The problem and advantage of seed saving and plant breeding is that it takes time. I love the rhythms of the seasons, but also can't wait to see the fruits of my endeavour. While I wait, I raid the library for books about farming, seed saving, breeding plants, landrace gardening, and traditional agricultural methods. So I read, and I read, and I read... and I'm running out of books on the topic. While I wait for Joseph Lofthouse's book of landrace gardening to come out in print, can you recommend some more books for me to read?
Here's what I've read so far:
Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe.
This is the single most influential book I've read in the last decade, perhaps my life. Deppe's approach to vegetable breeding is very down to earth. With her background in genetics Deppe has an almost poetic grounding in the how and why of plant breeding. Thankfully she also understands that most of us farmers and gardeners don't have the same educational background - all we want is ways to grow the plants we want to grow. There are some sections where she dives into the science and math of how genes interact, but she does it in a friendly way, with plenty of real life examples. One of the more interesting chapters was about Wide Crosses which talks about making crosses between species (in the traditional, pre genetic engeneering way), for example using wild relatives to breed disease resistance into food crops - the advantages and disadvantages of this. This book seems to get thicker with each publication as Deppe has more and more to say on the topic. I found the section with her view on Genetic Engineering and GM food crops to be eye opening. Instead of approaching the topic with the usual rhetoric of fear or praise, she takes a balanced look at the advantages and disadvantages of genetic modification, and critiques what this technology needs before it can become truly useful.
Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth
A must have for anyone saving their own seeds, even if it's just a handful of bean seeds for next year's garden. Ashworth discusses pollination techniques, isolation distances, roguing, inbreeding, outbreeding minimum population requirements, seed processing and seed storing. Most of the book is filled with information about specific species and how to select and save seeds from them. This isn't the kind of book that entices me to read cover to cover, but is my first go-to book for thumbing through about techniques and specific plant families.
The Organic Seed Grower by John Navazio
A book for those interested in producing seeds for sale, for organic growing. Seeds produced using modern methods are quite often grown very controlled conditions, with high inputs to reduce weeds, be rid of pests, irrigation, fertilizers, and so on and so forth. Plants are selected on the bases that they do well in these high input conditions, but when seeds from these plants are grown in an organic setting with weeds and bugs, they don't thrive. By growing seed crops in organic conditions, we can create seeds that thrive in organic conditions. That's what this book is about, how to produce HIGH QUALITY seeds that thrive in organic setting. I love it! This is the first book where I've encountered 'foundation seed' and methods for maintaining variety and avoiding unwanted genetic drift. Although great information for the home gardener who interested in improving their seed saving skills, but it really is geared towards larger scale production.
The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe
The focus of this book is how to garden in good times, to prepare for hard times. Be it an End Of The World As We Know It situation, or the more mundane broken leg; perhaps job loss which means less money to spend on food, or job promotion leading to less time to spend in the garden, Deppe shows us how to garden in a way that allows for these minor and major life changes. Simple things like planing your garden so that the crops that require little or no water, are furthest from the hose, and the water intensive crops are closer. Saving and selecting seeds from your garden so that you can develop your own line thrives in your conditions. This book focuses on staple food crops: Corn, Potatoes, dry Beans and Eggs. Deppe's diet is strictly gluten free and in the past she found it difficult to find foods that met her strict requirements for avoiding wheat contamination. By growing crops like her own flour corn she can create delicious meals that are healthy and gluten free. There is so much wonderful inspiration and information in this book.
One of the most useful bits of information in The Resilient Gardener is how to process seeds for long term and freezer storage. Instead of a shelf life of two years for squash, by using Deppes technique, your seeds could last ten times as long and still be viable.
The Tao of Vegetable Gardening by Carol Deppe
The companion book to The Resilient Gardener. This is a book about Mu Farming in the modern Western World. Working with the natural habits of plants, instead of forcing plants to do your biding, is easier on you and the plants. Even more thoughts on how to get the most out of your garden without resorting to unnecessary techniques. When adding a new task to the garden, it is useful to experiment, have half the old way and half the new way, see if this new method actually does improve. The whole book reminds me greatly of Fukuoka's idea of "how about not doing this, or not doing that". The crops this book focuses on are tomatoes, summer squash, eat-all greens and fresh beans and peas. There is a great deal more to this book than a handful of crops. Well worth a read.
The Manual of Seed Saving by Andrea Heistinger
This is a lot like Seed to Seed with a few distinct differences. If you already have Seed to Seed, I don't think you really need this book. Heistinger has some different thoughts on seed processing techniques and a lot of lovely photos. The plant by plant section is in some ways easier to read than Seed to Seed, but misses out some of the important info like seed storage. One of the interesting things this book has is recommendations on selection characteristics for each crop.
What should I read next?
Moderators, you hardworking saintlike people you, please feel free to do that magic linky thing so that the book titles link to the amazon in a way that provides remuneration to this site. Also, I don't know if I choose the right category, please feel free to do your thing.
Edited by moderator to add links to book summary threads.
I hadn't seen the book category on the forums before, love what's going on there. Two questions about the links to individual book threads: Would be okay if I wrote a larger synopsis and my opinions on what the book does well and how it could improve? Also, I assume the links help fund Paul's plan for world domination and I noticed that I'm not the only Canadian kicking about this forum. Would it be possible to set it up so it includes a link to the Amazon.ca page so we can buy and help fund this awesome site?
