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The purity of seed - what I realized at Seedy Saturday when I talked about kale

 
R Ranson
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In my quest to create the Bestest Giant Kale Ever, I braved the crowds at Seedy Saturday and bought every kale seed going... well, every kale that didn't have the word 'dwarf' in it.

The plan is to grow as many kale as I can, let Nature do the selecting for me and weed out the inferior lines. Then save seeds from every kale, even the short ones. The next year, do the same with some of the original seed and a bunch of the seed I saved. Save seeds from everything. After a few years of that, I'll start selecting for height and leaf shape.

I want...
  • big leaves that are tasty to both humans and livestock. I'm thinking cabbage roles and kale chips for us and winter fodder for sheep.
  • germinates and transplants easily - I want the option to seed in place and/or seed in a bed, then transplant as space becomes available.
  • to be tall, as in over 5 feet heigh
  • grow well with others
  • withstand our summer drought with minimal watering and be winter hardy


  • I would also be lovely if I could grow the kale in an area, then once the kale is large enough, release the chickens into that area so they can eat the weeds for me, and the kale will shade them in the summer/fall.

    So that's the plan.

    Here I am at Seedy Saturday, fist full of kale seeds, when suddenly I spy the seed exchange table. What do I see but 'walking stick cabbage'. I give my landrace amaranth packets to the volunteer and grab several packets of walking stick cabbage. What do you need so much for? she asks. I tell her I'm breeding a giant landrace kale. She asks me "how do you keep the seeds pure?"

    How do I keep my seeds pure.


    I'm creating a landrace kale.

    What a fantastic opportunity to talk about landraces and how important they are to the future of food crops.

    Pure seeds are great, I tell her, if you are maintaining a heritage variety, but when creating a landrace, we want loads of genetic variety. Cross breeding isn't an issue (even if I had anyone within a half mile radius who actually let their kale go to seed) because the goal of a land race is to have a great amount of genetic diversity. All I want is tall and hardy, if it's a different colour, or a different shape, that's fine. Variety is encouraged because some of the genes that make the different colour might also be great for drought tolerance, or flood tolerance, or disease tolerance. That's what a landrace is for, the ultimate resilience crop.

    I don't think the person understood a word I was saying.. they were well indoctrinated into the purity of saving seeds... but it made me happy to see someone actually interested in saving seeds. It's the gateway to plant breeding. Know it or not, by saving seeds that person is selecting for their own desired characteristics. Maybe one day that person will be here, reading this thread, interested in expanding the genetic diversity of their seed saving. Maybe even interested in landrace gardening. Who knows. Maybe I planted a seed last Saturday, while I was busy gathering my own.
     
    Jan White
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    I hope you did plant a seed. I had less luck.

    Now that we have our own property, I've got plans for my own landraces. I was explaining some of them to my mum this last summer and we ended up having quite a long conversation. In the fall, I asked her to save all her peach pits from their tree. After peach season, I asked if she'd saved any. "No, I didn't. The tree probably cross pollinated with the neighbour's so I didn't think you'd want them." Sigh.

    Good luck with your kale, though. If I was much of a kale grower I'd contribute to your project.
     
    John Weiland
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    @R Ranson: Just exercise some caution if you are anywhere near canola fields. Most of Canadian and U.S. canola production is east of the Cascades, but even the Willamette Valley of Oregon was seeing some production at one time. And I'm thinking most of that is GMO, so just something to think about with regard to unwelcomed cross-pollination into your kale.

    "They worry that volunteers from fields and seeds from contaminated equipment will allow canola to spread, potentially cross-pollinating with other brassica crops and weeds to the detriment of seed producers, who have millions of dollars in sales at stake."-- http://www.capitalpress.com/Oregon/20150407/canola-controversy-resurfaces-in-oregon
     
    R Ranson
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    That's good to know about canola. I'll double check, but I don't think anything like that is grown on our island. I would be curious to know if any is grown West of the Rockies.

    Edit to add: According to this pdf, canola is grown in BC, but almost the other corner of the province (and has mountains between me and it). Looks like I'm good to go.
     
    John Polk
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    "They worry that volunteers from fields and seeds from contaminated equipment will allow canola to spread, potentially cross-pollinating with other brassica crops and weeds to the detriment of seed producers, who have millions of dollars in sales at stake."

    Several years ago, I read a university research paper (I believe that it was from one of the Dakotas) where they were studying the effects of cross contamination of GMO rape seed (canola). Their study indicated that even the native rape seed growing along highways, that grows wild in the region, had been contaminated. Wild patches within an hours drive, in any direction from a GMO canola farm all contained GMO tainted seeds.

     
    R Ranson
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    Genetic contamination, especially from GMO and industrial agricultural, is definitely something to worry about when plant breeding. I'm wondering if it's going to be a cider press issue or if we could try a thread like that in the main forums.


