Seedy Saturday (and in some places, Seedy Sunday) is a made-in-Canada event. It was started by Sharon Rempel who was searching for local heirloom vegetable, flower and wheat varieties for an 1880s garden project at the Grist Mill and Garden in Keremeos, B.C. Her first event in 1990 at the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, B.C. brought out 500 people to listen to her talk about seeds, swap and buy seeds and to tell stories. A few local seed companies were on hand selling open-pollinated varieties as well as representatives from conservation and health organizations. Since then, the event has spread across Canada, the United States and Europe. Seeds of Diversity (www.seeds.ca), a charitable non-profit interested in preserving heirloom seeds, now helps local Canadian organizations host Seedy Saturdays and Sundays.
Seedy Saturdays everywhere follow a very similar model to that first one in 1990. There’s usually a tradeshow where local seed companies have heirloom, open-pollinated varieties for sale. Also present, there can be several local organizations interested in health, food security, sustainability or farm issues. And like Sharon’s first event, there are usually presentations about local or regional food issues and opportunities, gardening or new trends in food production.
But why all this fuss about heirloom varieties? They are diverse and represent a huge storehouse of genetic information. They are locally adapted in terms of climate, soils, pest and disease. You should expect a longer harvest window because they are not as genetically uniform as modern cultivars. That allows you to consume fresh produce over a longer period instead of everything ripening at the same time. Another plus, you can expect a harvest every year because their variability ensures that some will be adapted to whatever the growing conditions might be. On the downside, they may not be resistant to recent disease and insect pest invasions.
Growing heirloom seeds connects families and cultures across generations. A friend of mine found some of her late grandmother’s bean seeds. She planted them to see if any were viable and to her surprise, enough came up to continue the saving-growing cycle that her grandmother had practiced for decades. Because of my Norwegian heritage, I was curious to try ‘Norsk brun’ (Norwegian brown) beans last year. They grew like gangbusters and ripened in early September. They make excellent baked beans.
Seeds cannot be stored forever – they lose their viability with each passing year even under ideal storage conditions. They need to be planted out periodically to generate fresh seed for storage. And it might surprise you to learn that not just hippies, tree-huggers and hipsters are interested in preserving heirlooms seeds. With the burgeoning interest in community gardening and organic farming, growing heirloom seeds has gone mainstream. Furthermore, the federal government has long had an interest in preserving old varieties (and wild crop relatives) for their potential to contribute to new variety development. The Plant Gene Resources Centre in Saskatoon, part of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, is a literal storehouse of seeds through time and from across the world. Many other countries have similar seed banks.
Getting back to Seedy Saturday, if you’ve never been to one, this could be your year. You can drop in to the one in Regina Feb. 28 (10 a.m. – 2 p.m.) at St. Mary’s Anglican Church (www.facebook.com/seedysaturdayregina) or in Saskatoon March 7 (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.) at St. Mary’s Wellness and Education Centre (www.chep.org/en/events). A small donation of a couple of bucks helps to cover the costs.
For information on Seedy Saturdays and Sundays in Moose Jaw (March 1), Yorkton (March 14), Estevan (March 15), North Battleford (March 28) and Prince Albert (April 25), see www.seeds.ca/events.
Tired of the seemingly unending prairie winter? Consider travelling with Saskatchewan garden author Sara Williams as she leads a customized, small group garden tour to Morocco, March 16 – April 1. Call 1-888-778-2378 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (www.saskperennial.ca; email@example.com). Check out our Bulletin Board or Calendar for upcoming garden information sessions.