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Starting A Permaculture Seed Bank?

 
Jeff Rash
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Location: Arizona & North Dakota
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Hello,

Another crazy idea of mine is starting a permaculture seed bank. Those of you that might have interest in this, please read on! I searched around the site, but was unable to find anything about seed banks.

I think the need is real. We all have seeds that we know grow great in our particular climates or that exhibit special characteristics that lend themselves to particular types of permaculture growing methods.

For instance, I had a strain of sweet corn that I had developed over a three year period to grow well in the deserts of Arizona. It was developed specifically to be planted deep in the soil at four inches. It was water miserly for corn and outdid many of the other plants that are supposed to be "drought resistant." After an economic upheaval and subsequent cross country move, this strain has since been lost. (I am seeking to create a new strain soon, using my notes and new seeds.)

But my point is, why should we lose these varieties that work so well in our particular microclimate because something happens to us? Why should we not strive to preserve and distribute these varieties to others that they may use them to feed themselves and others, as well as develop their own local varieties based on a particular strain?

Why can't we all be members of a seed bank run by those with interests in small scale farming and permaculture? A seed bank seems like a good idea to me...

Some advantages:

Resistant to plagues. Local varieties exhibit a lot of variety, obviously. That genetic diversity tends to prevent the retention of vulnerabilities in seed. When we are all planting the same thing, grown in one or two places and shipped all across the nation, guess what? We are setting ourselves up for failure. Some would argue, perhaps rightfully so, that if we removed all the chemicals and pesticides, the truly vulnerable nature of the handful of strains we all depend on would be obvious.

Resistant to seed company marketing whims. I work in IT. I am constantly bombarded with what I can only call the whims of marketing people. They truly don't seem to have any idea of my needs or budgets. The same is true of seed companies I suspect. They most likely spend a lot of money trying to predict the unpredictable- that being the desires of next years small scale farmers and gardeners. Much easier to do what Madison Avenue claims is successful. Forget what the market says it wants, create a demand by telling the customer what they want- and then fill it! A lot of us get by this new tendency with our own strains. Why not share these and potentially make even better plants?

Helping those new to the cause. Everybody starts somewhere. Most of us start with WalMart seed displays of whatever the display says is right for our gardens. Would it not be better for the cause to introduce people to a seedbank with proven varieties of seeds that grow (and taste) great in their area? It's then a lot simpler to introduce people to permaculture methods from there.

Ok, so that's three reason's right there. There are many more.

So I must confess that while I have project experience galore and enough organizational sense to know what's needed in the form of a bureaucracy, I don't know anything about seed banks! Anybody have some advice? Anybody know of existing seed banks that we might pair with? Anybody know anything about long term seed storage for protected germination?

It would be much easier to pair with an existing seed bank than to try to start one from scratch.

Regardless, a seed bank run by Permies seems a very reasonable and good thing to me. Anybody interested?

Jeff
 
Casie Becker
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Interested, but this is just my first year of growing anything from my own seed.

A faster and easier thing to manage may be a database to connect gardeners with regional small farmers who market their own seed. I can think of two right off the top of my head who have developed locally adapted corn varieties that offer them for sell. (Joseph Lofthouse and Carol Deppe)
 
Tyler Ludens
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Regional seed-swapping is also a way to preserve regional genetics.

 
Su Ba
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Besides Joseph and Carol, there are a number of people and organizations that maintain their our seed preservation at various levels of dedication. But I haven't heard of a central listing house for these folks. For right now, an individual has to snuffle them out for themselves or learn about them by word of mouth. I maintain my own seed repository for my own use and for supplying local gardeners. But this year I plan to increase my seed production for retail sales. Being listed on a master list would be something I'd be interested in because I don't have the time or interest right now to maintain a seed website.

By the way, it isn't a crazy idea at all!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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My best seed bank is my community...

I have both an on-line community and a local community. I source nearly all of my seeds from my network of friends, family, associates, and collaborators. It is extremely rare for me to purchase seeds. The other day I bought three packets of seeds on the spur of the moment, but only because they were very rare, and I haven't noticed anyone in my seed bank network growing them before... They probably are, I just haven't paid attention.

In my valley I swap seeds routinely with other growers. We visit each other's gardens, and homes, and return home with pockets full of seeds. We mail seeds to each other. We cooperate together to develop new varieties. These are my favorite seed bank. Because what they offer me is locally-adapted enough to reproduce and make seeds. We have created a network of sharing that will continue regardless of whether there is an organization, or a database, or a bureaucracy, or grid power, or an Internet, or a postal service, or a monetary system. If one of us dies or moves away, the network continues. I barely have a glimpse into the scope of the network. I am constantly finding out things like: "the seed I got from Bob, was actually grown by Alice".

I attend seed swaps in the next valley over and swap seeds with the people there. We chat about how my varieties did for them, and how their's did for me. We talk about locally adapted bees, and fruit trees, and vegetables. We share techniques about how to grow crops that are difficult in our climate. We talk about storage, and food preparation.

I pack up archive copies of my garden, and send them out into the world. My close collaborators in similar climates might get a sample of every species and variety that I am growing. They can bank the seeds, or grow them, or give them away. I have really enjoyed the collaborations with growers in the Central Valley of California, and in Northern Colorado, because there are a lot of similarities between our gardens. Their seeds have worked well for me, and mine for them.

