Saving seeds is an ancient skill that is slowly becoming a dying art — but Patrick Steiner hopes to steer Creston Valley gardeners and farmers back to traditional ways when he presents “Starting with Seeds” on Saturday, the first in the College of the Rockies’ Food in the Valley workshop series.
“This is something that for a long time, generations, was practiced all the time,” he said. “Farmers, and gardeners too, used to grow their seeds.”
In the latter half of the 20th century, self-sufficiency began to fade as seed collecting became something done by large companies.
“A lot of people lost skills and knowledge about how to save their own seeds,” said Steiner. “With the loss of that knowledge base, you’re stuck with what the seed companies give you. For a long time, that was not a concern.”
With Colleen O’Brien, Steiner operates Stellar Seeds and Kootenay Joe Farms in Johnson’s Landing at the north end of Kootenay Lake, where they grow mixed vegetables and seeds for everything from beans to eggplant to rutabaga to annual flowers.
Most of their seeds are heirloom or heritage varieties, which have been around for generations, and have distinct colours, flavours and shapes. Some of those seeds were once easy to obtain, but disappeared as larger seed companies took over small ones.
“With that, they would often drop part of the seed lines that were offered,” said Steiner. “We actually lost agricultural biodiversity.”
In Saturday’s workshop, Steiner will tailor information to the audience, as he does when he has offered a similar presentation around the province.
“It’s kind of aimed at gardeners of all experience levels who have an interest in harvesting, collecting and growing their own seeds,” said Stenier. “Usually, it’s more of a gardener crowd, but we do get farmers.”
No matter the experience level, it’s important to discuss the basic rules of seed saving — and for some, that will mean starting at the beginning.
“A lot of people either don’t save their own seeds or think its very difficult,” Steiner said. “Within a few hours, we can go over those seed saving rules and make your seed saving successful.”
Saving seeds is a step toward developing stronger food security, as seeds are saved based on their reaction to a particular climate.
“Find out what you like,” he said. “Often if you grow them in your own garden or farm, you acclimatize them to conditions around you. Many seeds you buy off the shelf, they’re produced as far away as China or Israel, and not necessarily acclimatized to own gardens.
“With just a few years of saving your own seeds, there should be a beneficial difference with your crops. … You’ll have probably selected seeds that will grow best in your own garden.”
Steiner and O’Brien have been farming for about 17 years and lived in Salmon Arm before moving to Johnson’s Landing two years ago.
“We’d been farming for many years, but always leasing land,” he said. “We were in the process of looking for our own land and looking for an area we wanted to live in for a long time. The Kootenays was one of the places we wanted to be because of the community and young families around.”
Although he has a great deal of experience, Steiner appreciates the chance to interact with workshop participants, and encourages questions and comments throughout.
“I often find that people’s enthusiasm is kind of infectious, so it keeps me inspired with what I do on my own farm,” he said. “I often learn things in the course of doing this, as well. Every farmer or gardener who comes to these workshops has had their own experience.”
Anyone interested in attending the Jan. 26 workshop at the College of the Rockies is asked to register by 3 p.m. Friday, by emailing email@example.com or calling 250-428-5332.