[Friday Five] Seeds, animals + technology…

Hi, this is Geoff.

Lots here, so let’s jump right in…

Seeds, Part I: Open source: There is so much to say about this (an entire movie is devoted to the subject — trailer available, limited theatrical release), but I’ll confine it to two main points. First, as many of you know, just a handful of massive agribusinesses (Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, and others) own an astonishing 66% of of the commercial seed “industry.” And because of complex intellectual property rights connected to this, millions of poor farmers around the world end up using low-quality seeds rather than the more expensive patented ones. Thank God for projects like the Open Source Seed Initiative, who are committed to following the “open source” software model and applying this to seed distribution. By making these freely available to farmers around the world, OSSI aims to ensure that future generations will always have access to seed varieties without the sometimes-stifling conditions imposed by those proffered by the commercial sectors.

Technology serving animals: That wasn’t a typo 🙂 Project Concern International is leading an effort to work with communities in drought-plagued areas to map out traditional grazing areas, digitize this knowledge, and use map overlays with vegetation data. This is then given to locals to help them pinpoint areas of green pasture in real-time. Results? Herd deaths have been cut almost in half as pastoralists have been able to direct their animals to areas of grazing, rather than areas that have been drought-stricken.

Global warming simulation: Researchers at the Hubbard Brook experimental forest have placed two miles of heated cables underground to heat up the forest in specific, measurable ways, in order to simulate and study possible implications of global warming. Here is an eye-opening video with Boston University biology professor Pamela Templer giving a tour of the forest and explaining some of the initial findings.

Seeds, Part 2: Heritage seeds: The other main issue with respect to seeds is that “heritage seeds” (those seeds that represent our link with the past, and that are in danger of becoming extinct), are disappearing at an alarming rate. In 1994, the UN estimated that an astonishing 94% (!!!) of vegetable varieties have already been lost. These are gone, and with them the biodiversity that they engendered. But there are some isolated individuals and farms that are holding on to these heritage seeds. As these efforts grow, it will be easier for farmers and even those with just a small garden to use the type of seeds that are superior to agri-businesses’ commercial seeds on many different levels.

In case you missed it: A handful of this week’s best articles and videos from our sister site, the non-profit Permaculture Research Institute. Articles on homesteading, maximizing urban space, and a detailed primer on how to grow your own mulch provide a great deal of specific how-to’s. A more cerebral piece on “dendritic patterns” moves skillfully from the “what on earth is it?” to how it can be applied to design. Finally, a wonderful 19-minute mini-movie about a thriving 23-year-old permaculture food forest. If you enjoy these posts, be sure to bookmark the site as several new articles go up weekly, or check out thousands of other past articles, here.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Anyone can sign up for the next batch.

Cheers, and have a great weekend,

Your friend,



PS: The seeds issue I mentioned above is something that I feel particularly passionate about. If you share this concern, I’d recommend you consider helping two ongoing crowdfunding campaigns. The first (and the one that I fully endorse and support) is Kay Baxter and Bob Corker’s Koanga Institute; their efforts to collect New Zealand’s largest assortment of heritage fruit trees and vegetable seeds is unparalleled. And OSSI’s campaign for “open source seeds” mentioned above is about 25% of the way there. Both efforts deserve our assistance.

PSS: Remember, the Friday Five is not meant to be a one-way transmission of information, but rather a conversation-starter. All of you have something valuable to say, and I want others in our community to benefit from your insights, experience, and different point of view. So let your voice be heard in the comments below.

2016-12-13T11:05:40+00:00 Blog|13 Comments
  • CongressWorksForUs

    Question on mulch.

    We live semi-rural, but the high-density developments 3+ miles away produce copious bags of leaves and grass clippings every year. However, most of the grass clippings are from chemically-fertilized lawns, and I would assume most of the leaves in these neighborhoods (at least the new ones) are from trees that are sprayed with insecticides.

    Is there any downside to collecting these are using them? Can they be used immediately, or should they be aged/composted first? Curious, because there are bags and bags of these on the sides of the roads on pick-up day, while straw is becoming harder (and more expensive!) to find.

    • Urban recyclers shred those plastic bags in their process, so you end up with horribly high pH factors. However awful this would be for a vegetable patch, it’s still valuable in some situations as a water sink, for trail making, processing area or animal bedding situation on a make do farm.

      • CongressWorksForUs

        Just to clarify, we’d be getting them directly from the homeowners in the paper bags, not from the pickup guys… 🙂

    • Take them through a basic slow compost cycle and they will be fine. You could just pile them up in bulk of more than 1.5 cubic meters and keep them damp for 6 months or so, as soon as they start growing fungi on the outside the will be fine.

  • Kent Knock

    Hi Geoff, Thank you for the seed update! Here is a link to another important site: http://grassrootsseednetwork.org/
    That site is for an organization that is just starting out. One of the main founders is Will Bonsall, the guy with the nice beard who talks about rutabaga sex in the trailer and the Seed film.