I swap seeds with collaborators in climates that are radically different than mine. That is where I get most of my varieties that are not typically grown around here. Okra, cowpeas, tepary beans, lagenaria squash, runner beans, mixta squash, etc... My favorites are the landraces, because even though 90% of what I receive might fail, there is often enough diversity in a landrace that something will eke out a meager existence and reproduce. By about the 3rd to 5th year I can usually grow the crop very well.

This is part of my at home seed bank. Glass jars protect against moisture, bugs, and mice.


I keep smaller seed banks in the barn, and at the homes of friends and family that are in different areas. I seal some of them in #10 steel cans for security. I'm intending to send an archive copy of my garden to the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance's storage vault.

My real seed bank though is in the gardens of my friends, family, acquaintances, and collaborators. I am constantly gifting seeds to those around me. When I need seed in return, they are more than happy to provide for me.

My best seed bank is my community...


 
Casie Becker
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In one of the other online forums users can post in their personal profiles a list of plants and seeds they are willing to share or swap and a list of plants and seeds they want to find. They can also search for nurseries by location, but that's less likely to guarantee local plants. I'm hoping it's not in too bad taste to mention other forums here.
 
R Ranson
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Lots of great ideas in this thread. I can see a lot of good from saving seeds and sharing them.

I'm naturally a pessimist, so I can see a few challenges with a seed bank idea. It worries me to have the seeds in one location. It leaves things open to all sorts of problems like fire, flood, politicians, you know, natural disasters. It also means that someone needs to curate the collection and somehow funding needs to happen to pay for storage. It also becomes a target for certain people to... I don't want to say this outside the cider press, but you know what I mean if you already know what I mean.

Yet I can also see lots of advantages to having a seed bank.

Perhaps a permaculture seed library kind of situation would work better? It's a good way to help new people get their own seeds. They pay a membership the first year, borrow 2 to 4 kinds of seed from the list, then if they return them, they can borrow more seeds next year without having to pay a membership fee - just shipping fee. By return, I mean grow, keep records, and save seeds to return. The membership fee would be a token amount to cover housing cost of the seeds, &c. It would be a little more than the price of x# of seed packets plus shipping. So seed bank situation becomes seed library, and if the seed bank is lost somehow, then it's not such a disaster because most of the seed varieties will be safe in the hands of the members. I don't know, random thought. My brain has run out of caffeine so I don't know how well I'm describing this or if it would even work.

Or how about a seed exchange group like Seeds of Diversity here in Canada, or the Seed Exchange? Then the question is, do we start our own for permaculture focused seeds, or take advantage of the already existing organizations? And if we do... will they except us? How open are they to landrace varieties?
 
R Ranson
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Anybody know anything about long term seed storage for protected germination?


You'll find the answer to this in The Resilient Gardener. Deppe has some marvelous tips and tricks for saving seeds in long term storage and how to keep seeds safe from disaster. This book is a must read.
 
John Polk
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Anybody know anything about long term seed storage for protected germination?

Long term storage is most often done with silica gel to reduce moisture, and give a visual indicator of moisture.
Caution must be used here. The most common silica gel that we see in the U.S changes from blue (dry) to pink (moist). However, the blue indicator dye (cobalt chloride) to make it blue has been banned by the EU as a carcinogen. The EU ban has led to the development of methyl violet as an indicator. This changes from orange to green when it has absorbed moisture.

Source:
Cl2Co banned in EU.PNG
[Thumbnail for Cl2Co banned in EU.PNG]
 
Benton Lewis
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:

I swap seeds with collaborators in climates that are radically different than mine. That is where I get most of my varieties that are not typically grown around here. Okra, cowpeas, tepary beans, lagenaria squash, runner beans, mixta squash, etc... My favorites are the landraces, because even though 90% of what I receive might fail, there is often enough diversity in a landrace that something will eke out a meager existence and reproduce. By about the 3rd to 5th year I can usually grow the crop very well.



That is so awesome! Especially the last sentence in the quote. In my area, I think I would be a pioneer doing landrace. I'm going to look and see if there is some sort of community but I doubt it. Maybe a garden club or something but I bet they would not be permie or even organic. I need to find a community with my similar climate.

Just seems there are too few interested in all this. One might be able to grow any type of food crop anywhere with enough effort given to selective breeding.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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There are lots of people all over that are growing landrace style. I often get letters thanking me for providing the vocabulary word of "landrace". The letters say things like, "I have been growing landrace style for 20 years, by saving seeds from whatever grew well for me, and not worrying about purity or preserving any particular traits." Problem is, the mainstream gardening mantra treats "impurity" and "contamination" of seed as if it is a sin, or something to be avoided at any cost. So people that grow landrace style tend to not talk about it much to outsiders. The first thing I do when starting to grow a new species is to turn it into a landrace, because then I get to play the genetic roulette wheel to select for varieties that really do well here. The more often the wheel turns the higher my odds of finding something that thrives here.

I don't aspire to be able to grow every crop here... But I can aspire to grow lots of different kinds of annual crops. I could aspire to grow some perennials as annuals, for example rosemary. I am not aspiring to grow citrus here, but I might aspire to pomegranate or figs -- if planted against a south facing wall. I could aspire to growing pecans and pistachios. I planted runner beans and mixta squash 5 years in a row before some of them finally survived long enough to make seeds. Now they grow like they belong here. It took 7 years before I felt satisfied with the watermelons.

Mixta Squash:


 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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