    What I'm really interested in is the Doctrine of Purity which is so very strong in seed saving. I worry it's doing a lot of harm.

    Eavesdropping on others' conversations at Seedy Saturday, I heard 8 different people say, "I can't save seeds, I don't know how to keep them pure." (paraphrased but they all used the 'keep them pure' wording). I was in there about half an hour. All these people could be saving their own seeds, but they don't because they are afraid of getting it wrong.

    Preserving a plant variety is a myth. When people save seeds, keeping them pure, they are still selecting and (unintentionally perhaps) altering the variety. That's why it's called maintaining a variety, not preserving it. There are times when purity of seed is important, like for sale or foundation grade seed, and maintaining historically important cultivars. But I don't feel it should be pushed so strongly on new seed savers.

    Purity of seed saving limits genetic variation, which makes that particular cultivar vulnerable to changes in environment, disease, and pests.

    These are all things going through my mind as I listen in at Seedy Saturday.

    I wonder if the gospel of landrace gardening could help counter the damage done by the doctrine of seed purity.
     
    Tyler Ludens
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    I think if we're concerned about maintaining heritage varieties but worried we can't keep them pure, it still makes sense to purchase and grow them, and save seeds from them. I purchase rare varieties of chicks in order to support the work of people who maintain the breeds; I value those genes in my flock. Likewise I purchase heritage varieties of vegetables, grow them and save the seeds because I value those genes for my garden.

    There's definitely room for both "purity" and "landrace" seed saving, in my opinion - just so folks are saving, and growing, seeds!
     
    R Ranson
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    Tyler Ludens wrote:I think if we're concerned about maintaining heritage varieties but worried we can't keep them pure, it still makes sense to purchase and grow them, and save seeds from them. I purchase rare varieties of chicks in order to support the work of people who maintain the breeds; I value those genes in my flock. Likewise I purchase heritage varieties of vegetables, grow them and save the seeds because I value those genes for my garden.

    There's definitely room for both "purity" and "landrace" seed saving, in my opinion - just so folks are saving, and growing, seeds!


    Well said!

    I imagine a perfect world where some people maintain heritage variety and some do landrace plant breeding. But most people simply save seeds without stressing over absolute purity.

    I'm worried that there is so much emphasis on purity that people don't even attempt to save seeds for fear of doing it wrong.

    It wasn't until I learned about landrace gardening that I truely felt freedom while saving seeds.
     
    Casie Becker
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    Do you think rekindling a local pattern of sharing seeds could help counter that attitude? A more hands on approach than just telling people about it.

    I mean that if I take some of the many basil seeds that I save from my garden each year and share them with a neighbor. Tell them that it's not a particular variety, but I planted X, Y, and Z and these are the ones that did well in my garden. Could that start the process of people thinking less about matching a particular variety and more about planting what works in a particular location?

     
    Todd Parr
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    R Ranson wrote:Then save seeds from every kale, even the short ones.


    I've only recently heard of landrace plant breeding, so forgive my ignorance, but isn't this the opposite of what I want to do? My understanding is that I pick the plants with the traits I want to continue, and keep planting seeds from those. Shouldn't you just save seeds from the plants that have the qualities you are looking for, ie. good tasting, tall, etc., rather than just as many plants as possible? I really want to try this starting this year, so I appreciate any info you can give me.
     
    Dale Hodgins
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    I live 1 km. from where Seedy Saturday is held. Still, I always miss it, due to my work schedule. I am definitely interested in anything self seeding or with easy to save seeds. Being isolated in a forested area near Nanaimo, it should be easy to get good results at my land.
     
    R Ranson
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    Todd Parr wrote:
    R Ranson wrote:Then save seeds from every kale, even the short ones.


    I've only recently heard of landrace plant breeding, so forgive my ignorance, but isn't this the opposite of what I want to do? My understanding is that I pick the plants with the traits I want to continue, and keep planting seeds from those. Shouldn't you just save seeds from the plants that have the qualities you are looking for, ie. good tasting, tall, etc., rather than just as many plants as possible? I really want to try this starting this year, so I appreciate any info you can give me.


    Great question!

    At first that was my plan, to start selecting right from the beginning. It makes sense, right? I want tall plants, so I cull all the short ones before they can contaminate my tall ones with their pollen. I think this would work; however, I want to try something a bit different with the kale.

    Above all, what I want from my kale is genetic resilience. Even in the most drastic of years, be it drought, flood, bugs, disease, or what have you, I want a kale that will produce a good crop. The theory is, by increasing the genetic diversity in the kale seed, I increase it's ability to thrive under a vast range of circumstances. The question is, how to increase the genetic diversity while selecting for the traits I want?

