Thursday, March 31, 2011

Seeds ... what you can do!

Over the past few months I've been tracking what's happening in the world of seeds through Twitter... gradually finding more and more sites that add to the dialogue.

Stories from Kew Gardens, the Eden Project and numerous other large ventures with strong public interaction,  smaller ventures all over the globe and news feeds from Eco Guardian, Huffington Post and similar are excellent sources of information. At this post I offer a variety of stories and links for you to follow up on. A business venture based in Calgary, Canada is a smallish venture with a large focus that I frequently find  diverse seed news through.

seed living community- click here.

At that link above you can read snippets like this;

How to Plant in a Bag

2011-01-06  Our Vegetable Patch - Brewster

We have friends who live in apartments and they really miss growingtheir own salad gardens. We buy bags of Potting Soil and cut the bag open long ways and also across the middle. Turn back the corners and water the soil. You are now ready to plant your seeds. We place our bags on the ground but it will work O.K. if you put on your patio floor. Some compost may need to be added if your bag is showing a lot of growth. There is nothing like eating our own Organic and Heirloom food.
back to news

Using nature to regenerate abandoned city lots

2011-01-04  SeedLiving staff - Calgary

Down the street is an empty lot that has sat empty for over 5 years. It used to be Henry’s Pub and prior to that, a gas station. There is a notable level of contamination and soil toxicity and remediation has probably deterred developers. With the global recession, developers have abandoned projects leaving void spaces in most cities. Rather than waiting for new buyers, what do we do with all this empty space in our cities?

There are a few great examples out there of how to restore empty lots. Detroit has swaths of empty residential, commercial and industrial lots. On Googlemaps you can browse through the vast stretches of what used to be ‘city’. The health of the soil in these lots varies greatly and the solution Detroit is adopting is brilliant. Repurpose empty lots for urban agriculture. (Soil testing is highly recommended.) With a goal of turning Detroit into an urban agriculture capital, they’ve got the right approach to reinventing the city and making great use of abandoned space.

Havana had to do this out of necessity years ago and now the city’s Organiponicos produces enough for each resident to receive 280 grams of fresh produce daily.
Another example of how to restore empty lots is a study from Australia tracking how nature over time reclaims abandoned waste lands. The study is an observation rather than an intervention. What does nature do with empty spaces where the soil has been completely neglected?
It appears as though nothing is going on, but there’s an order to the gradual reclamation. One set of plants, namely ‘weeds’, appears as the first tier. The seeds of these plants are introduced through naturally means; wind, birds, insects. The first tier is followed by another set of plants and seeds. This continues with each plant and tier doing its job until the empty lot is then filled with bushes. Finally trees appear and the entire forest and ecosystem is in action.
“The pioneering plants have to be very competitive in colonising primary soils… In fact, that plant through its advantage is actually changing that environment to make it more conducive for a natural succession of other plants. So the weeds are actually the instrument of that succession and land rehabilitation” (
The final example is a new study from Ohio State University on how to turn abandoned parking lots into food gardens comparing pots vs. beds vs. trenches. The researcher, Joe Kovach, is going to compare three situations.
1 – Growing on top of a paved area in 30” raised containers,
2- Growing amidst a paved area but digging up the pavement in one area to form a garden bed,  and
3 – Depaving to plant in the soil below. All three systems will use the same soil mix: topsoil, sand, compost and wood chips.
So what’s happening in the empty lot down the street? Well, every year the first tier of plants and ‘weeds’ start to take over. A hare even moved in last year. The Inglewood BRZ is concerned about unsightly wild plants taking over so the current owner hires someone to mow everything down every season. It's sad knowing that these first plants are the beginning of the reclamation process getting stymied. What’s frustrating is that had this lot been left for the natural process to reclaim the land, after so many years, there may have been a beautiful young forest in place at this point.
Our hope is that cities become proactive in embracing the reintroduction of plants and wildlife to abandoned lots. Nature has a great way of making cities livable.
(read more...)

Drying Seeds - Tip #7

2010-11-05  SeedLiving staff - Calgary

Seeds need to be properly dried before they can be stored (see Tip #3). Remove as much pulp or liquid as you can before drying. Take a solid flat piece of untreated wood, a window screen or glass dish. Screens allow for air circulation. Write out what varieties you are drying and fasten these onto the surface. You may have more than one seed variety you are drying and it may be difficult to remember when it comes time to storing them. Take your seeds and spread them out thinly on the surface. Place the surface in a warm and sunny area where the temperature does not exceed 35C of 95F so the seeds are not damaged. Stir them over the course of the day. A fan or open window will help circulate the air. Seeds require one week to dry. 
(read more...)

