The KPRC Radio Gardenline Tip By Randy Lemmon For 01-20-05 Printer-Friendly Version
Heirloom Seed Seminar
This week's email tip comes to us from the River Oaks Garden Club. Besides the awesome job they do with the Azalea Trail, they do provide other interesting seminars. The Sadie Gwin Blackburn Environmental Series is a perfect example of that. So, courtesy of Margie Schubert and the ROGC in general, here is the announcement concerning the upcoming seminar I think you will interested in attending.
Heirloom Seeds: Restoring our Family Heritage
At the turn of the century most of our immigrant relatives were of rural stock, growing almost all of the food that they ate. Upon coming to America they came with little more than what was on their backs. Sewed into children’s clothes or women’s skirt hems were their valuables: seeds. These seeds, possibly with a few gemstones mixed in, had been passed down from generation to generation and were prized for their hardiness and taste in the plants that they produced. Sweet Nardello peppers from Italy, German pink tomatoes, and "Moon and Stars watermelon" were typical descriptive names of some of the Old World vegetables introduced and enthusiastically swapped among New World neighbors.
With the migration of farm families and others to the city, truck farmers began to feed America via vibrant weekly farmers’ markets. Increasing population growth commercialized truck farming. And in the 1930’s plant hybridization produced fruit, flowers and vegetables that were more disease resistant and much more transportable with thicker skins that could withstand harvesting by machines. Unfortunately, the taste of these new hybrids was simply not as good as the heirloom varieties.
Introduction of hybrids may be responsible, by some estimates, for the loss of perhaps ninety percent of vegetables available in 1900. Slowly, heirloom seed varieties disappeared out of seed catalogs. Large agribusinesses continued to buy out many family farms and seed companies with the end result of a small selection remaining of common hybrids with mass appeal.
For conservationists this is truly alarming. When biodiversity suffers it has a chain reaction: disappearance of a plant species affects the survival of dependant insects and animals, as well as humans. By making people dependant upon a small number of plants that could possibly become eradicated by disease or insects, the world’s food supply is in danger. A wake-up call occurred in the 1970’s when farmers from several states lost their southern leaf corn crop to blight. The gene that this variety of corn had been bred with made the corn vulnerable to fungus. Sadly, farmers had all planted this same kind of corn.
Fortunately, there is a movement toward reinstating many valuable heirloom varieties. One prime force has been Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. Started in 1975 with a few dozen treasured heirloom seeds brought a century earlier by a great grandfather from Bavaria, Kent and Diane Whealy, Seed Savers founders, now feature thousands of varieties at their Heritage Farm. Visitors to Heritage Farm can see 12 organic preservation gardens with more than 18,000 varieties of North America heirloom and endangered plants from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union collected by Whealy on recent expeditions. Most of the seeds have been contributed by members of Seed Savers who have since died but wanted to form a living legacy that can be passed on to other generations.
Kent Whealy will be lecturing and giving a slideshow in Houston at 9:30 a.m.,Thurs., Jan. 27. The River Oaks Garden Club will be sponsoring him as this years keynote speaker at the Sadie Gwin Blackburn Environmental Seminar held at the IMAX Theatre in the Museum of Natural Science. Admission is free. Heirloom seeds, books, calendars and postcards from the historic Lippincott seed catalog covers will be available for purchase. (Carrie Lippincott, a pioneer seeds woman, sold flower seeds to women in 1891. Her business grew from 6,000 orders to 150,000 in 1986.)
Until next issue, here's to
Great Gardening from the GardenLine, heard
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