Gardeners share seeds of success

Jayne Bright, left, and Barbara Hammonds hold rocket and coriander plants wrapped in sarongs.
Jayne Bright, left, and Barbara Hammonds hold rocket and coriander plants wrapped in sarongs.

Jars of beans as pretty as hand-painted beads sit in the sun on Barbara Hammonds' table.

While they appear to be a jewellery maker's dream, they are in fact a gardener's treasure and some will be shared at a Seedsavers Taranaki gathering in New Plymouth tomorrow afternoon.

However, the borlotti, flagg, mayflower and Hopi string beans are earmarked for Barbara's own garden. "I have to produce five or six times as much of the beans if I want to be self-sufficient in protein," she says.

Sitting at her table is fellow seedsaver Jayne Bright, an Englishwoman who moved from Auckland to rural Taranaki in October last year.

As the women chat, gardening sayings from the past germinate with ease.

"Trial and error", "Survival of the fittest", "Sifting the wheat from the chaff" - or in this case, quinoa - have true meaning.

With brassicas it's the first two that have the most meaning.

Some plants will cross with others and this can be problematic, as Barbara found out when growing broccoli, kale and cavolo nero.

"I had wonderful broccoli and thought I would save the seeds because it did so well."

However, when she planted her saved "broccoli" seeds the next season, the result wasn't what she expected.

"I got a weird and wonderful mixture of leafy greens, which were edible, but not broccoli."

Jayne will talk on the topic at tomorrow's Hive Taranaki seedsaver gathering.

In her garden in Richmond Rd near Inglewood, she doesn't mix her brassicas.

Instead, she will plant just one type - broccoli this season - and she then keeps seed from the healthiest plants.

She does the same with pumpkins, which are also apt to cross. This year she plans to put in red kuri, a bright-orange variety with juicy, flavoursome flesh.

For those living in residential areas where cross pollination between gardens happens more often, Jayne recommends getting neighbourly.

People wanting to save seed could have a chat with those living around them to see whether it's possible to agree on planting the same variety.

Climbing beans don't cross, because they have a different pollination method.

However, runner beans - 'White Czar' and 'Scarlet Runner' - do cross, as does corn, which is wind pollinated.

Before saving seed, gardeners must ensure they have the right kind.

"You have to start with an open pollinated seed," Jayne says.

Genetically modified hybrids have been produced, so they don't grow true the next year.

"The advantage of the non- hybrid is that the seed will go along for years," she says.

"Seed saved in Taranaki will become resistant to local diseases and adapted to local conditions, and the vigour will get better."

Barbara, an environmental consultant, says saving and swapping seed will be of great benefit to Taranaki.

"What we are trying to do in the big picture is develop local food resilience because we are very vulnerable to loss of seed. If, for some reason, the global trade failed, we would starve."

People do save seed potatoes and seed yams, but not as many general vegetables.

Seedsavers, which is a Hive Taranaki initiative, aims to turn that around.

Not only are there three Seedsavers Taranaki gatherings each year - in February, April and July - but the Hive Taranaki seed bank is open five days a week year round for people to swap seed.

Barbara is also interested in quality control and, in line with that, is keen to know what seeds have been grown where, when and their history.

"When people have been saving seed for some time, it comes with a story," Jayne adds.

At the last gathering, one gardener said she had been given some lettuce seeds from her neighbour who had been saving them for 23 years.

Jayne and Barbara have their own green-fingered tales of how they became savers of seed.

Both women are vegetarians, so have a vested interest in growing edibles. Barbara says she and her sister have been saving seeds for some time, but after reading a story about "adopt a bean" man Mark Christensen, she contacted him to get seeds.

Jayne's interest sprouted in England.

"My seed-saving history started about 15 years ago at an allotment in South East London, when an elderly gentleman came to me with a jar of seeds and said, 'I have got some perpetual spinach', and that's where I started."

Along with the beans on Barbara's table is a head of red seed called "strawberry popcorn", and some grain, which the women would like to see more people grow.

Barbara opens up a tiny envelope handmade from newspaper and sprinkles a high- protein grain called quinoa into a small bowl.

To extract quinoa from the leafy material, it's necessary to use force.

Lay sheets of newspaper on a hard floor or outside on concrete (on a dry day with not too much breeze), put your sprigs of quinoa on top in a thin layer, place more sheets of newspaper on top and then roll it with a normal wooden rolling pin.

"Then lift off the newspaper and, lo and behold, most of your seeds have come off," Barbara says.

"You don't have to be gentle with seed," Jayne says, explaining how many seeds have a hard outer core as protection.

Next, people will have to winnow their quinoa, other grain or seed.

There are a couple of ways to do this. One is to put your seeds or grain on to a plastic plate, stand outside in a gentle breeze and lightly toss the grains.

As you do this, the breeze will take the chaff away.

Another method is to use two plastic cups and simply pour the seed or grain from one to another, again allowing the airflow to blow away the chaff.

"We encourage people at the gatherings to bring unclean seed so we can practise together," Jayne says.

In Barbara's basement she has wrapped coriander and rocket plants in sarongs and hung them up to dry so she can collect the seeds. "One of the mistakes people make is not letting plants mature enough. You need to let the seeds dry off on the plant."

Once the seeds are obtained from any open pollinated vegetables or fruit (peaches work well), the dried seeds need to be stored in dry jar with a lid and kept in cool, dark conditions.

In the spirit of sharing, Barbara opens her jar of borlotti beans and tips a handful into a brown envelope for the garden writer, who heads off with visions of that story about Jack, giant stalks and giants.

For the more down to earth, head along to tomorrow's Seedsavers Taranaki gathering at Shona's garden, 14 Poplar Grove, New Plymouth. Take a gold coin and seeds to share if you have some, and a plate for afternoon tea would be greatly appreciated.

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Taranaki Daily News