Saving Seeds

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Wish books!

Wish books!

Planning for the future is always a good idea. It’s reasonable to expect that there will be good times and bad, rain and sun, night and day. You want to be sure you can handle pretty much anything life throws you, so be a good Boy Scout — even if you’re a Girl Scout — and prepare (actually both groups have the same motto, anyway). What would you do if the transportation system in the U.S. collapsed, even temporarily? Or if there was a serious drought in the major food growing regions of the country? Could you grow enough food to feed your family? One way to be assured of a food crop no matter what life throws at you, is to save your own seeds. Just follow a few basic rules.

Volunteer lettuce in the strawberries.

Volunteer lettuce in the strawberries.

First rule of thumb: only grow open-pollinated seeds. Although hybrid seeds might grow, they are unlikely to resemble the plant you started with. That might be a good thing or it might be an unmitigated disaster. Open-pollinated heirlooms offer genetic diversity, which means at least some of your plants will grow and mature no matter what the weather or gardening conditions.

Second rule of thumb: NEVER plant all of your seed. A crop failure means you are SOL. Since nearly all seeds can be saved for several years before planting (onions are a little iffy, but even they can be stored for a couple of years) holding some of your seed over increases the odds that if this year’s crop succumbs to drought, insects, deer or the neighbor’s destructive dog, you can try again next year.

Third rule of thumb: make it easy on yourself. Start with annual seeds from plants that are likely to self-pollinate and easy to save. Beans, for example. The plants usually pollinate themselves before the flowers even open, and saving the seeds is primarily a matter of letting them dry on the vine and shucking them out of the seed pods when completely dry. Cucumbers, on the other hand, must be hand-pollinated and managed to prevent cross-pollination from other cukes in the neighborhood. Corn is notorious for cross-pollinating and the pollen is wind-carried.

Fourth rule of thumb: store and use your seeds properly. Generally, this simply means keeping them cool and dry. Those little desiccant packets that come in prescription pill bottles are great — just tuck one in each seed packet or jar. Seeds must be PROPERLY LABELED — type of seed, variety name and year harvested — and you must plant them often enough to harvest fresh seed every few years.

If you save your own seeds, you are no longer at the mercy of Monsanto or the other mega-seed houses. Ten major seed houses provide 73% of the seeds on the market, and three of those control 57% of the seed market. Monsanto leads the pack at 27%, followed by DuPont and Syngenta. All of them are big on genetic engineering, chemical dependence and patent monopolies (meaning if you buy their seeds you can’t save your own seed unless you want to be sued). For that matter, Monsanto is notorious for suing farmers even if their GMO seed contaminates the farmer’s corn patch, because the farmer is presumed to have “stolen” the patented genes that were blown there by the wind.

Strike a blow for better taste, genetic diversity and freedom (not to mention saving considerable money) by growing and saving your own seeds.

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Kids and Pesticides

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Pregnancy and babies — human or animal — are the early warning system of problems in the environment. The signals are infertility, birth defects, a rising incidence of premature births and nervous system diseases. Just as the birds began to die because DDT and similar pesticides caused them to lay thin-shelled eggs, too many indicators are currently sending signals that the various organisms are reaching the limits of tolerance. Environmental tampering, greed, ignorance, arrogance and indifference are causing serious problems, folks.

Try a few of these numbers on for size:

  • Developmental disabilities (the current politically correct term for birth defects) increased 17.1% between 1997 and 2008.
  • Autism increased 289.5%!
  • ADHD increased 33%.
  • Hearing loss in children increased 30.9%.
  • In 1960, the infant mortality rate in the U.S. was 12th on the global list; but by 2008, we had sunk to 28th place.

      I’ve heard all the arguments.“We’re getting better at diagnosing autism, so it looks as though the prevalence is increasing.” Ditto for ADHD. “Our infant mortality rates are skewed because the birth rate is higher among African Americans, who are more likely to have high infant mortality.” I’m reminded of a comment in a book I read — unfortunately I can’t remember where or I would credit the author — “Sure sounds to me like a man trying to maintain with his mouth that his feet aren’t going where they’re headed.”

The facts are that pesticides affect children’s brains. Pesticides and other toxins are making our kids less intelligent, and probably causing or at least contributing to autism and ADHD. Monsanto’s Roundup has been implicated in miscarriage, birth defects, DNA damage and problems with neurological development. GMO foods are not harmless, but cause liver, kidney function and immune systems problems in the animals studied. Worse, the pests are evolving to eat the GMO corn that’s supposed to kill them.

There are plenty of smoking guns, if you just pay attention.

 

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The Sounds of Silence

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The big pond looking west.

The big pond looking west.

Whenever I have to go into even a medium-sized town, I feel as though my eardrums are being assaulted. City living is notorious for noise. Traffic, airplanes, construction, people talking — you name it. When you live in the country, it’s very different. Not because it’s perfectly quiet, but because of what you do or don’t hear.

What you don’t hear: the car playing rap music with the speakers and the bass turned up to the point where the car vibrates — not to mention everything else in the vicinity. Aside from the decibel level, the quality of the music leaves a great deal to be desired, in my opinion. Then there’s the constant undercurrent of traffic. Even in a building that shuts out some of the outside noise, you must deal with elevator-type Muzak, people yakking on their cell phones and the hum of air-conditioning or heating systems. When you live in the country, you do hear the occasional plane. If you’re far enough out, though, there’s little to no traffic noise. Sometimes you hear a chainsaw.

Apple blossoms against a spring sky.

Apple blossoms against a spring sky.

What you do hear: the sound of wings as the geese fly low overhead, settling into the big pond for the night. You hear the pigs shrieking with excitement when they see the food buckets. You hear the ewes talking to their lambs, and you can recognize each ewe’s voice. Carter, for example, always sounds as though she’s talking with her mouth full. You hear the triumphant cackle of the hen that has just laid an egg, and when you stand at the hen house door waiting for them to all get inside so you can shut them up for the night, you hear the turkey vultures shoving each other on their roost in the pine tree. Sometimes you hear a turkey vulture fall off the roost, crashing through the branches and swearing in Vulture. If it’s light enough, you’ll see a disgruntled vulture soar down the cliff face before winging back up to shove somebody else off.

When you spill some grain, you hear the juncos chatting with each other as they do your clean-up work. The hummingbirds make a Zzzzt! noise in your ear as you fill their feeder, dive-bombing you in hopes that you’ll hurry up and get out of their way. You hear the stallion talking to the mares one pasture over, and the geese squabbling for position on the big pond. The first night the spring peepers start, you’ll hear a few brave souls announcing the change of the season. Within a week, the frog chorus drowns out the geese. If you heat with wood, you might hear the crackle and pop of pitch in the logs as they burn. When there’s been a lot of rain, you hear the tumble and rush of the water racing down the creek below the house. You hear a pine cone crash when a squirrel chews it lose from a branch, and the wind come up in the pines.

People who live in the city have no idea what they’re missing.

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