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Posted by Richard Perkins about 11 years ago
Down in the south of France we took the opportunity to swing by Association Kokopelli, a non-profit making organization that was set up in 1999 to take up the torch of Terre de Semences in France (which was forced to close down following the enforcement of a ministerial decree (issue by the French Ministry of Agriculture)) imposing draconian conditions for the legal registration of heirloom vegetable varieties in a "National List for Amateur Varieties". Kokopelli is involved in the protection of biodiversity and in the production and distribution of biodynamic and organic seeds.
It is interesting to consider that our closest primate relations eat between 250- 1000 plant species a year, and we struggle to find more than 40 in any market in the UK. It speaks a lot to malnutrition and the illnesses growing exponentially throughout cultures based around highly processed “convenient” food. Seed swaps are one creative community empowered way to get around the prohibition and constraints of sale of vegetable seeds.
The work of organization such as Kokopelli are incredibly important with the networking and quality of seeds being distributed. Living Seed Banks in different parts of the world seed banks have been created, often tunnels dug into ice and rock in the freezing tundra at high latitudes. Any assurance that this is an effective strategy to “fall back on” is totally undermined by the fact that evolution is not simply the long term notion that may come to mind. Plants adapt on many levels in each growing season, in relation to climate, pollution, nutrition and a whole range of other factors. Living seed banks are the only thing we can truly rely on to ensure diversity, security and wellbeing. Kokopelli encourages members to save seed and distribute future seeds back to themselves and on to other growers. Its vital, to the point where an enlightened community could employ a dedicated seed saver perhaps!
How do you save seed?
The essence of seed saving is fairly basic with a little understanding. It is far easier in a cool temperate climate than in say the tropics, where humidity and temperature can quickly lead to spoiling. The first part to think about is pollination, how does seed originate?
There are two types of pollination Abiotic and Biotic. Abiotic pollination refers to situations where pollination is mediated without the involvement of other organisms. Only 10% of flowering plants are pollinated without animal assistance. (Co-operation in the natural world far outshines competition; in the same way we have more bacterial cells than human cells by a factor of around 10!) The most common form of abiotic pollination, anemophily, is pollination by wind. This form of pollination is predominant in grasses, most conifers, and many deciduous trees. Hydrophily is pollination by water, and occurs in aquatic plants which release their pollen directly into the surrounding water. About 80% of all plant pollination is biotic. Of the 20% of abiotically pollinated species, 98% are anemophilous and 2% hydrophilous, being pollinated by water.
More commonly, the process of pollination requires pollinators: organisms that carry or move the pollen grains from the anther to the receptive part of the carpel or pistil. This is biotic pollination. Roughly 200,000 varieties of animal pollinators are in the wild, most of which are insects. Entomophily, pollination by insects, often occurs on plants that have developed colored petals and a strong scent to attract insects such as, bees, wasps and occasionally ants (Hymenoptera), beetles (Coleoptera), moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera), and flies (Diptera). In zoophily, pollination is performed by vertebrates such as birds and bats, particularly, hummingbirds, sunbirds, spiderhunters, honeyeaters, and fruit bats.
Plants adapted to using bats or moths as pollinators typically have white petals and a strong scent, while plants that use birds as pollinators tend to develop red petals and rarely develop a scent (few birds rely on a sense of smell to find plant-based food).
Open pollination is the key to seed saving. Plants that reproduce through natural means tend to adapt to local conditions over time, and evolve as reliable performers, particularly in their localities, known as landraces or "folk varieties." Open pollinated plants are free from pesticides, chemicals and any other form of genetic modification by humans. The modern trend to rely on hybridized and cloned plants negates these evolutionary processes. Hybrid plants are artificially cross-pollinated, and bred to favor desirable characteristics, like higher yield (in monocultures) and more uniform size to accommodate mechanized harvesting. However, the seed produced by the second generation (F2) of the hybrid does not reliably produce a true copy of that hybrid (it 'segregates') and often loses much of its yield potential.
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