I have been reading a book about saving seeds, and how gardeners are preserving not only our food supply but the culture and history surrounding our food. Each seed comes with a story of how it originated, where and how it developed, and the people who have influenced it. Some came over on immigrant ships. Some were developed by careful people deliberately trying to select for certain plant traits. Some were happy surprises when plants co-mingled in gardens. And some came about as plants adapted to local conditions gradually over generations.
The book talks about how to ensure varieties are kept pure and the precautions to take – not planting certain strains too close together, placing protection over the flowers to avoid inadvertent pollination, and not growing certain plants at the same time as others.
I enjoy planting heirloom, open-pollinated varieties and try to avoid engineered hybrids. But my garden is undeniably an experimental lab for riotous genes. Beans, for example, are supposed to pollinate themselves, but mine seem to cross with each other no matter where I plant them in relation to each other. I end up with brown Calypsos, red Molasses-Faced, and other strange mutant combinations of all sorts. Some taste great, some don’t. Some I plant again without tasting them to see what interesting colours come up the next time.
From what I read in this book, I don’t put as much responsible effort into my garden as I really should, though I have been known to play pollinator with my squashes with a paintbrush, in the years when there are few bees. (It works.) A lot of the time I don’t even bother harvesting seeds—I just let them cast themselves wherever they want to in the garden. Without any work on my part, every year I have a lot of radishes, onions, lettuce, huckleberries, strawberries, ground cherries, and cherry tomatoes in my garden, ready to eat—or leave to seed again. If you let some fall and fly where they will, you don’t have to go to any work to enjoy them again the next year. You just can’t get too organized around where they appear.
I admit to running a messy ship, but things seem to turn out fine anyway. Somehow the garden keeps producing. I may not know what I’m doing all the time, but my plants know what to do.