Growing Organically - The Seeds
If you want to be a purist when it comes to organic gardening, it will take more than following a few principles surrounding composting and mulching; you need to consider the plants themselves and the seeds from which they came. Here is some information on the seeds that we grow.
First off, gardening is a lot of work. Organic gardening is even more work, but the rewards are sweeter. However, if you want a truly organic garden, you need to populate it with seeds or seedlings that did originate from an organic plant. At Harrold County Home, we plant our vegetable gardens with either seeds purchased from certified organic growers or from seeds we’ve saved ourselves from previous years. This past year we also bought organic herbs.
We purchase our organic seeds from Terra Edibles, an organic seed producer here in Ontario. To be a certified organic seed, the seed must be grown by a certified organic grower; these are growers who do not expose their plants to any chemicals during the growth of the parent plant, harvest of its seeds, or post-harvest processing. We are especially fond of Terra Edibles because they sell primarily heirloom varieties, some of which are hard to find elsewhere.
We like to search out organic and heirloom seeds for our gardens because, well, we enjoy eating the produce, but also because we like to perpetuate seeds with a history. Our ancestors grew these seeds for two main reasons. First, because the plants were so well-suited to the local growing conditions that they could complete their life cycle, thereby leaving seeds for the next generation. Second, these seeds are dependable, and when growing food for a family, you want to save and plant the seeds you can depend on.
The seeds our ancestors grew were also tasty! Unlike conventional agriculture, where seeds are treated and bred to produce an easy-to-grow and easy-to-ship commodity, heirloom varieties taste better and are infinitely fresher. I think the best example of this is the tomato. Typical tomatoes - red, glossy orbs - bought at a grocery store are not picked at their ripest (nor tastiest). Instead, the harvest is timed to ensure the fruits remain aesthetically pleasing upon their arrival at the store. This means harvest occurs before the fruit is fully ripe. If the tomatoes are too green, a shot of ethylene gas will quickly redden their skins to give the appearance of ripeness while keeping the tomatoes firm enough to withstand the rigors of transportation. In contrast, heirloom tomatoes show greater variety in shape, size, and colour than those bright red spheres we’ve come to think of as tomatoes. And all that variety in appearance coincides with a variety in tastes and uses. The heirloom tomatoes that we grow are picked when they are ripe and flavourful and transportation consists of walking from the garden to the back door.
Saved Organic Seeds
Purchasing seeds that are certified organic is a good start. Going forward, you can save seeds from your favourite plants and plant them again the following year. We’ve not been too adventurous with seed saving yet; sticking to the easy-to-save seeds from melons and squashes. We simply lay the seeds out on a paper towel to dry completely. Then fold them up within the paper towel and put the towel into a small paper envelope and file it away in the seed box.
The pumpkin, butternut and acorn squash seeds I saved from last year did sprout and grow this year. Our daughter was also keen to save and plant some seeds from a grocery store cantaloupe (cantaloupe being her favourite fruit). For the learning opportunity, we grew what is definitely not an organic plant. She helped to plant, tend, transplant and tend some more until she was able to pick her very own cantaloupe. The melon was much smaller than its grocery store prodigy, but it definitely looked and tasted like a cantaloupe.
Purchased Organic Seedlings
Where growing from seed is not an option, or very difficult (i.e., herbs), gardeners can plant certified organic seedlings. My basil seeds did not sprout this year. I was anxious to find some organic basil for our garden. Dad Harrold found some at Sheridan Nurseries and brought them home as a pleasant surprise for me. I like to grow basil next to the tomatoes to repel some of the tomatoes’ insect pests. We also like to eat the basil as pesto, in a fresh tomato salad or with pasta. Needless to say, I really wanted to find some organic basil plants to compensate my seedling failure.
Finding organic seedlings can take more searching out than finding organic seeds. The vast majority of seedlings bought from a nursery, unless labelled organic, are sure to have been treated with some form of synthetic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or fertilizers. Among these treatments are the neonicotinoids; a persistent insecticide that inhibits the ability of bees and other pollinators to navigate, feed or reproduce and increases their susceptibility to diseases. We do not want to grow such plants in our garden and will forgo planting a vegetable, choosing instead to purchase from a local market, if we cannot find an organic source to plant.
If you are what you eat, then we want to feed our family the freshest, healthiest, and most ecologically viable food. The best way to ensure that is to grow it ourselves.