We have no future without seeds and seed diversity. They are our food and medicine, a sacred and essential resource.
WE ARE INTO THE FINEST SEASON OF ALL—the harvest time—and despite all the unprecedented tumult this year, the Earth is again offering up abundant bounty. I am both awed and grateful as I make my way around garden beds crammed with carrots, beets, Swiss chard, kale, tomatoes and a medley of summer and winter squashes. I say “crammed” because in amongst our planned crops are the volunteers sown by nature.
While I can’t say enough good about the dependable, open-pollinated seeds we order every year, especially in light of the panicked shortage this past spring, I find the volunteer seeds more intriguing because we never quite know what we’re going to get. The pumpkins are an interesting example. Every year we have some form of them zigzagging throughout the garden, even though we never plant any. That all started years ago, with a bought pumpkin whose seeds we threw into the compost. This activated a cycle that we’ve been happily perpetuating ever since.
Two years ago, we ended up with an entire bed of butternut squash plants, all because late in the spring I had bought one (grown in Mexico) for dinner. Turns out it was full of sprouting seeds, a veritable bonus that I potted up and then transferred to the garden to see what would happen. What happened was that we harvested enough delicious butternuts to feed us late into the fall.
Our most prolific tomatoes this year are all volunteers. Early in the spring they surfaced in the cold frame, presumably the seedlings of tomatoes tossed and buried there last year. They took off and thrived, despite a late cold spell that shrivelled most of the tomato seedlings we’d carefully grown and coddled indoors.
Every flower promises seeds, and once you start noticing them you can’t turn away. This year we forgot to pick one radish, which responded by growing a vine with white flowers that now is dripping with small, swollen, pea-like pods that can barely contain the seeds within. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a radish seed still in the pod.
Occasionally the seed is the most exotic part of the plant. A small clump of wild peony brought home from Haida Gwaii a few years ago offered two flowers for the first time this summer. A few weeks after they had faded, a flash of hot pink drew me back to the peony. I was astonished to see that one of its drab pods had opened to reveal rows of seeds that were brighter, glossier and more luminescent than any I had ever seen before. Nature is nothing if not ostentatious.
Peony seed pod
And then there are the seeds that we love to hate, in my case the dandelion with its fecund puff and the yellow wood sorrel with its spring-loaded pods that each bear ten seeds, no more, no less. They might infuriate me but they also deserve to be here, as important food sources for pollinators (especially the dandelion in early spring) and even for humans, in a pinch.
We have no future without seeds and seed diversity. They are our food and medicine, a sacred and essential resource. To safeguard seeds is to safeguard the plants—all plants—and their ecosystems: soil, water, air and climate.
We each have a role to play in that. For now and for life.
Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a Saanich-based writer, new grandmother, and Master Gardener. Her books include People in Transition and Ernie Coombs: Mr Dressup (both from Fitzhenry & Whiteside).