Those of us who are regular gardeners were in for a bit of a surprise a couple of months back.
Seed companies throughout the UK reported they were having such a high amount of orders they couldn’t cope with them. Either the company was so large that they struggled getting stock out because of social distancing, or they had such a mass of orders that they couldn’t meet demand. It seems Covid19 can leave no area of regular life untouched, growing tomatoes has never been so fraught! I saw a bit of backlash online against fairweather growers but I think it is more important than ever before that we release some of the pressure on our food supply chains. The more people gardening the better no matter what the initial cause. Hopefully it will lead to people being more environmentally conscious as well as getting more flowers out there for our struggling pollinators. Once you start to grow your own vegetables you realise how worthwhile it is.
One of the things the great seed grab of 2020 highlights to me is the importance of saving seeds and growing varieties of plants that enable us to do this. Should we only be relying on companies to provide our seeds for us when we have now seen first hand how fragile the supply chain is?
A lot of people grow food to become self sufficient but don’t realise that by relying upon businesses for their seeds, their self sufficiency is at the mercy of market forces. You can gain some security from this by doing the following:
- Research what varieties of plants you can grow again
At some point I will write about the fascinating world of seed law and biology (no sarcasm) but this isn’t the space. It’s enough to say that for many common varieties of vegetables and fruits you will struggle to produce healthy plants from the saved seed. If this is news to you, I recommend looking at this. When you’re planning your garden try to think long term and get varieties that will create strong offspring.
- Save your seeds
This is definitely easier for some plants than others! But like with anything you can start small, you don’t need to go from gardening noob to carrot essence siphoning magician overnight. The journey between those two points is going to be full of trial and error. Start with the easier plants, like peas, beans and peppers. Seed saving is one of those things you can start doing immediately and you can always do better. Have a look here for a little guide. Once you have your seed, make sure store them safely so your hard work doesn’t go to waste!
- Set up community seed swaps
Have a look around and see what seed swaps are happening locally to you, if there aren’t any – start one. Swapping seeds with local growers is a great way of meeting people with similar interests and a free way of diversifying your own seed supply. It also means that the seeds that you will be acquiring have had a trial run in similar conditions to the ones you’ll be growing in. Community gardening is a wicked concept and can grow from such meetings. If you want to start a seed swap but don’t know how to start going about it feel free to get in touch, my day job is events and I’d be really happy to give any advice.
- Buy from independent companies
Smaller companies have less staff and a less lengthy supply chain so are able to react quickly to changing environments. Vitalseeds had a system during the mad seed rush where they would accept orders until a certain time and then stop accepting them once they got to a certain limit. Supporting these companies is important for the landscape of our seed sources, many of them with higher ethical standards than larger companies, but also they have the added benefit of being able to react quickly to rapidly changing situations.
- Get social
Social media is a tool, a lot of the time wielded by powerful people with different interests to myself, that most of us have access to. In that medium we don’t just consume media, we also create it. Which gives us a good opportunity not only to put out onto the platform more of what we see in the world, but also use it to serve our interests. Follow other gardeners. You will get a lot of advice and support as well as the opportunity for online seed swaps. You might find other people in your area and be able to trade vegetables when you have a glut. It will help you build an online community of other growers as well as helping you connect to growers local to you that you otherwise wouldn’t have discovered. Then if something like this happens again you can put a shout out for excess seeds, or cuttings and maybe find yourself in the position where you can support someone else.
In the wake of coronavirus there has been a large increase in mutual aid groups and communities reaching out to each other. This is brilliant, and hopefully some of this increased community connection and gardening interest will result in more planned community growing.
I’m not saying stop buying from companies altogether, but we can use this as an opportunity to spread awareness about the merits of seed saving and swapping. Not just for the benefit of our individual gardens, but also those of our local and online communities. By diversifying our seed sources we will strengthen food security with the added bonus of saving ourselves some money.