Wednesday, May 18, 2016


Setting up a seed library is a daunting task for anyone – not only are there differing ideas about how it should be set up, the goals that should be aimed for and administration of it all but choosing which seeds go into the library is probably one of the most important parts of a seed library.

Pods of mesquite stored for seed as we 
explore the use of mesquite
as a stable food crop in the face 
of Climate Change.
Like many seed libraries, SLOLA started with a core of a few seeds saved by those of us involved in the founding of the seed library and complemented that with whatever seeds were given to us – many seed companies are generous with their annual culling of leftover seeds. For us, in particular, we were very much indebted to Native Seeds/SEARCH, Renee's Seeds and especially to Baker Creek Seeds. They helped us round out our inventory and allowed us to open for business straight away.

We still accept donations, let me make that clear. But today, we are honing our library and 'pruning' some seeds, while purchasing seeds we feel might better serve us than those we had gotten for free. Our central focus – and our stated goal – is to have most of our seed be returned seed from members who have borrowed from us. This is the essence of the Seed Library of Los Angeles and we continue to preach this to one and all – seeds provided by libraries should eventually be locally grown (therefore more locally adapted) except for some seeds that are just too damn difficult. We have elected to annually purchase onion and parsnip seed, for example, at this point. The seeds are short-lived and we have no one working those plants yet.

You could do a lot worse than choosing to offer Seed Savers' Exchange's most purchased seeds. Let's look at the following list and compare notes:

Arugula, Arugula* I am not a big arugula fan, but here in LA, this will naturalize and become an annual harbinger of warmer weather – usually spouting in our garden about the beginning of February. We can find enough of our friends that have arugula seeds stashed in paper bags in their spare bedroom, there is not much worry of this one going away.
Beet,Detroit Dark Red* I love beets, but limiting a library to only Detroit Dark Red might be a crime. The other beets we carry include a mangle (a large beet grown for animal feed in the past), Burpee's Golden (a lower germination rate, but superior taste),Chioggia (also sold as a Bulls Eye beet) and others that are lesser known. Chioggia and the golden beets will not stain like the pure red ones.
Carrot, Dragon* Spot on! This is a good choice – especially when dealing with children. Purple on the outside makes for interesting and delicious eating.
Carrot, Red Cored Chantenay* Also one of my favorites – the standard carrot in my garden.
Corn, Golden Bantam This is truly one of the best corn varieties to grow in a small urban garden. The trick with Golden Bantam is not to let them get too far along. The window of perfection is slim with this one and too old ears are starchy and take some chewing.
Cucumber,A & C Pickling I am not familiar with this variety but every seed library should carry at least one pickling cucumber – they are smaller cucumbers and therefore are perfect for a salad for two, or two salads for one.
Herb, Cilantro
Herb, Rosemary
Herb, Thyme
I have grouped all these herbs together because, in LA at least, it is much easier and gets you where you want to go faster, to propagate these plants asexually – from cuttings – rather than from seed. SLOLA does not carry these seeds. These are all perennial herbs.
Herb, Genovese Basil But this is an annual herb and so we do carry basil seeds. SLOLA has backed away from Genovese Basil – there is a basil wilt going around and Genovese seems to be affected by it more than others. If you can grow Genovese, do it! It is the best basil there is.
Herb, Parsley Giant from Italy* This herb is biennial – it's life extending out over two years. It is a worthy contender, SLOLA has Italian Flat Leaf (which I prefer) and a curled leaf variety that I can't even recall. I think that says something.
Kale, Dwarf Blue Curled* I grew this one year. At harvest time, I was kicking myself all over the garden. Yes, it is a good kale. But you get half the harvest of a full sized kale and it takes the same footprint! If you love gourmet kale, go for it. We don't have this one our library.
Kale, Lacinato* This is the kale almost everyone is drawn to, it has a distinctly different leaf and is prolific. We carry this one and probably will always. Kales are tough to save seed from – they are not cooperative about flowering at the same time here and can cross with so many different other veggies, this is one we'll continue to buy.
Lettuce, Seed Savers Mixture* If you are getting lettuce seeds from SLOLA, you won't find any mixtures. We like to keep our lettuces straight. Although I plant different varieties together, I choose them specifically based on time of year and what I want the lettuce for. Often I am mixing Drunken Woman Frizzy Head with Mantilia which is a green butterhead variety. I set out baby plants in a pleasing pattern and the contrast between the two is astounding – they also look dynamite in a salad bowl.
Pea, Amish Snap* This is a great snap pea and I can see why it's one of their best sellers. It is a climber though, so if you need a smaller plant, forego Amish Snap and look for a bush pea in our collection.
Pepper, Jalapeno Traveler Strain Only one pepper??? I'm sure there are many devotees that are just a little hurt. This is, of course, one of THE most popular peppers grown in gardens all across the states. I have grown it and it is a good pepper – although I can get by with no more than 10 hot peppers in a year. SSE doesn't list any sweet peppers in their top 24, but I'd throw in Marconi and maybe Torno di Toro as well.
Spinach, America* I totally agree with America Spinach – vs the old standard Bloomsdale's Long Standing, which may be long-standing, but the crinkled leaves are hell to free dirt and debris from. America, with a very agreeable flavor, is as productive but has smooth leaves which take a lot less time (and water!) to clean. Hands down, skip Bloomsdale's.
Squash, Black Beauty Zucchini I think Black Beauty is responsible for my reluctance to like zucchini. So productive! You turn your back on it for 25 seconds and that cute little zuke you were just admiring, is now the size of Godzilla and twice as forbidding. I would MUCH RATHER go for a better tasting, less productive variety like a French or Lebanese type (i.e. Cocozelle or Lebanese White Bush), light green and much more susceptible to bruising, you rarely find these in markets, even farmers' markets. We have been using Genovese Summer Squash as our standard for seed saving – this year will be our second annual Polli-Party where we illustrate how to ensure no crossing in your squashes saved for seed.
Squash, Golden Zucchini This is a better pick than Black Beauty, but it's not going to be on my list anytime soon. Also, make sure you don't get any variety of squash that is more susceptible to Powdery Mildew which is rampant in any garden that gets ocean influence or in an enclosed garden in which the air circulation is limited.
Squash, Waltham Butternut This is a great winter squash – with a hard skin for storage until winter. It is, however, also a very large plant. Keep that in mind when choosing. Almost all winter squashes have that problem, though. This is a large squash, plan on freezing half or three-quarters when you do cut into it. The plant itself will wander around under other plants – and act as a kind of living mulch to protect your soil if managed diligently.
Swiss Chard, Five Color Silverbeet* The standard of colorful chards. I have no problem with this choice. It will be hard, for seed savers over the years to maintain the five colors. It seems like most of my chards are now red veined with only an occasional pink, white or orange showing up.
Tomato, Amish Paste This is certainly a good tomato! I know they took the sales figures to make up this list, but how on earth could you reduce all those tomatoes to just two? This would certainly be a must on my list along with about 30 others!
Tomato, Italian Heirloom I'm not familiar with this variety – guess I'll be planting some soon!
Watermelon, Oh So Sweet Because of the Powdery Mildew mentioned earlier, I have not even tried to grow melons in my garden for over 15 years. Even though I love watermelons and grew many as a child in KS, I'm no longer the authority I was when I was eight. I'm glad others can grow them!

