Already kicking myself for not starting 4 flats of veggies a week ago, showing up to a room, jam-packed full of enthusiastic gardeners caused an upwelling of giddy excitement and mild stress. Every year I am reminded Spring is fast approaching, when I attend the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (BASIL) seed exchange in February.
This event is a little bit like a Star Trek convention for urban gardeners. Plastic tables strewn about display hand written signs separating the room into plant families. In the middle: root crops, along the window: Brassicas and crammed in the back of the room hid the nightshade and goose foot family.
The entire office of the Sierra Club next door was a flower seed bouquet.
Scurrying from table to table to the rhythm of a seven piece bluegrass band, gardeners traded their saved seeds from last season and filled envelopes with new varieties to plant in the garden. I practically ran to the root crop table to grab some of the bright orange and green Oca tubers hidden behind a 5 gallon bucket of sun chokes. I had been trying to get my hands on this somewhat rare Andian Perennial for sometime.
This event is a wonderful gathering of farmers and Bay Area gardeners. The room is alive with knowledge and experience. You will see Merritt Permaculture teachers, homesteaders, West Oakland food-justice gardeners, organic farmers from Bolinas, WOOFers and an assortment of community food activists.
As small seed operations focusing on heirloom varieties are bought out by large corporate seed producers such as Monsanto (recently bought Seminis the leading vegetable seed producer in the U.S.), local seed saving and exchange is becoming an increasingly important resource. Genetic lines and heirloom breeds that are not economically viable are often discontinued, eliminating bio-diversity in our gardens and farms. If your city doesn’t yet have a seed interchange library, start one! For inspiration visit Seed Savers Exchange. If you become a member for $40 dollars or $25 reduced rate, you will have access to over 13,571 unique varieties of vegetables!
If you plan on saving your own seed, I suggest you start with beans and peas. These are some of the easiest species because they won’t easily hybridize with other plants in the neighborhood. Steer far away from corn, which necessitates many rows to harvest rigorous seeds. Seed to Seed is an excellent book on seed saving.
The BASIL library is open for rummaging during the week at the Ecology Center. Plan on attending the BASIL seed exchange next February. You’ll get in free if you bring your own saved seeds!