With singing, raffles, and loads of great new information, Carol Niec and Kerrie Rosenthal’s presentation at the 2013 Flower Show, sponsored by Subaru, truly encompassed the theme of “Brilliant!”
Chicago-based Carol and Kerrie run the Seed Keeper Company, which came about in 2009 as they tried to find a better storage system for their seeds. Seed keeping, and in turn, growing your flowers and edibles from seed, is at the heart of their role as “home farmers,” as it’s not only ecologically beneficial and economically smart, but it’s also extremely rewarding.
There’s also a great connection to history that seeds alone provide. For instance, a 1970s excavation at Masada, a historic mountainside fortress in Israel, unearthed, among other things, a 2,000 year old Judean date palm seed. The seed was left untouched until 2005, when researchers decided to try and germinate it. Not only did they succeed, but the plant thrived.
Seeds represent life, and they represent beginning. Knowing about them is fundamental to understanding ancient and modern civilization alike; in fact, there’s even a seed vault – called the Svalbard Global Seed Vault – in Norway, where a huge variety of seeds from all over the world are preserved so that they will never be lost to society no matter what sorts of disasters may strike.
Philadelphia has a great history with seeds as well: Ben Franklin believed that seeds were the key to freedom, so he stockpiled them and exchanged them through the mail in letters with John Bartram, known as the “father of American botany.” The Landreth Seed Company was started in Pennsylvania by David Landreth, who chose the area because he thought that Pennsylvanians “appeared to have free time” and Philly in particular was a center of wealth and sophistication in the United States. Similarly, the Burpee Seed Company had its start in North Philadelphia.
Once we were primed on the history and significance of seed keeping, Carol and Kerrie demonstrated some of its more tangible virtues via a homegrown vs. commercially produced tomato. Beyond the fact that there’s no end to the variety of colors and vegetables you can have in your home garden, the homegrown tomato is naturally organic and at its absolute freshest by the time you pick it. You get some exercise being out in the garden, you’re surrounded by the clean scents of dirt, dew, and vine. At this stage, the tomato has maximum vitamins and minerals, and you leave behind a miniscule carbon footprint. And, a pound of tomatoes grown from seed costs about 6 cents. The commercially grown tomato, on the other hand, is picked while it’s still green. Then it’s transported who knows how many miles to get to your grocery store, where you pay between $2-5 per pound.
Carol and Kerrie then moved on to some terms that are often confusing, especially for novice gardeners. Organic, for instance, means that the seed in question is harvested from plants that are grown in soil that has been chemical free for at least three years. Open pollinated means the result of being pollinated by insects, wind, and other natural methods of pollination. An heirloom is a seed that has been handed down for generations (50 years is the approximate age), think of heirloom tomatoes and all their yellows, oranges, greens, browns, and reds – not to mention their vast shapes and sizes. These are the best seeds to save and share, and a truly unique way to experience history.
Hybrid means the crossing of two plants, while GMO, or Genetically Modified Organism, is a controversial term that usually doesn’t mean anything all that different from hybridizing. The controversy more accurately surrounds GE, or Genetically Engineered food, which involves adding preservatives, artificially bumping up certain vitamins, and otherwise tampering with nature in potentially scary ways.
The Seed Keepers finished up their presentation with some basic seed drying methods for various types of wet and dry produce. They raffled off a few of their seed keeping kits (you can grab one for yourself at their website), then they pulled out the guitars and had us all join in a lively rendition of Rick Nelson’s Garden Party. After all, in seed keeping as in life, you can’t please everyone so you have to please yourself.