Reviewed by Caroline McCullagh.
Here we are in the dog days of summer when the Dog Star, Sirius, follows Orion around the sky and brings heat and misery to humans. I don’t know about the misery part, but we’re definitely having hot weather. In snow country, gardeners spend their down time in the winter reading seed catalogs and dreaming of the future. We do the same thing in the hot summer.
Here’s a little test. Do you know what the following are? A) Bear Paw; Blue Jade; Seneca Red Stalker; and Oaxacan Green. How about: B) Black Krim; Cream Sausage; Dr. Wyche’s Yellow; and Hillbilly Potato Leaf? And finally: C) Boothby’s Blonde; Crystal Apple; Little Potato; Longfellow; and Poona Kheera.
If you didn’t know that these are varieties of corn (A), tomatoes (B), and cucumbers (C), you’re probably not receiving the Seed Savers Exchange Catalog. And you’re really missing out. I wrote about this catalog nine years ago. I don’t think it’s too soon to tell you about it again.
Seed Savers is headquartered in Decorah, Iowa, where they grow nearly 1000 varieties of seed per year. They have many more varieties available in their catalog, more than 25000 varieties of seeds in their vault, and even more available by trade with or purchase from other members of the organization. For example, members have for sale or trade approximately 200 other varieties of corn and of cucumbers and an astonishing 5762 other varieties of tomatoes!
Besides seeds, they have transplants, grafted heritage apple trees, books and supplies for seed saving, bulk seeds, garden-related gift items, and gift certificates. Membership is $25 (paperless) and $50 if you want paper copies of the catalog, quarterly magazine, and yearbook.
If the above reads like an ad, it probably is, but Seed Savers is much more than a commercial seed company. For several reasons, their mission to conserve and promote seed diversity could very well save many lives in the future.
Most SDHS members are probably aware that there’s a seed crisis in the U.S. and in the world. Most of what is planted here are millions of acres of monocrops, the same variety of corn, soybeans, cotton, etc. That means that if a plant disease arises for which we are not prepared, our entire corn, or other, crop could fail (think of the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1852) when the potato crop failed due to blight and a million people starved to death).
A second problem has to do with there being few seed companies cornering ownership of most commercial seeds and breeding them to produce sterile plants, thereby making seed saving impossible.
Finally, we don’t know how commercial seeds will produce as weather changes due to global warming, so maintaining seed variety diversity is an added layer of security.
Saving seeds and the genetic variety they represent is part of the answer to these problems, and Seed Savers is doing an elegant job of it. Check them out at seedsavers.org.