Please note that SLOLA's inventory sheets are divided between warm and cool season – therefore, not all these seeds are available all the time. An asterisk (*) denotes cool season, the others are, by default, warm season.

It is important to look for varieties that grow well in your own garden. SLOLA has planned for our two branches to have different inventories to serve the different climate zones. We agreed in the beginning to use Sunset's Western Garden Guide as our reference on climate. SLOLA Venice serves primarily Zones 22 and 24 while the San Fernando Valley branch is composed of gardeners in zones18 and 19. If you are not familiar with Sunset's zones, get familiar with them ASAP. They are much more specific than the USDA's zones which cover all of the US and only go up to 10, 11 or 12 depending on which version of their map you see. SFV people can grow melons and winter squash much easier than we can in Venice with our ocean influence. They also can grow better tomatoes – and the larger tomatoes too.

Combining this list with others, the Slow Food movement's Ark of Taste, for example, SLOLA hopes to broaden our initial seed inventory into a cornucopia of what will do well in Southern California and teach our members how to save these seeds to build stewardship and develop the agriculture we need in LA. We have tried to reach into our communities and find locally adapted seeds that have been grown here already, but have found very few so far. That doesn't mean they aren't there! I hope that SLOLA continues to work to make our library more inclusive.

We have started to change the loss of genetic diversity in our food. Join in, learn one variety and agree to steward that variety. Learn all you can about it and grow it out for a few years. Learn how to save it and share your results with others.

