Margaret Lauterbach

Young gardeners face a much different landscape, starting with costly seeds

Margaret Lauterbach
Margaret Lauterbach

Many young people are beginning to garden, and they’re facing problems the older generations didn’t have to face. One is the rising cost of seeds. Johnny’s Selected Seeds has some great varieties of seeds, but they’ve raised prices higher than any other seed vendor I’m aware of. Some of Johnny’s seed packets are priced at $12 for a mini-pack of seeds for eggplant varieties suited for greenhouse growing, for instance. Most of their seed packets are $4.25 (peppers, for instance, 25 seeds per packet), but some tomato varieties are priced at $20 per packet.

Johnny’s Seeds does employ more plant breeders than most other vendors, however, and many of their costly offerings are for varieties they’ve bred themselves. Some young people receive generous salaries, but not all gardeners can afford their prices. They seem to be leading other seed vendors onto that higher-priced plateau as well. It wasn’t long ago for seed packets to be priced at $2, $3 at the most. Now gardeners looking at seed catalogs must be wary.

Young gardeners are also facing very high house and land costs their parents didn’t face, and “progress” has resulted in chemical and mechanical changes in pesticides and even garden seeds their parents weren’t exposed to. GMOs, the result of mechanically forced breeding between species or families or even between kingdoms that would not be possible in nature has resulted in vegetables that incorporate some animal genes. Monsanto was at the forefront of this genetic engineering, but agricultural departments in universities across the country have enthusiastically jumped in with this technology. Monsanto would not allow independent testing of the safety of what their technology produced, and hired a brigade of lawyers to destroy any who tried. This technology and its costs further drive up the cost of seeds.

Even in Europe, where folks refuse to buy “frankenfoods” (foods incorporating mechanically engineered genes many call GMOs), seed companies have been trying (with some successes) to make farmers’ or gardeners’ seed saving illegal. Seed vendors continue to carry only the best-selling varieties that are popular because of catchy names, fad diets, or other non-nutritional or climatized reasons. Thus thousands of varieties of foods our grandparents grew and consumed have died out and are no longer on any market.

Even so, young people who want to grow their own food can do so, but cautiously. You can buy open-pollinated (OP) seeds of food plants, and if they’re not as perfect as you’d like, save your own seeds and breed them better yourselves. It truly isn’t difficult. References by Carol Deppe (“Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties”) and Joseph Tychonievich (“Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener”) can be very helpful. If you save the seeds from the best tomatoes/corn/other OP food plants year after year, you’ll have a very superior food on your table.

Several plant breeders have formed an organization to guarantee their seeds will not be patented and locked away from use by individuals, universities or others in creating new plant materials. This nonprofit organization is called Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI), and vendors who subscribe to this purpose freely use those initials in their catalogs. Frank Morton and his “Wild Garden Seed,” Carol Deppe and her seed company, and 36 other plant breeders and 46 seed company partners offer 36 new varieties to growers and researchers who may do anything they wish with the seeds except patent them or any of their offspring.

Even as of a year or two ago, Pinetree Seeds was known for packing fewer seeds in an envelope but charging less per packet than other vendors. Now their packets feel full. I opened a new pack of Tomato Growers supply seeds, priced about $3.50, and found 7 seeds. That company has new owners this year. That company’s seed packets generally hold more than seven seeds, but not much more.

▪  If you’ve been dismayed by the knobbiness of potatoes you’ve grown, pay attention to the description of your seed potatoes (such as “smooth-skinned”), but the weather may also be at fault. We’ve had many days of temperatures of more than 100 degrees the past few years, and there’s not much gardeners can do about that, but we can protect our in-ground spuds with organic mulch. It will keep the soil cooler, and reduce the knobby growths on potatoes.

Send garden questions to melauter@cableone.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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