Posts tagged diversity

HOW TO: Create a Seed Bank

As another hurricane bears down on the gulf coast, one has to wonder whether the glass half empty crowd which has been predicting increased damage in upcoming years due to natural disaster is correct. Nature does go in cycles, and we may end up laughing off current pessimism about the planet’s inability to regulate herself. But current data does suggest that we are facing at the least a massive migration of plants and animal species to inhabit new regions of the planet. Global environmental organizations are already seeing plant and animal species move to new elevations of previously frigid territory and dead zones showing up in previously fertile areas.

Perhaps the hardest adjustment we as humans will have to make, provided we don’t all take each other out first, is that of food supply.  When the local soils no longer support the crops to which we’re accustomed, we’ll be faced with two choices: move, or learn to cultivate something new.  This migratory period will be critical to the existence of all life on earth.  By creating and maintaining seed banks, we are helping to sustain the biological diversity of life on earth.  This is the aim of the latest biological depository established in Scandinavia, into which governments from around the world are locking seed samples in preservatory conditions in case of Doomsday.

But while the establishment of such seed banks are admirable, the greatest potential for preserving biological diversity lies with the individual.  After all, your grandmother’s mint patch that grows in your backyard probably isn’t on the seed registry’s radar, and neither are your neighbor’s prize heirloom sunflowers.  For any planet to sustain a wide diversity of genetic material, it is we, the people, who will have to stash away the genetic legacy of our lives thusfar as a gift to the future.  So why not get started now?

Making a seed bank is ridiculously easy.  You could well go from a single set of seeds to more than you could ever plant within the span of a single growing season.  Of course, seeds are most fertile when fresh, but stored under the right conditions, most seeds will last for years.  It is a good practice to plant from your seed bank each year, and replenish the stock with fresh seed over the growing season.  This way, most of your seed stays fresh at any time.

Now, how to get started?  First, buy an pack of little brown paper envelopes, or even just a package of writing envelopes.  Then stash a few in your pocketbook, briefcase, or car, and start hunting!  Every time you see a particularly beautiful tree in fruit, a really nice flower, or healthy looking seed grasses, take a handful of seeds, pat them dry if they are wet (say from being removed from their protective fruit coverings to prevent rot), and place them in the envelope.  Be sure to label the outside of the package with what type of plant (if you don’t know, just describe it as best possible), the date on which you collected it, and ideally, where you found it. Then transfer your sealed envelopes to a cool dry storage place next time you are home, to keep the seeds from germinating and then dying from lack of soil nutrition. Then you simply hit the road again and look for more!  Most people won’t mind you taking a handful of anything from their lawn, but certainly some tact and discretion are in order always.

The next step in a successful seed bank is to increase the diversity through exchange with others. In most towns there are groups of seed savers who get together periodically to have exchanges, in which you give a little to get a little of something else.  This is the true gem of seed collection. You are gaining access to the best of all local areas, all of which should be relatively well suited to cultivation in your area, simply for having an eagle eye in your own neighborhood.

As with all great ventures, the best time to get started is before everyone else catches on. That way, when seeds become more scarce, you’ll already be a practiced veteran of the seed trade.  This is truly a return to the simpler life our parents parents experienced, and is a selfless act of philanthropy you can complete without spending a dime.

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Getting the Mail

Reducing your life footprint on the earth sometimes means making a few more… by walking instead of driving to local destinations.

Having sold the car a few months back as part of this solarious experiment, I’ve been hoofing it all over the city this summer. It’s been great for getting a tan, and also a refreshing way to view the neighborhoods in my area. A good walking street does not necessarily mean the same for driving, and since you have plenty of time to examine things as you go by, you’ll probably find yourself seeing details you never noticed right in your own stretch of town. I use the time to look for edible and native plants along the street… in Los Angeles, there is an old law that states any tree or plant that overhangs the sidewalk is fair game for harvesting by the general public (see FallenFruit.org, a great website complete with “Fruit maps” and a commendable mission statement for more on this). Yesterday, as I trekked to get my mail from the post office, a stretch of about 1 3/4 miles that I used to cover by car in about 5 minutes without more thought or notice than to curse the traffic gods, I recorded the following:

Walking down Santa Monica Blvd, sharing the sidewalk with transvestite hookers and average Joe and Jane shoppers peacefully co-mingling around large retail storefronts, I turn back onto a neighborhood street once known as an artists’ mecca, but which is now a darkly comical mix of homeless people camping near the lawns of middle income family homes. There are ample opportunities for herb stalking here, which occupies me for the remainder of the block (a funny thing about LA is that regardless of its immense size, the cultural landscape changes drastically every couple of blocks, kind of like a permanent Olympic Village).