    I've decided to break it down into three stages:

    1. increase diversity. Kale is big into outbreeding, so I know that most of the seeds I save from the first year will be hybrids. Hybrid, as the seed companies are so fond of telling us, produce seeds that are often nothing like their parents (the F2 generation has far more variation than the F1). So if I start culling plants at the F1 stage (the first generation of my breeding project) I may be missing out on some remarkable traits that would have appeared in future generations. Perhaps my F1 generation is all short kale, I get flustered and cull the lot... but if I had grown it out to to the next generation, maybe there would have been some amazingly tall kale plants then. So I'm going to spend a few generations increasing genetic diversity, and leave the culling to nature. The only goal at this stage is that the plants thrive in my environment.

    One thing that may cause a problem and needs close attention paid to it is male sterility. I'll be monitoring my flowers very closely and cull out any plant that fails to produce pollen.

    2. select for my desired traits. Once I start selecting, I begin to actively reduce the genetic diversity in my plants. That's fine, because I started with a nice big pile of diversity in stage one. These stage one seeds are an awesome resource because I can take them and select for whatever I desire. In this case I want height, taste, and the other stuff I said earlier. But I'll keep a load of stage one seeds in long term storage in the freezer, and maybe later on if I want a different kind of kale, I can use them to select for other traits, like red leaf, or woody stem, or whatever whim my magpie brain has at that time.

    I anticipate this stage to be quite easy; the short plants get fed to the sheep. But then again, it could be a bit more complicated, as some genetic traits are tricky. I'm rereading Carol Deppe's Breed your own vegetables for info on that. I don't think I need to get technical to create my landrace, but I'm a bit of a nerd so I read.

    3. maintaining my new landrace. Once I have the traits I want in my kale, the next challenge is keeping it that way. I'll cull the ones that aren't up to scratch, but I'll also be mixing seeds from various years to help maintain the genetic diversity. When I plant seeds, I'll probably mix together seeds from three or four different years. If I come across a new giant kale variety, I might add that into the seed mix as well. I'll also keep some seeds in long term storage so that if the landrace wonders away from my desired traits, I can use seed from past years to bring it back on track.

    So that's my plan for this project. What will actually happen is unknown.
     
    Casie Becker
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    Todd Parr wrote:
    R Ranson wrote:Then save seeds from every kale, even the short ones.


    I've only recently heard of landrace plant breeding, so forgive my ignorance, but isn't this the opposite of what I want to do? My understanding is that I pick the plants with the traits I want to continue, and keep planting seeds from those. Shouldn't you just save seeds from the plants that have the qualities you are looking for, ie. good tasting, tall, etc., rather than just as many plants as possible? I really want to try this starting this year, so I appreciate any info you can give me.


    As I understand it, the beginning of a landrace breeding project is selecting first for survival traits. After a generation or two has been spent on just increasing the concentration of survival traits in the working gene pool, then the work on selecting for more specific needs begins. Best case scenario, at the end of the process you have seeds that can be placed in the garden and produce a crop with no added inputs from the gardener. I think most cases are a little more of a compromise, you have a plant that produces with a few inputs from the gardener whether that be irrigation, food, weed suppression, they might still fail if the gardener stopped. That would all depend on how merciless the breeder was in their culling process. It's still probably going to be considerably less input than the original plants before they were selected for survival traits.

    If I had seen the post above mine, I would have saved some typing. I guess we're both up right now.
     
    R Ranson
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    Casie Becker wrote:Do you think rekindling a local pattern of sharing seeds could help counter that attitude? A more hands on approach than just telling people about it.

    I mean that if I take some of the many basil seeds that I save from my garden each year and share them with a neighbor. Tell them that it's not a particular variety, but I planted X, Y, and Z and these are the ones that did well in my garden. Could that start the process of people thinking less about matching a particular variety and more about planting what works in a particular location?



    I have hopes for local seed sharing to reduce the pressure people feel when trying to keep their seeds pure. I feel it helps a lot.

    I had hoped that Seedy Saturday would be an opportunity to encourage people to save seeds... but especially at the seed sharing table, where we bring our seeds and exchange them for seeds other people have grown, the doctrine of purity was in full swing. I overheard several volunteers castizing seed savers for not maintaining proper isolation distances, and cautioning against saving seeds from unknown sources. I was flabbergasted to hear that kind of talk from people who are there to encourage seed saving. It's not their fault, they feel they are helping. It's what they were taught, so they are 'helping' others by passing on the importance of seed purity.

    There are times when purity is important, but bashing potential seed savers over the head with it, isn't the most productive way to encourage them to save seeds.
     
    Joseph Lofthouse
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    My landrace development projects have pretty much followed the patterns described by R Ranson, and Casie Becker. Every project is different, but the most important trait in any breeding project is that the crop has to produce seed in my conditions, in spite of the farmer, the weather, the bugs, the diseases, the soil, etc. Without seed production, there is no project.

