V is for Variety. Just thought I'd come right out and say it because, as the saying goes, "variety is the spice of life". With that in mind, I thought I'd apply it to a subject that concerns me greatly: the lack of seed variety.
The seed varieties we have been using to grow our food for generations have been dwindling drastically. There's a really popular graphic out there that demonstrates the problem, courtesy of National Geographic. Here it is below:
According to this image, in just 70 years (1903 to 1983), our hundreds of varieties of fruit and veg have fallen into mere double digits. Shocking, isn't it? They reckon that our food variety has been reduced by about 93%. Where did all the varieties go?
Mostly they have disappeared because many heirloom vegetables are not designed for traveling. This means you can't load them up onto a truck and drive them hundreds or thousands of miles to the grocery stores and have them survive intact. They're really only good for local trade, which is excellent if you are growing them for yourself, your neighbors, or the village market- it's not so good when the supermarket chains demand a certain "quality" of the produce.
As any gardener who has been forced to buy the tough, dry, and flavorless tomatoes at the supermarket will know, though, heirloom vegetables and fruit have the advantage of being far superior in quality when it comes to taste and texture, never mind coming in a stunning variety of colors, shapes, sizes and even have interesting names to boot. They create plants that are healthier and more disease resistant, and they can grow in very specific climates too, giving them an advantage over other similar varieties. This genetic diversity ensures that people can grow food almost anywhere- which is a good place to start when you are trying to feed people.
So how can we bring back variety into our seed stocks? I say look for the old gardeners- the ones who've been around the plot a few times, who may have been collecting their or seeds for years. A good example is the Blackman's Bay Cabbage seed I was given- it was a variety that was thought lost, and was bred to like Tasmania's cool temperate climate- so when they rediscovered it in someone's garden, they collected the seed and share it around. If you don't have an old gardener handy, try to buy the heirlooms when you go seed or plant shopping instead. There are loads of good companies to choose from, including these Tasmanian based companies:
Inspirations SeedsCornucopia Seeds
When you are successful with an heirloom variety, save the seeds- generally, pick the seeds from the first, the last, and the nicest looking fruit you grow. Then save the seed accordingly, and see that you share it around to all who are interested in growing it. If there's a local seed bank in your community, be sure to send seeds to it as well.
Bring back the variety!
Anyway... you lot keep on living and learning. I'll see you tomorrow, with a glass of wine in hand.