The following is a transcript for an introductory videos at the Sussex Community Seed Bank website:
Welcome to Sussex Community Seed bank (SCSB). My name is Bernard Mc Donagh founder of the seed bank.
SCSB consists of a group of passionate growers from the rural villages and towns of Sussex who take on the responsibility of growing a particular vegetable to go to seed. Harvesting that seed and sharing that seed with the other members of SCSB. We only use open pollinated seed that breeds true to type year after year as nature naturally does and not FI hybrids that are commonly sold because with FI hybrids you cannot save that seed year after year. This is because the seed companies that produce the FI hybrids (FI means first generation) retain the two parent varieties that have produced that FI hybrid and consequently you cannot save seed from that FI hybrid for an F2 seed but have to go back year after year and buy new seed from the seed companies.
We welcome new members to SCSB which you can join by going to our website www.sussexcommunityseedbank.com and register on the forum link. We also meet once a month at the Trevor Arms pub in Glynde normally on a Saturday afternoon between 4.30-6.00pm where we have a designated room put aside to share ideas etc. For more information please email Helen Wormald at Helen@sussexcommunityseedbank.com or Erika Pepe at Erika@sussexcommunityseedbank.com
We believe it is every human being’s right as our ancestors have done for thousands of years to be able to save one’s own seed. This can only be achieved through the use of open pollinated seed as nature naturally does year after year.
We have a wide scope of horticultural experience at SCSB. My own background consists of horticulture and farming. I have a City of Guilds in Horticulture and a City of Guilds in Mixed farming. I have been Head Gardener on two large family estates and spent over ten years in commercial glass house production which includes commercial vegetable seed breeding.
On the website you will find information on how to save your own seed and in particular open pollinated seed. A good place to start on the website is under the category ‘Open Pollinated Seed’. Here you will get a good background on why open pollinated seed is so important and differences between F1 hybrids and open pollinated seed.
Under the vegetable category is a list of the main vegetables and herbs. For the beginner, we would suggest you start with the annuals (those that go to seed in the first year). The legume family (peas, dwarf beans, runner beans) is a good place to start. This is not rocket science and by following a few basic principles it is very easy to do. Once you feel you have the confidence/experience move on to those vegetables that flower go to seed in their second year called biennials.
In the ‘Useful Resources’ section you will find a number of recommended references books. As a starter we would recommend the book ‘Back Garden Seed Saving’ by Sue Stickland for vegetable seed saving.
The next section on the website is ‘Small Scale Cereal Growing’. Here you will find information on how to grow your own wheat, oats and barley on a small scale. I grow my own wheat, oats and barley in rows instead of broadcasting the seed. This is how the Chinese cultivate it and it is far more manageable in the sense of weed control etc. To give you an idea of how much grain is produced in an area. You get roughly a 1 Ib of grain for every square metre.
For small scale cereal growing, we highly recommend you obtain a copy of the book ‘Small-Scale Grain Raising’ by Gene Logsdon. This is a very good reference book for those growing cereal grains on a small scale. The author has recently bought out a revised edition which first came out in the 1970’s. This book is mentioned under small scale cereal growing section. Also, in this section you will find video links to ‘You Tube’ where people have made videos on small scale grain raising along with hand threshing etc which we feel is relevant and that you will find useful.
Under the next section ‘Seed Cleaning and Drying’ you will find various information on seed cleaning,harvesting,drying and storing. We would suggest that you read first the paper on ‘small-scale drying’ which relates to ourselves and compliment it with the other information on this section.
The next section on ‘Useful Resources’ is a list of organizations involved in open pollinated plant breeding and seed production along with seed information literature.
The section on ‘Seed Links’ is a list of seed companies where you can buy open pollinated seed in the UK.
It is appropriate here to say a big thankyou to a number of organizations and individuals that are supporting this project.
Firstly, the Millennium Seed Bank that have provided us with technical assistance on seed cleaning and drying which you will find on the website under the section ‘Seed Cleaning and Drying’ along with donating germination and seed drying equipment.
Secondly, Plumpton Agricultural College that had the foresight in seeing the importance of this project and have provided land and assistance.
Thirdly, Peter Brinch who is an open pollinated plant breeder situated near Forest Row in East Sussex who has produced information on open pollinated seed and kindly allowed us to use it on our website.
Last but not least is Paul Craggs an organic cereal farmer who has kindly donated cereals for our trials of wheat, oats and barley.
My grandfather farmed on the west coast of Ireland. He religiously saved his own vegetable and cereal seed year after year. That generation did along with previous generations before him. It was second nature to them.
It is relevant for us here to ask ourselves what happened to break that link in saving our own seed as our ancestors have done for thousands of years which occurred about 80-100 years ago.
It was really the onset of cheap fossil fuels which brought with it mechanized farming, along with the age of the supermarket which replaced on the whole your local green grocer.
The supermarkets demanded from the growers, vegetables that were uniform in appearance along with having the ability to travel long distances since vegetables come into a central distribution centre from where they are cleaned and packaged and sent out across the country to the various supermarkets. This required the plant breeders to adapt to these new demands which brought in the development of FI hybrids which today is the most commonly used seed.
The age of cheap energy is over. We are witnessing this practically on a daily basis with the continual rise in petrol and gas prices. To help us get things into perspective it is useful to quote the latest figures from the International Energy Agency.
They say at present we are consuming 90.5 million barrels of oil a day. That amounts to just over a billion barrels of oil we are consuming every 11.5 days. If one ponders on that for a moment in that we are consuming just over a billion barrels of oil every 11.5 days any reasonable intelligent person would soon come to the conclusion that our present way of life is un-stainable and that a return to a more local sustainable way of life is inevitable.
Community seed banks can play an important role in this respect. We at Sussex Community Seed Bank believe you cannot say you have local food security unless you have local seed security and you cannot say you have local seed security unless you are using open pollinated seed which breeds true to type year after year as nature naturally does.
Open pollinated seed is a far more resilient seed in being sensitive to the environment and therefore more flexible to adaption and tolerant to soil types, cold and warm climates, wet and dry conditions etc.
Having worked in commercial vegetable seed breeding there are three things worth mentioning here. Firstly, most of your vegetable seed that you purchase today is grown abroad which is not sustainable in the long run. Secondly, that the vast majority of that seed produced today is F1 hybrids which you cannot reproduce from and have patents forbidding this. And lastly, that around 73% of the world’s seed supply and growing is controlled by seven agro-chemical seed companies which is not a healthy state of affairs.
We at SCSB believe it is just a basic right of every human being to be able to save their own seed as our ancestors have done for thousands of years.
Community seed banks can help to re-establish that link in saving our own seed. By seed saving we tune into nature’s rhythms and in so doing become better stewards of our environment by working hand in hand with nature. Seed saving helps to build resilience back into the individual and the community.
Sussex Community Seed Bank has barely got off the ground but is receiving considerable interest. ‘Garden Organic’ the UK’s leading national charity on organic growing has asked that they would like to do a feature in their magazine later this year which will help to spread the word.
Thanks to the internet. In time, Community Seed Banks will go viral. What we are doing here at Sussex Community Seed Bank is a step in that direction.
Happy Seed Saving.