No-Till builds your soil - Tip #2

2010-10-26  SeedLiving staff - Calgary

Soil is a combination of living organisms, organic matter in various stages of decay, nutrients, sand, pebbles and clay. No-till gardening is the practice of not turning over the earth or plowing the soil.

A recent study in 2010 came out showing how no-till gardening can improve soil stability. This comes as news to many gardeners and farmers who continue to plow their land. Four semiarid sites in the US were studied. The no-till areas stored more soil carbon rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. Carbon makes the particles in the topsoil stick together better, making it less likely to erode. Tilling a garden area makes it more vulnerable to rain and wind disturbance and it also depletes the organic matter in the topsoil. But how do the conventional no-tillers control weeds? Some rely on herbicides.

Another long term study by USDA recently showed that organic gardening actually produced higher quality organic matter in the soil than no-till gardening. Organic gardening relies heavily on plowing the soil rather than applying herbicides to control weeds.

Organic no-till  Having said that what about organic no-till gardening? Some say its "nirvana of agriculture!" By not using pesticides and not tilling the soil, preserving the best of both systems, this creates an ideal sustainable growing technique. You don't disrupt the soil and you only use organic inputs rather than fossil fuel based inputs. You plant cover crops such as vetch in order to control weeds. At planting time instead of tilling, organic no-till gardeners knock down the cover crop in just the right way in order to plant through it. Cover crops replenish the soil with nutrients while no-tilling keep the nutrients and topsoil from eroding. For videos on organic no-till gardening, have a look here and here.

Further reading  Jared Flescher's blog gives the full meal deal on organic no-till gardening and its development over the years. 
(read more...)

Seed Living is based in Calgary, Canada .... and have an online community and blog, plus offer online permaculture courses.

They are constantly linking to important stories on seeds at twitter... and have promptly responded when I've sent a couple of questions via twitter.

This morning I noticed this excellent story from eHow- money they retweeted:

How to Start a Seed Business

As modern agriculture has trended toward mass production of a limited number of crops, it has become more important than ever for individuals to save and exchange less common varieties of seeds. The genetic diversity contained the countless varieties of available seed stocks provide us with a wealth of plants with culinary and medicinal value. This variety safeguards us against narrowly adapted plant pathogens that could easily wipe out an entire food supply, as in the case of the Irish potato blight during the 19th century. Starting a seed business is one way to help preserve the invaluable resource of seed stocks that has the potential to keep us safe and healthy and greatly improve the way we eat.

Moderately Challenging


things you'll need:

  • Seed stocks
  • Web site
  • Seed catalog
    • 1
      Decide on a focus for your seed business, such as culinary or medicinal herbs, or organic fruits or vegetables. Research existing seed companies looking for an open niche you can fill or a specialty that is underrepresented.
    • 2
      Start building a seed bank with seed stocks consistent with the focus you have chosen for your business. Buy and exchange seeds with fellow seed savers, and grow plants and harvest their seeds to begin building your inventory.
    • 3
      Design packaging for your seeds. Include information about the appearance, flavor and uses of the different plants, as well as instructions for planting and harvesting them, including the best temperature and season, seed spacing recommendations and ideal seed planting depth.
    • 4
      Design a website and a catalog for your seed business. Include information about your company's focus. Tell a story about why you decided to start a seed company and what you uniquely offer. Prepare descriptions and pictures of the plants that customers can grow from each of the seed varieties you offer. Include a paper order form in your print catalog and a secure online ordering form on your website.
    • 5
      Market your seed business at events targeted to gardeners, such as gardening shows and plant sales. Open wholesale accounts with gardening stores and natural foods stores. Place online advertisements on gardening blogs, and start a blog of your own to attract potential customers to your seed selling site.
Ads by Google


Read more: How to Start a Seed Business |

Seed Living also linked this one on Monsanto from Corporate Watch:


