definitely want to pick up The Organic Seed Grower. Those wishing to try a large diversity of seed saving, including developing their own cultivars, or with interest in flower, fruit, shrub or tree seed saving will want to read The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds.

I am glad that these authors took it upon themselves to delve into the details of the critical issue of seed production and saving. As David Podoll said, seeds are a sacred thing. The more of us out there working with these excit­ing packages of plant potential, the better the world will be.

Jody Padgham is the Financial Director for MOSES, and Associate Editor of the Organic Broadcaster.

From the May | June 2014 Issue

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