I make my way to Melrose Ave, past a sea of tourists waiting in a never-ending line for Pinks Hotdogs, and past the local halfway house for adults with developmental disabilities which shares its corner with one of the most popular Cuban restaurants in town. As I walk by, the halfway house residents are watching the arrival of a Hollywood celebutante and her entourage at the restaurant, who, needless to say, are not watching those watching them. Melrose is awash with foreigners who haven’t yet heard about the street’s decline and think that they’ll find the next hot designer outfit there. These days, you’re more likely to find a ten dollar clubbing outfit or a glass bong, though a few brave designers have shops there still. Mixing with the exotic foreigners’ accents are the rough voices of immortal punk rockers, the giggles of wannabe high school hipsters, and the rolling grumbles of Persian and Asian store owners who still work the sidewalks attracting customers. Turning off Melrose, I walk down the alley through an open air art museum, courtesy of the talented taggers and spray can artists who’ve made the alleys their gallery for years, and hopefully for many more to come. This is one of my favorite spots in the city, and I linger for a few moments to appreciate the ever-changing canvas.

Beyond there is another neighborhood, this one the domain of the local Orthodox Jewish population, where men in Yarmulkas drive nice cars (except on Shabats) and women in long black skirts push double wide strollers down the sidewalks. This is another foraging mecca, lots of date palms and fruit trees, undoubtedly because the second-generation families who live there still appreciate the historic reality of food shortages and self-sufficiency. The houses themselves are historic craft services houses from the golden days of Hollywood, each with their own character and story.

Turning onto Beverly Blvd, I start to notice Ferraris and Porsches parked street-side, indicating I’m now in the realm of the hipster designers. Trendy cafes and coffeehouses are interspersed with interior design firms and Fashion Week designer boutiques. Writers peer intensely at passers by from behind their laptops and eavesdrop on actors who gather to share “I’m too cool” party tales with other actors with whom they are, no doubt, too cool to be hanging out. Finally, I pass the local public park, a haven for youth sports leagues, middle aged joggers, and boheme-chic refugees from CBS Studios’ resident neighborhood actor population and the renowned Farmer’s Market (which is now more like a shopping mall) just beyond. Inside the park’s entrance stands a largely ignored Holocaust monument to those who died in the great war and the remnants of an old amphitheater that, despite being in the heart of thespian territory, today only serves as a frisbee park for local dogs and the meeting spot for several Hollywood fitness boot camps.

In twenty minutes, I feel like an ambassador at the United Nations, having traveled half the globe without ever leaving town! As a bonus, I’ve gathered enough seeds from passing plants to start a respectable guerrilla garden somewhere, got a good workout, and it took no fossil fuels to get to my destination, save whatever was used in making the rubber soles of my shoes. Most importantly, I got to interact with my neighborhood on a personal level, rather than simply staring out the window at a traffic light.

Is there somewhere local that you generally drive that would be a good candidate for a walk? If time is a luxury, then treat yourself to a little jaunt through your local world. Picking a regularly scheduled destination you already frequent will help encourage you to ditch the car and get out more often than simply saying “I will go for more walks”, at least if the shattered remains of many new years resolutions are any indication. When you do decide to hoof it, keep a mental trip journal and post your best tales here! See you on the street~

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Database of Edible and Useful Plants

Trying to figure out what to do with that daylily in your front yard? Wonder what it’s good for? (It might be edible!) Check out http://www.pfaf.org/, where you’ll find an impressive database of over 7000 plants and their alternative uses for humankind. Their Top 20 Plants lists for edibility and medicinal value are a great resource when planning what you can plant in your garden that might help you out after grid crash.

Daylilies

According to the introduction to their companion book, 20 is also the magic number when it comes to our current diets: only 20 plants supply 90% of human food. Wow! I wish that they’d gone on to list those twenty foods, but perhaps it’s buried a little deeper in the text. This site is a great resource for someone who either wants to find out about a particular plant via their search function or someone looking to plan a landscape that does more than simply look nice.

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