    I use a blended approach to saving seeds from landraces... First of all, if there are plants that have a trait that I really like such as earliness, productivity, or disease resistance, I'll save the seed from that plant as a "sibling group", and plant the seed together as a family. That lets me more fully explore the family, and it allows me to move the population in desired directions. I also save "bulk seed": pretty much anything that produces seed and that doesn't have too many counter-productive traits.

    For example: This summer I saved a packet of seeds from two different tomatoes that tasted fantastic. I saved a packet of seeds from a tomato that didn't have blemishes on the leaves. I saved packets of seeds from a few plants that had wide open flowers. Then I went through the patch and combined seed from just about every plant into one bulk seed lot. I tasted every fruit... If anything "tasted like cardboard" then it was eliminated. A few were eliminated for being insipid tasting, or for tasting poisonous. A few were not included because of disease or pest problems.

    Then next year, when I plant the seeds, I'll plant mostly sibling groups, but also some bulk seed. That allows me the best of both worlds, maintaining diversity while moving the population in the direction I want it to go.

    I'm all the time finding new traits that I want to maintain, so I end up splitting my landraces... For example, I now have small, medium, and extra large moschata squash:

    Small Moschata


    Extra Large Moschata


    And Tromboncinos:


    These are sister lines, so I don't worry if they cross a little bit. I observe less than 5% crossing if I plant them 100 feet apart. That's good enough for me. As far as I can tell, the "seed purity" issue has done more to discourage seed saving than any other meme. I counter that when I am able with conversations like these:

    Master Gardener: If you save seeds from hybrids, they won't come true.
    Landrace Farmer: Wonderful.
    Master Gardener: But they'll be all jumbled up.
    Landrace Farmer: Marvelous.
    Master Gardener: But you don't know what you're going to get.
    Landrace Farmer: The fruit doesn't fall far from the tree.
    Master Gardener: but, but, bu, b, b, uh, err, errrr.
    Landrace Farmer: Bwah, ha, ha, ha.

    Another thing that saving bulk seed does, it that it dramatically limits record-keeping. I originally approached landrace breeding as a genealogy project. When I noticed that I could grow twice as much food if I didn't keep records, it was easy to stop most of the record keeping. I still write a description of the mother plant on packets of sibling group seeds. But I might not write a label for bulk seed. I can tell what it is by looking at it. My dry bean seeds don't have labels on them. I grew a few hundred tomato plants this year. I saved sibling group seeds from less than 30.

    I also combine landraces... For example: I crossed my sweet corn, with one of my flour corns, and then reselected for sweet corn. This allowed me to bring a whole new suite of genetics into my sweet corn. That has been a long-term goal of the corn breeding project. I expect to finally have seed to release this fall.
     
    Joseph Lofthouse
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    p.s. I really, really, really dislike impurity in the case where my sweet peppers get contaminated with hot pepper pollen!!! My sweet peppers can be any shape, size, or color. They just can't be hot.
     
    Dan Boone
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    Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
    p.s. I really, really, really dislike impurity in the case where my sweet peppers get contaminated with hot pepper pollen!!! My sweet peppers can be any shape, size, or color. They just can't be hot.


    This is the year that I stop growing hot peppers. I just don't eat very many, and because they do better than sweet peppers for me, they soak up attention I have decided would be better spent on sweet peppers. During pepper season hot peppers get cheap around here, but sweet peppers never do. And I'm already tired of sweet peppers going hot on me!
     
    John Weiland
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    @Joe L: "I'm all the time finding new traits that I want to maintain, so I end up splitting my landraces..."

    Joe, do you mean that when you find a trait that you wish to maintain that you try to isolate this group in your garden during the next season? Or is isolation done be moving that variety to a different place on your property...or to a different land parcel altogether? Mixing versus isolation within a relatively small garden venture would be an interesting thread all its own. For things like beans, because they are naturally more inbreeding, we don't bother trying to isolate within the garden while improving/adapting any one landrace/variety. But for tomatoes and peppers, we have well adapted types (paste versus 'beefsteak' tomatoes, hot versus sweet peppers, and various squash) that we try to keep as well isolated as possible within a 60 X 60 ft garden. Doesn't mean we don't occasionally get some hybrid types the following year, but we are satisfied....at least so far.....with each type maintaining the traits that we like each of them for.

    It's unfortunate that the phrase "seed purity" has entered the vernacular as, even with inbred species, there is no such thing as genetic purity (if that is defined as 100% genetically homogeneous). One of the breeders of 'elite' barley varieties within the US was notorious for continually finding enhanced traits out of already quite inbred barley varieties, a testament to the fact that mutation is continually occurring providing fodder for continued selection.
     
    Joseph Lofthouse
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    John Weiland wrote:do you mean that when you find a trait that you wish to maintain that you try to isolate this group in your garden during the next season?


