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This month in the garden - 2020

February in the garden

There has been a lot of talk about seed banks in recent years. Thy have been heralded as a way to preserve varieties for future generations and to secure the means to produce food in the future in the event of local or global crisis. The most famous of these is probably the millenium seedbank or Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a secure seedbank on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. Don't worry. If we do experience a local crisis due to climate change or political unrest, we won't have to row almost all the way to the North pole to get our hands on some seeds, we'll only need to get ourselves to Las Torcas in Tablones where the SEEeD (Semillas Ecologicas Espanolas en Depsito) seeds live. And I say live, because our local seed bank differs from the Svalbard type of bank in that ours is a living seed bank. Although we do store seeds in Las Torcas, our seeds are mostly growing in the gardens of our members.

Seed vaults that store seeds, frozen, for long periods of time are really our last resort for survival. Seeds store the genetic memories of the plants that create them and they evolve with every cycle. This can be seen very clearly in your own garden. If basil seeds are brought from a colder Northern European garden and planted here in Southern Spain, the plants will not fare well in the heat. They are likely to bolt to seed as soon as the temperature rises. If the seeds are saved from the plants and planted the following year, the plants will display some changes. These can be very slight. Maybe the leaves will be a little smaller. This is a survival mechanism to withstand heat. The plants will endure a slightly higher temperature than they did in the previous year and will go to seed a llittle later. By working with these seeds over a number of years, by collecting the seeds and planting them every year, a land race or strain will be developed that is acclimitised to your conditions. At seed we are growing all our varieties out regularly so that they all become locally adapted strains.

Think of this on a global scale. Should we have a planetary crisis and manage to bust our way in to the secure millenial seed bank, the seeds that have been in the deep freeze there for several years will be a little bit behind with the updates in their genetic information and will be unprepared for the new climatic conditions.

A living seed bank is such a valuable thing for us to have in our community. SEEeD has some very hard working members that meticulously gather seeds every year and replenish the stores in the bank. There is an incredible number of varieties in the bank and many of them desperately need to be refreshed. The members hold a combined knowledge that they are very happy to share too so if you are interested in this work, and would like to learn how to do it, come along to our annual spring seed swap or come to one of our monthly meetings. We meet on the first Wednesday of every month in Las Torcas in Tablones from 10 am till 1 pm.

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