Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Gardening for the next era.


This is a concept, I am making up as I go along.  I expect it to evolve.
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Each gardener has a local climate.  Also local soil, local minerals, local water, local plant diseases and insects.  By growing what grows best locally, the gardener pioneers for himself, and also for future gardeners.  Big companies can't/won't do that.  They grow what looks and does the best in big, regionally centralized commercial nurseries.  Plants that look best in the big box stores and garden centers.   Those may be shipped hundreds of miles.  For farmers, a genetic "bottleneck", is created, eliminating diversity by marketing genetically engineered crops that require commercial chemicals to grow.  
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Generations of gardeners and farmers in the past saved their seeds.  They created countless varieties of plants and great genetic diversity, and local adaptation.  Genetic diversity created opportunity and flexibility for changed conditions.  Now, with a much smaller number of hybrids (which don't grow true from saved seeds), and genetically engineered plants, that are not legal for gardeners to reproduce, we are increasingly dependent on plants that are not designed for diversity, not locally adapted, not amenable for the individual gardener to develop, probably more susceptible to disease, insects, climate challenges.  The effect is complete dependency on the marketer and chemical company, and at the same time, more risky plants with less future potential, and more dependency on chemical products for the garden.
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This is not to demonize hybrids.  Many of them are great.  But there is a lot to be said for saving seeds, starting your own plants from ones that do well for you, and sharing them with others.  It's usually easy.  It's very rewarding to see plants that I grew from seeds, that I collected from plants that I grew from seed, that I collected....
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Then there's trees.  Most nursery-grown trees are grown as cloned grafts from a small number of varieties.  Even forest trees are made via clones of the fast producing varieties.  That makes them more susceptible to disease and climate challenges.  By growing trees from seeds, you provide future generations with more genetic diversity.   You create a buffer against clonal degradation, and propagate varieties that prosper locally.  You grow a tree that is most likely to thrive in your own community.  That tree may impart disease or insect resistance not present in a clone.  In addition, cloned plants, especially grafts, carry viral disease from one generation to the next, but seeds do not proliferate the viral infections.  Virally weakened plants are less vigorous and less productive.  
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Figs and roses are good examples.  Grafted roses do not live as long, and virally infected roses are more susceptible to weather challenges.  Most figs carry fig mosaic virus, which is thought to make them less productive.  
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Many trees are easy to grow from seeds.  A young person will live to see the tree mature.  An older person will know that they have given something valuable to future generations.  As a boy, I grew maples, ginkgos, honey locusts, maples, and oaks from seeds.  Even though I don't live in the region where these were started, the last time that I visited, some of those trees were amazing, huge trees.  Shows how old I am.  My grandfather grew peaches from seeds.  More recently, I've grown ginkgos, peaches, cherries, and plums from seeds. 
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 The 15 year old ginkgo in my back yard is now about 20 feet tall.  That seed came from a tree, grown from seed from my elderly boyhood neighbor, Herman Deege.  He taught me about how gingkos were around in the time of dinosaurs.  Most commercially grown gingko trees are a handful of clones, all male to avoid growing female trees that make stinky, messy fruits.  However, ginkgos are also a food crop.  Americans have not caught onto that yet.  Similar thoughts apply to other tree species - ginkgos happen to be a favorite of mine.
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I'm planning to use more open pollinated, locally adapted varieties as time passes.  If I see a seed from a tree that is prospering, I might grow it.  I'll continue saving seeds from garden vegetables, and some fruits, that do well for me here.  I don't think I have to spend decades developing varieties.  Much of that has been done.  I just have to be conscious about my choices, and conscious about saving seeds when the opportunity presents.

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