    Yes.

    With butternut squash as an example: People are constantly asking me for smaller squash. So I have half-heartedly been saving seeds from the smallest fruited squash separately, and planting them isolated from the larger squash either in different fields, or in different corners of the same field. That way, the smallest squash will tend to pollinate other small squash. Some medium sized squash still show up, because of the family history, and some small percentage of crossing between patches. If a particularly nice small-fruited squash shows in in the medium-sized patch, I might still plant it next year in with the small squash, even though it may have been pollinated with pollen for medium sized fruits. Or I might grow it in semi-isolation for a year, with culling, before adding it to the small-fruited patch. This year, I'm intending to be serious about culling the medium sized butternuts out of the small-fruited patch. I'm growing them in a separate field from the other moschata squash.

    I'm growing in 3 isolated fields, and can borrow others as needed, so I have plenty of isolation options. Even then, it's sometimes easier to plant into semi-isolated patches, where there might only be 100 feet separation between varieties of the same species. Pollination tends to be highly localized, so semi-isolation works well for me.

    I'm growing eight different sister lines of moschata squash this year, separated into 4 different fields.

    medium sized landrace (The mother of all the others. I keep this patch fairly stable.)
    Extra large fruited
    --
    Small fruited: gets a field all to itself this year.
    --
    dwarf/bush vines: gets a small spot in a friends garden, cause it seems risky.
    --
    extra long necked
    fig-leaved
    jagged-leafs
    mottled fruits

    The last group of 4 is what I think of as the diversity patch... They are things that are way out of the normal growth patterns, so I want to explore them and see what they turn into. They are being planted about 100 feet from each other in the same field. This group was grown right next to mixta squash last year, and since they are not quite fully separate species I'll be watching for plants that look like interspecies hybrids. I'm growing them next to mixta squash again this year. The idea with these is to mix things up, and see if anything really clever comes out of it.

    Common beans on the other hand are mostly inbreeding at my place, so I plant them all jumbled together, and am delighted with the few crosses per year that show up.

     
    Davis Bonk
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    As a young vegetable grower I hear people say "if you save seeds they won't be true to type" that is the general mindset. (Mostly because the "standard" varieties are F1) This creates a fear of wasted effort and less profit. This is largely because of CSA cookie cutter boxes where things must be uniform. If we do away with this model and promote more direct sale custom growing; then the new breeds will follow.
     
    Xisca Nicolas
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    Well, well, well... Tell me more so that I can agree more!

    After a moment of gathering diversity, you want to stabilize your results for the intended traits.
    So it will be maintaining purity, sooner or later!

    Then you do not talk about neighbours. They might not be at the same stage of selection, and you might receive polen that you would not accept becuse the plant is not good for selection.

    About all the brassica family: they cross very well.... so you can have coliflower, brocoli, kale, cabbage and kohl rabi and more, that mix!!!
    They are the same plant species.
    How do you tell your kales that they should cross only with whatever kale, and no other brassica that they find welcome?

     
    Xisca Nicolas
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    Then, I can feel some frustration that I have for long inside me....

    I like this of heirlooms, and keep this heritage by open-polinated crosses.
    BUT catalogues are so generous with so many varieties that they themselves create the problem that we can no more select local varieties without guarding them better than fathers used to guard their daughters!!

    They never classify their seeds through a system to tell what is their background, where did they thrive etc.
    They only tell you about the taste, some resistance. And all are so wanderful that you do not know which to chose!
    And they tell you to keep open-polinated seeds, that is becoming more difficult because we do not work with neighbours.

    When there was only 1 variety per locality, because it was the local selection for each species,
    then seed saving was not a problem, you could have a wide range of genetics thanks to your neighbours.
    Now, you have to isolate yourself or you have to reduce your genetics.
    In a garden, you cannot keep seeds from enough plants to keep genetics with mosquito net covering of the selected plants.
    You can see this easily with corn, that needs a lot of plants so that it does not degenerate within a few years.
    Of course, lettuce, beans, and even solanaceae are a benediction, and all big flowers' cucurbits make it quite ok.
    But brassicas are the worse mess for selection!
     
    Casie Becker
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    Something that just occurred to me on this topic, today. Maybe the way to break through this wall here isn't to change their idea of 'saving seeds'. Maybe our language needs to change instead so that we talk about 'developing our own varieties' whenever we discuss saving our own seeds.

    Could it be easier to convince someone of the adventure of amateur plant breeding rather than the practicalities of landrace seed saving. I don't really understand how most people's minds work, so this is just a shot in the dark.
     
    Jan White
    Posts: 90
    Location: BC Interior, Zone 6-7
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    I finally managed to get to the local Seedy Saturday a couple weeks ago. Every other year I've lived here I've been working or just forgot. I packaged up eight different things to bring to swap, feeling self conscious of my choices - does anyone around here even want to grow dry beans? are marigolds too boring, even my nice ones I've been saving seeds from and selecting for years? have I written enough details on the packages?