Really looking forward to what books people recommend I add to my reading list. I've only two chapters left on Tao of Vegetable Gardening... getting frightened of running out of reading material.
Saving Seeds As If Our Lives Depended on It by Dan Jason
I fully admit, I may be slightly biased as Jason is a local boy and runs a small seed company called Salt Spring Seeds which specializes in heritage, non-gmo, regionally adapted seeds.
That said, Saving Seeds is a fantastic little booklet. Personally, I feel it falls somewhere between booklet and book, not quite thick enough to be a hearty tome on seedsaving, but crammed full of more information than you could imagine fitting into a booklet. This is the ideal introduction to seed saving. Dan discusses why saving seeds is relevant in our modern world, techniques for saving seeds, and details on a few different plant families - focusing on those plants that are easier to work with and keep pure. For example, spending a lot more time on an inbreeder like tomatoes than on a more troublesome plant like chard. I would write more about this book, but it's so darn skinny and a beautiful green colour that matches and blends in with my decor, that I have no idea where the book is. But I'll say this: If I had to recommend one and only one book to someone just starting out on their seed saving venture, this would be the book.
As for the huge list of books you are about to recommend to me, I don't just limit myself to books. If there are any exciting magazines about seed saving or similar topics, please let me know what they are.
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I have yet to see a book on landrace gardening, but I'm sure it won't be long before one is written. If we are very lucky, it will be written by someone like Lofthouse who has actual experience with it, instead of an armchair farmer trying to make a few extra bucks. (nothing wrong with armchair farming or wanting to make a few extra bucks, I often do both myself... just not the best person to write on such an important topic - in my opinion).
R Ranson wrote: Two questions about the links to individual book threads: Would be okay if I wrote a larger synopsis and my opinions on what the book does well and how it could improve?
It would be *wonderful* if you could add reviews to book threads. Paul would like for each review to start off with the words "I give this boox X out of 10 acorns", just replace x with how many acorns you think it's worth. My reviews tend to score quite high as I can't justify the time to review a book that I don't think is wonderful, so it's pretty safe to assume that anything I review is gonna be good. I guess yours will be likewise.
I believe the offer of pie for the first six members to post twelve reviews is still going, and I'm not even sure if all the top three spaces have gone yet - they're getting an amazon.com voucher too!
Also, I assume the links help fund Paul's plan for world domination and I noticed that I'm not the only Canadian kicking about this forum. Would it be possible to set it up so it includes a link to the Amazon.ca page so we can buy and help fund this awesome site?.
As far as I know the empire is only set up with affiliate stuff to the US and UK sites. If that changes I'm sure I'll be given the chore of ploughing through the book summaries threads and adding stuff, but for now I'm drowning in stuff. We all are...
Mike, the seed lending library link (try saying that five times real fast), reminds me of another seed book I read recently. But before I talk about the book, I will gladly take any opportunity to wax poetic about seed libraries.
Last year our local book library system began hosting a seed library. The goal of this seed library was in part about food security. We live on an island and it's always a concern that an emergency may cut us off from the rest of the country for a few days, or even months. There is a lot of focus on local food supply and on preserving the skills needed to grow our own crops. The other aim of the seed library is to provide free seeds and skills to people in the community. There are free classes on all aspects of food growing and seed saving. The initial seeds the library lends were donated by local seed companies, with a large amount coming from the aforementioned Salt Spring Seeds. Quite often, the seeds donated are what's left over from the end of the last season, amounts too small to list in the catalogue, but enough to help the community grow. At the beginning of the growing season we 'sign out' the seeds we wish to grow, then grow the plants, select and save the seeds, keep enough seeds for our garden next year, and return the rest of the seeds to the library. Like you said earlier Mike, it helps maintain a local seed bank with a large amount of genetic diversity.
You probably already know all this, but I write it on the off chance that someone new to the idea might stop by and read this thread.
But back to books.
Seed Libraries: And Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People by Cindy Conner
This book isn't necessarily for gardeners or restricted to those with experience growing and saving seeds. It's written for those passionate about food security and keeping seeds in the public domaine. Glossing over the scary bits about how certain companies and legislation threaten to take away our right to save seeds, Conner focuses instead on the practicalities of setting up a seed library. The importance of offering free or affordable membership, the technicalities of managing seed storage and why book libraries make wonderful companions to seed libraries. Conner talks about how offering education, like workshops or introduction seminars with a seed library membership vastly improve the ability for the library to maintain itself and the experience of the patrons. There are also some inspiring examples of successful seed libraries.
Perhaps the most interesting bit about this book was where it talks about lending land as well as seeds. Some book libraries have extra bits of land on their grounds, and they lend it to the seed library participants. Sometimes for a small fee, sometimes there is no fee, but preference is given to low income participants. This provides the opportunity for the landless masses to participate, grow their own food, and save seeds. When done correctly, the library has the advantage of not having to pay for grounds keeping on that plot of land. Win win.
On the whole, I enjoyed this book. There is limited information on actually saving seeds, but excellent references to information on the topic. Since I'm not great at motivating community or organizing people, this isn't the kind of book I want on my shelf, but I appreciate that I could borrow it from the library.
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