    The new organization is, as the name implies, a democratic seed saving organization. I have hope that the new organization will help several people who are curators (Bonsall and William Woys Weaver are examples) of large seed collections to maintain their heirloom collections and pass them on to the next generation. SSE no longer supports those curators. While I am a lifetime member of Seed Saver’s Exchange, I also recommend that people interested in preserving genetic diversity support grassrootsseednetwork.org/

    • Greater than half of the seeds I got from Seed Savers in 2006 were complete duds, meaning zero germinations. And, I had cleverly split each of the packs in my $80 order into 50/50 batches, one group I sent to Denver for a friend to test in his garden as well. Sure enough, less than 1/2 of his sprouted either.

      “Place” and seasonal experience do count for a lot. I would stick with natives and cheap hybrids until you have some form of annual system to rely on.

  • Nostents4me

    “Find green spots in Ethiopia” could be a short term solution that could worsen current situation faster…
    In fact, clever restricting of animal herding may actually allow food for more animals… I think of the damage animals do through eating all natural tree shoots in these exposed areas due to being herded by man. With trees come roots and thick soils that can keep water and build often up to 6 feet of soil, that would keep tonnes of water under wraps, away from evaporation also i dry hot climates, bleeding parts of this water into round-the-year streams that will keep grassland usable for most of the year instead of as now, a couple of months after the rain season. The permaculture solution is to fence of most hills and steep slopes from animals and assist by planting indigenous trees there. Similar to what has already been done in China Loess Plateu. It is all about restoring the growing potential of the rain water that now is wasted into destructive flash floods. Most of middle east was flourishiing in same climate as today 3000 years ago. But when we cut the trees on the slops and started cultivate them, most of became deserts. And herding animals on these hills after each rain season has effectively prevented any regrowth of natural forests there, preserving the deserts, preserving the deadly mixture of drought and flash floods.

  • CarolinaInTheMorning

    Thanks for the info on Koanga. My daughter has just last week moved into her new home in NZ and wants to start a vegie garden. I’m going to get her one of their fantastic starter packs to get her going 🙂

  • Seeding community? My, what a concept, Geoff!

    Don’t tell, but I’ve just built four modest size hugelkultur “test beds” on an abandoned school lot. We’ve assembled four different base-layer configurations with a minor concern about water absorption and hydration efficiencies: Number One is pecan wood soaked with native sandy top soil. Number Two contains scrappy branches of fairly equal size, all lined up in tidy rows. Number Three has a homogenous crushed mass of diverse branches and mulch, and Number Four is old upended white oak logs, with some mycelium growth which I hope will self propagate.

    After we top these out with mulch-rich soil I was planning to cover the lot with a random blend of all the old seeds I’ve collected for years, not knowing jack about gardening, other than simple lettuce, greens, tomatoes, squash and the few herbs that work in my own sun-starved garden.

    The location offers unique benefits as a warm winter microclimate, with the additional feature of protection from the hot afternoon summer sun and prevailing winds. The white building serves as a reflector, potentially doubling the requisite solar gains.

    My question is, should my first planting actually be something like white, or crimson clover to sequester N? If so, would it be just as wise to use comfrey, or similar https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/76e48bbc0666630fb0cf2818e50115a1f47c465f019160dcfcb9a6e827407a6c.jpg green mulching partners?

  • Jean Lanzilotti

    Thank you, Geoff, for again giving us the big picture. Regarding the Ethiopian pastoralists and the use of technology to give them real-time information, I would like to recommend that you be in touch with two experts on land-grabbing from indigenous farmers and herders. Fred Pearce (columnist for The Guardian) wrote The Land Grabbers about how US and European hedge and investment funds, Middle Eastern countries, China, and others are renting and buying millions of acres of land that have been traditionally farmed and ranched by locals as communal land. They are being driven off these lands or remain as feudal tenants. Their local and country’s governments have sold them out for say $2.50/acre per year on decades-long leases. Some remain to work for $1 or $2 per day. The other expert, mentioned in his book, is Liz Alden Wily at Leiden University in the Netherlands [email protected] She advocates for the protection of traditional communal ownership of land by what she estimates to be 1 to 1.5 billion people on what she thinks is the largest type of land ownership on earth. Permaculture could help so many of these farmers and ranchers. Thank you for bringing up this fantastic project. God bless you and yours!

  • Chris Searles

    Hello friends & change makers, i’d like to share video #9 from my 12 week series. This is “The Cleanest Tech.” Teaser/description: What’s More Powerful Than Clean Tech? Nature-based solutions. When it comes to reducing greenhouse emissions, slowing the rate of global warming, and protecting our temperate climate system tropical forest conservation blows technology AWAY. More in this 3 minute YouTube: https://youtu.be/TuYnpQD5r58