    When I got to the swap table, I was a little disappointed. Three or four long tables set up covered in mostly ornamentals and a small herb section. Boo! Where's the food?! Eventually I discovered the vegetables, way down one end on a small table perpendicular to the others. Once I got there, I was delighted. It was pretty chaotic. There were a few big shopping bags of uncleaned seed from scorzonera and some other things I wasn't interested in so I've forgotten what they were already. One of the volunteers noticed me poking around the shopping bags and told me to ask for a little baggie if I wanted some seeds. The rest of the table had seed saved in old commercial seed packages (some REALLY old) with the original label scribbled out and new one scribbled on; big and little ziploc bags marked with felt pen or a stick on label; letter envelopes folded creatively to keep the seeds in. And the labeling was minimal. My "papa de rola dry beans, pole, 4-6', collected 2015" was by far the most detail on any of the packages. Some one had contributed a bunch of coin envelopes labeled "Nez Perce." I know what that is because it's one of my favourite dry beans, but lots of people wouldn't even know they were beans. No dates on anything and many things labeled with descriptions rather than varieties. I loved it! No worry about seed purity here!

    My absolute favourite find was a little piece of paper folded and taped up with "John's old bean" written on it. When I got to the car and opened it (no, I wasn't going to wait to get home) I discovered some borlotti-ish looking beans. I also scooped up "really sweet and tasty plum tomato," "ornamental corn," "red and white runner beans" (which did indeed contain some reddish runner bean seed, but the white seed is definitely not from a runner), "purple pole and white runner," and some scorzonera from the shopping bag.

    Now maybe the vegetables were banished to the little table because they were so poorly labeled and seed purity dogma was in full force elsewhere. It was really crowded and I was getting overwhelmed so I didn't stay long to hear what people were talking about. In any case, I'm super excited to plant my new mysterious seeds and looking forward to seeing what the Seedy Saturday is like next year in the new town we're moving to.
     
    Joseph Lofthouse
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    Casie Becker wrote:Maybe our language needs to change instead so that we talk about 'developing our own varieties' whenever we discuss saving our own seeds.


    My language has evolved over the years... When talking with the "uninitiated" masses, for example, at a seed show or farmers market, I say that they are promiscuously-pollinated local-varieties that I developed specifically to thrive on my farm.

    That captures the "plain English" meaning of 'open pollinated', and communicates that they might not grow like clones of each other, and that they are well suited to growing in this area.

    Pollination tends towards being a highly localized event... The local flowers are producing millions of pollen grains for every one that blows in on the wind, or that a bee drags over from the neighbor's. Therefore, I don't worry about what the neighbors are growing. I'm not worried about keeping my landraces pure. Last year, my sweet peppers may have got contaminated with hot peppers. Oh well. That just means that I get to taste every pepper plant this summer to eliminate any hot ones.
     
    C. Letellier
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    Location: Greybull WY north central WY zone 4 bordering on 3
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    Tyler Ludens wrote:I think if we're concerned about maintaining heritage varieties but worried we can't keep them pure, it still makes sense to purchase and grow them, and save seeds from them. I purchase rare varieties of chicks in order to support the work of people who maintain the breeds; I value those genes in my flock. Likewise I purchase heritage varieties of vegetables, grow them and save the seeds because I value those genes for my garden.

    There's definitely room for both "purity" and "landrace" seed saving, in my opinion - just so folks are saving, and growing, seeds!


    I fully agree there is room for both and a need for both.

    Both have their own major problems.

    Purity of breed is hard to maintain except in fairly special cases where there is good isolation. Isolated growers are a highly desirable trait here. The advantage though is that certain recessive traits will be maintained even if they are only rarely needed. Where I am I should be doing heritage breeds because I am highly isolated. Nearest gardener is probably a mile away and they are nearly perpendicular to normal prevailing winds. Nearest gardner with prevailing winds is probably nearly 3 miles away. Given where I am located relative to the commercial hives there is almost no chance of bees cross pollinating. And hay is the primary crop near me so very little chance of GMO contamination from commercial growers. I am on the edge of the growing area for a creek through the middle of a dessert so very little chance of contamination from native species. Someone above comment that maintain breed over time was a problem and in a sense it is. But if good isolation, good storage and good seed mixing procedures are followed you can maintain fairly pure breeds for a long time with little genetic drift.