A Corporate Profile

Influence/ Lobbying

Monsanto have aggressively promoted their products through PR campaigns, industry lobby groups, funding academic research and directly influencing government policy. A recent Monsanto internal document leaked to GeneWatch UK revealed Monsanto’s global strategy to promote GM foods. They are actively influencing which experts get on to international scientific committees and are promoting their views through supposedly independent scientists. The report suggests that they have virtually given up trying to influence the debate on GM foods in the UK and are stepping up their activity in developing countries [31].
Lobbying Groups 
Monsanto is a member of several UK and European industry lobby groups, including:
Crop Protection Association (formerly the British Agrochemicals Association): an agrochemical and biotech trade association, one of the organisations that make up SCIMAC, the industry body established in June 1998 to support the "responsible and effective introduction of GM crops in the UK". This includes running GM farm scale trials in conjunction with the Department of the Environment Transport and Regions (DETR). (, (
Europabio (European Association for Bioindustries): A European pro biotech lobby group which encourages the EU and national governments to develop policies that are supportive of biotechnology (
Influencing research and education 
PBI/Monsanto employee Dr R Stratford sits on the Plant and Microbial Sciences Committee of the BBSRC (British Biotechnology Science Research Council) and Monsanto employee Dr K Hammond-Kossack sits on the Network Group of the BBSRC. The BBSRC administer funding for biotech research in British Universities [32].
In April 2001 140,000 copies of a pro-biotechnology booklet ‘Your World-Biotechnology and You’ were distributed in Scottish schools. The leaflet was produced by the US Biotechnology Institute who are part funded by Monsanto [33].
Links with government 
There is a well documented ‘revolving door’ between Monsanto employees and officials from US Government regulatory bodies (particularly the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This has effectively enabled Monsanto to bypass the regulatory process and get marketing consent in the US for their GM and other products with minimal safety checks [34]. US influence has made it much harder for other counties to implement more rigorous regulatory standards. Monsanto have also had direct influence within the Clinton administration and continue to have with the Bush administration [35]. Monsanto employee Linda Fisher was nominated by Bush in May 2001 for a key position in the US Environmental Protection Agency [36]. Monsanto have used their close links with the US government to influence policy decisions in the UK, Europe and the EU. The revolving door between Monsanto and the UK government is less easy to demonstrate, however, there are several links between prominent advisors to the Labour government, Bell Pottinger Good Relations (a PR company employed by Monsanto) and Monsanto [37].
PR Companies 
Monsanto have used several prominent public relations companies in an all out media assault to achieve public acceptance of their GM products. These companies include the infamous Burson Marsteller [38], Global Access Limited, Bivell Woodings Ltd, Bell Pottinger Good Relations UK, Focus Communications and Bartle Bogel Hegarty (UK). Monsanto’s UK greenwash campaign organised by Bartle Bogel Hegarty in 1998 backfired spectacularly. Monsanto were accused of being arrogant and spreading misinformation. After a barrage of complaints an enquiry by the Advertising Standards Agency found that Monsanto adverts had been wrong and misleading on 6 of the 13 counts filed against them [39].
[31] For the full text of this report go to 
[34] see and Feeding the Hungry Transnationals 
[35] see Feeding the Hungry Transnationals 
[37] see chapter 3 in ‘Of Cabbages and Kings: A Cartoon Book on Genetic Engineering’ produced by A SEED Europe 
[38] look at more information 

Before I toddle off I wish to add a link to a great local organisation here:

 Michel and Jude  Fanton

We have fantastic resources in the region around Brisbane, Qld where I live in Australia... organisations like Seedsavers: Preserving the genetic basis of tomorrow's food  are on twitter and have many publications, video and film clips at youtube you can watch. Started over 25 years ago Michel and Jude Fanton:

The Seed Savers' Network is a national organisation dedicated since 1986 to the preservation of local varieties of useful plants. We work in Australia with our more than eighty Local Seed Networks. We also work in other countries, forty so far. See About Us where you will find an overview of our activities, the countries in which we have worked, our story so farwith archives of our work and how you can get involved.
Founders, Jude and Michel Fanton, have authored and published three books, "The Seed Savers' Handbook", "Local Seed Network Manual" and "Seed to Seed Food Gardens in Schools" and produced a one hour documentary, "Our Seeds" -purchase our publications or film. Our new documentary "Our Roots" that we filmed in Vanuatu for CIRAD the French research institute will be out soon. Please use the resources we offer at no cost to you and without sponsored links.
The first six months of 2011 is exciting for The Seed Savers' Network. We gave presentations at the Rare Fruit Society of SA in Adelaide in January, and will give workshops in Tasmania  in April and north Queensland in June. 
Text from Seed savers website.

image: Herald Sun

Important Australian + other Links below from a great blog gvseedsavers.

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