I recently scored an old box of MAD magazines from my father and was amused to see a spoof of James Bond praising our hero for his incredible knowledge of women, food, and especially wine. “He can not only tell you the vineyard and year—but also the name of the gal who stomped the grapes!” Died-in-the-wool oenophiles can, it seems, unpack a story for every bottle they uncork. Yet what can the rest of us say about the history of, say, that pile of mesclun mix we just plucked from our garden and threw on the plate?
If you’re like me, not much. That fresh leafy goodness is the product of a packet of seeds I bought at the local hardware store and planted with casual attention to position of the sun and ease of watering. In other words, I have the summer elements to thank for my lunch—and the Agri-Corporation that produced and sold me what are, in all likelihood, genetically modified seeds.
There is a cultured and (ahem) cultivated alternative, however, awaiting anyone keen to graduate from primary gardening: seed saving. Yes, you can harvest seeds from your own fruits and vegetables. Of course, saving seeds from homegrown produce to plant in next year’s garden is a practice as old as farming itself. Thanks to the efforts of organizations like Seeds of Diversity and local seed libraries popping up across the country, it’s now getting mainstream attention.
A friend in the city clued me into the existence of seed libraries, citing the Toronto Seed Library as an example. Further online research turned up a profusion of others across the province, almost all of them hosted by local libraries in townships large and small—from Burlington, Markham, and Vaughan to Norfolk County and even my local library chapter in Brock Township!
Seeds can be “borrowed” and planted, with the expectation that the gardener will allow a portion of the produce to fallow, producing seed that is then “returned” to the library.
Odds are your local library hosts a seed library as well. Seed libraries are largely run by volunteers—friendly people keen on the cause. Preserving biodiversity in seed culture is a big deal, as is the character and flavour that comes with multigenerational seed varieties—all good stuff for backyard gardeners. You don’t need to be a member of the library to participate (but c’mon: you are a member of your local library, aren’t you?). Seeds can be “borrowed” and planted, with the expectation that the gardener will allow a portion of the produce to fallow, producing seed that is then “returned” to the library.
Open the internet search engine of your choice and type in “seed library” and your township name to see if there isn’t a branch in your neighbourhood. Or if you’re up for a pleasant drive to the countryside, follow these links to the next “Seedy Saturday”—mid-August to late-October is prime for these collective events.
Save some seeds, borrow some seeds, do your thing in spring—and by mid-summer you will be serving your guests not just an uncommonly delicious salad, but a story.
How to Save Seeds
Does “fallowing and saving seeds” sound intimidating? It’s not! Take lettuce, for example. Let one or two (more than enough for most gardeners) lettuce plants “bolt” and send up a tall flower stalk. It’ll look like a dandelion, producing small yellow flowers that eventually fluff up. Once the flowers begin to fluff, hold a paper bag below them and shake the head. Seed and some chaff will drop into the bag. Do this for a few days, then deposit the bag’s contents onto a baking sheet. Lightly fan the chaff away, then deposit that good seed in a paper envelope and store in a cool, dry environment until spring. And be sure to share with your local seed library!
Other seeds you should consider saving: beans, cucumbers, lettuce, melons, peas, peppers, pumpkins, sunflowers, tomatoes, watermelon, zucchini (just to name a few!)