    Landrace's big problem is that it is great for breeding for traits that are needed often or that are dominate but if the trait is recessive and isn't needed most years you are likely to lose it over time. For example we were hit with a grey wilt on tomato plants 6 or 7 years ago.(don't remember the name for it) Everyone I knew raising tomatoes in 2 or 3 counties had trouble with it that year. But that is the only year in 40+ years of tomato plants that I remember it hitting. A landrace is unlikely to breed for something like that if the genetics are recessive. So when something like that happens a landrace that survives should ideally be pulled to seeds going both to landrace and treated also as a pure heritage breed so you can constantly bring its genetics back to the landrace year after year by mixing a few heritage seeds with it, to prevent its breeding away through low use.

     
    John Weiland
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    @C. Letellier: "Landrace's big problem is that it is great for breeding for traits that are needed often or that are dominate but if the trait is recessive and isn't needed most years you are likely to lose it over time."

    I can agree that it's a risk to lose recessive alleles under an open pollinating, landrace breeding scheme but am wondering how much effort would be needed to maintain pure lines for all of the traits one wished to keep in isolated lines. As you noted, a special situation is needed to ensure this seed purity and even then, considerable effort needed to keep records accurate and stocks viable. This year, grey mold resistance, next year, drought tolerance, the following year, resistance to lodging, etc. Yet while it can be the case that *only* a recessive gene (homozygous state) will give the trait activity needed, it is often the case that other genes, working additively, dominantly, semidominantly, etc in a quantitative manner (versus the more Mendelian qualitative manner), will provide the same or nearly the same effect. And so while I can agree that you may *lose* a valuable recessive here and there (but a recessive that may in fact come to dominate a population in a different environment...hence the asterisks), the diversity inherent within the landrace breeding scheme would likely provide other gene players, whose individual or combined genic activity might serve the same purpose. Either way, unless some pretty careful record keeping is performed and large seed lots maintained, I think it useful to think of "my beans" as something that may in fact change annually, even if ever so slightly. This is consequent, of course, to each year being different (temperature variation, bugs, diseases, soil moisture....and the interaction between all of these) and that different environment (annually) exerting selection pressure on what is in the rows in any given year. (Due to heavy Sclerotinia white mold in recent years, already seeing more tolerance to this disease in the dry beans that I've kept each year.) So I guess ultimately I'm saying that if maintaining recessives per se is important for the program, then yes the landrace approach could be problematic. But if the response to biotic or abiotic insult is the goal, then I think the diversity may provide sufficient resources to respond to the challenge.
     
    Peter Ellis
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    Kind of amusing for me, in that my thoughts about seed saving run toward "yes" 😄
    "seed purity" imo, would be important for commercial production, but once I buy my seeds, that is pretty much the end of my concern with keeping purity.

    I am also not at a point where I am intentionally pursuing landrace, just wanting to not have to buy as many seeds next time around.

    I suspect that people being wrapped up in 'seed purity' are victims of the growing conviction that everything has to be done by people that are 'experts' in the specific area. So seed saving requires expertise to keep the seeds pure or.... or what? You'll get plants?

    There are some things worth understanding, like the brassicas are all about cross breeding and if you don't take some steps to make sure your kale seeds and your kohlrabi seeds are not going to come out as kalerabi - and I admit to only recently learning that there is this whole spectrum of vegetable varieties that are variations within one species, so keeping the characteristics of these varieties clearly calls for some 'purity'.

    For me it comes down to just trying to keep straight from one year to the next which seeds are which
     
    Earl Mardle
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    Joseph Lofthouse wrote:When I noticed that I could grow twice as much food if I didn't keep records, it was easy to stop most of the record keeping. I still write a description of the mother plant on packets of sibling group seeds. But I might not write a label for bulk seed. I can tell what it is by looking at it. My dry bean seeds don't have labels on them. I grew a few hundred tomato plants this year. I saved sibling group seeds from less than 30.

    I also combine landraces... For example: I crossed my sweet corn, with one of my flour corns, and then reselected for sweet corn. This allowed me to bring a whole new suite of genetics into my sweet corn. That has been a long-term goal of the corn breeding project. I expect to finally have seed to release this fall.
    You are an inspiration to a tyro saver. I have only just started "saving" seed in the sense of harvesting it and packeting and labeling etc. Whet we DO have, however, is what I have been calling a group of endemic plants that grow again from their own seed readily, strongly, on my own land.

    I still don't actually save the parsnip for example, I just grab a couple of dried stems from plants that I let go to seed, usually in strips beside the gardens where they can act as beneficial insect attractors, and then just whack them on the bed I want them to grow in. Poof, in a few weeks, hundreds of plants coming up. The last few weeks I have been transplanting a bunch of beetroot seedlings that germinated in a pathway next to a bed where a couple of plants had gone to seed, bingo, done.

    Right now I have Dalmatian beans coming up from a batch that I did actually save from earlier in the year and then neglected while other stuff got done. Then I finally cleared the bed and from about 50 seeds there are now several hundred to work with, works for me. This morning I went to work on a compost heap that I had started dismantling a week ago and got distracted. Today there are about 200 seedling chard coming up in the exposed heap top from some seed heads I threw in six months ago so I'll leave it a week till the seedlings can be transplanted.

    Borage, calendula, kale, buckwheat and on and on, all taking care of themselves. Some, like tomatoes, I make some effort with but as many as possible just add themselves to my endemics and I shift them around as needed. When I have to weed out something that I used to buy seeds for I feel like I'm getting somewhere. My tromboncini are rampant this year so I'll be trying my own seeds for next year from them.

    That said, I am still buying in seed for varieties that are in the endemic group because I want to make sure there is the greatest genetic diversity possible to account for changing climate and different soil/sun/water conditions in different parts of the property.

    But seed purity? Never crossed my mind.
     
    Joseph Lofthouse
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    Earl Mardle: I love that phrasing, "Endemic to my garden". I have a few species that are like that: turnips, favas, peas, wheat, rye, fennel, garbanzos, bok choi, lettuce, medicinals. I could have many more if I wasn't so anal about cleaning my fields before winter. Some of my favorite breeding projects are the endemics. Because they take care of themselves, even during those summers when family chaos swirls around me, they still keep producing food and seeds. Even if I don't harvest either, they are still there, waiting for me to pick up the project again when the time is right.

     
    Rue Barbie
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    I save as much seed as I can. A few things I select for certain traits, and a few others I just want as much seed as possible.

    I grow numex Joe E Parkers which do very well in my garden. Every few years I save seed from plants with large, thick-walled pods. I don't much care what the originals are supposed to be, I just want ones that do well here. The original seed was purchased, and had obviously a bit of 'impurity' in their background. Peppers will be peppers. I have several packets of these saved packets from various years and usually plant whichever packet I encounter first. I store seed in the fridge so it remains viable for years. This years plants are from seed collected in '09. Germination rate is over 80%.

    Peas and beans I don't select for anything at all. I just want seeds for the next year, and those are usually the ones that I missed while harvesting, or at the end of the season when we're tired of something. My Romano bean seed is the result of at least 20 years of saving every ripe seed I've found. I don't even remember the original variety. But they are good and suited to the area. Some often come up in the garden after a good rain. There are some ready to pick right now.

    I grow a lot of Cruciferous greens and save their seed. I do select against those that bloom fast. I only save seed from those that are slow to bolt since I prefer to have a longer season for picking the leaves. Well, except for arugula. I'll save any seed of that because I'm now using it as a cover crop because it grows so well in our Mediterranean climate.

    I think the only hybrid seed I grow every year is Early Girl tomato. In my location they are bomb proof and I get a great crop even when close to dry farming them. Some years these grow right through our mild winters. Nothing like red ripe tomatoes on Christmas day. I'll also start cuttings from these if I want to plant more later in the season, but do start with fresh plants early the next year to break any disease cycle.

    edit: forgot. The past couple of years I've been growing hybrid Tetsukabutos. They do amazingly well here, store very successfully, and I adore them. Yum.
     
    john a cox
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    Location: milford, michigan
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    I'm going to grow some dent corn this year in Iowa. For eating fresh during the milk stage and saving for winter poultry feed. Good chance of GMO contamination if I grew any normal open pollinated corn. But I found this variety from Sandhill Preservation:
    Rebellion (Cycle 0): 115 days. This is a new Open Pollinated variety synthesized by crossing together classic inbreds and some Open Pollinated lines from the central corn belt and beyond. Its heritage includes lines descended from Reid's Yellow Dent, Lancaster, Minnesota 13, Pride of Saline, Cateto, flints from Argentina, Iowa Stiff Stalk Synthetic, Iodent, and more. It carries the Ga1s allele from popcorn and should be more resistant to outcrossing with other dent corn, but will readily cross with popcorn and will pollinate any corn. It should not be planted near any popcorn fields. The development of this variety was carried out by Frank Kutka with support from the Organic Farmig Research Foundation and the assistance of university corn breeders. Management of this trait will be very important for seed savers and everyone is invited to learn more about the trait via this video Breeding "Organic Ready" Corn with Gametophytic Incompatability on YouTube. Frank sent us this variety to help perpetuate it this year. I must say I was completely impressed with its vigor, yield and standability. I planted it on June 4, it tasseled from August 1 to 3, and was ready to harvest by late September. Every stalk had 2 full sized ears, one stalk even had 6 ears, 3 good and 3 half sized. This is a perfect corn for the person wanting good yields and performance of a modern development. Plants averaged 8 to 9 feet tall. Deep red cob with rich golden kernels. To help further Frank's important work, we will be sending a portion of the sales back to Frank to support his projects. 2 oz. Pkt. $3.00; 1 lb. $20.00; 5 lbs. $75.00 Certified Organic Seed
    http://sandhillpreservation.com/catalog/corn.html

    I have a pound I'll be planting this year.
     
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