Save a seed, build a community. We welcome you!


Monday, December 28, 2015

Criteria for Saving The BEST Seed

Make that saving the 'best' seed.

It came to my attention recently that we have had a lot of talk about how to save seeds and how to store them and all sorts of hard data like that, but we have totally ignored any criteria for saving seeds, like which seeds from which plant versus a different plant. How do you decide which is the best plant to save seed from?

Luther Burbank's safe in his green house.
He was serious about saving his seeds!
This has been made all the more nerve-wracking when combined with a multitude of exhortations that all seed savers are plant breeders based on their selection of which seed to save. This needs to be demystified.

Yes, all seed savers are seed 'breeders.'  It is true that by saving any given seed over this other seed, you are choosing the pattern of the plants of the future  But this is not a one-shot deal, if you select for a specific trait – the criteria that is the basis for selection in one year will not make a difference in the big picture.

Selecting for one trait must occur over many generations in order to breed for that trait. Plants grown in Southern California and selected year after year for the biggest producer will become, after years of selecting, will become the variety of "bigger producers in Southern California."  But this is not a single year phenomenon.  It takes many generations to achieve this.  If you're not a patient sort, I might suggest a different hobby or vocation.

If you are just trying to keep a stable variety and not select for this or that, you need to save seed from a population of plants that will express many different genetic variations to gather as much of the natural diversity of the variety.  Population sizes (of different individual plants) differ according to species.  If you are saving seeds for the seed library, you don't have to be rigorous because we will combine your seeds with others of the same variety increasing the population size.  

For example, in broccoli, a minimum of thirty plants is supposed to be the absolute lowest number of plants to choose your seeds from.  But if you save seeds from 9 plants and someone else saves seeds from 8 plants and someone else saves seed from 13, you have the 30 plant minimum.  (Ideally we will go beyond the minimum population size.)  

This is one reason we think we'll always be buying in corn seed.  The minimum population for maintaining corn vigor is 200 plants.  If you have to grow 200 plants to save seed, how many must you grow to have something to eat????  In our urban gardens, that doesn't make sense. Unless SLOLA finds a field where we can plant corn and harvest from 200 plants (that's just for ONE variety - what if we want a popcorn, a yellow corn, a white corn and a grinding corn?  That would be 800 plants at the MINIMUM! Frowny face.)  

Most plants are somewhere in the middle as far as population size goes.  Don't worry about most of them too much - corn is the extreme example of a plant that absolutely goes bonkers if the population sizes are too low.  

Saving seeds from the self-pollinating plants (beans, tomatoes, lettuce, peas) is always very easy. You know, because they pollinated themselves, who 'mommy' and 'daddy' both are. In plants that are not self-pollinated you do not have the assurance who 'daddy' is. The squash you eat will come with Mom's genetics, but the seed in that squash will be a cross between the mother and the father plants.

That's why non-selfing plants are a bit harder, taking a bit more patience and some more observation.  However, it is not difficult or arduous.  The key is patience and observation and you can breed all kinds of plants - SLOLA, by the way, hopes to have a lot of one day workshops to show how to save seeds from diverse gardens - one plant, or one pollination method at a time - easy bite sized pieces.

Carrots, beets, chard, radishes and turnips are easy to save seeds from because they go to seed in their second year (now there's a drawback for you!).  They are biennials (take two years).  It's uncommonly rare that a plant stays alive to the second year in a cared-for garden; they form their roots in the first year and that's what we eat so a second year carrot or beet is a rare thing indeed. With carrots, the only drawback one must be concerned with is flowering Queen Anne's Lace which is also called 'wild carrot.' But without one of those around, you can save your carrot seed with abandon.

Which plants would you choose for seed or would you just try to save a bunch?

On a tour of Luther Burbank's garden, we were shown varieties of wheat.  He had one named Prolific and another named Delicious.  One produced a lot of wheat - and if that was your goal, you had your wheat - but if you were looking for quality over quantity, you took Delicious.  So you CAN select for more than one trait, just not in the same field!

What is the BEST seed?  You decide. There are some guidelines and you'll get them from a SLOLA member or a book; with some plants the first seeds are the most vigorous, in others not so much.  Do you want it to be an early or a late?  Of big beefy and juicy?  Or a  small and succulent edible part that holds for a long time?  

I'll repeat, when saving a variety save some seed from a bunch of different specimens that show the range of variation in the plants.  And for most of us, this is the point of our saving seeds - to keep a variety that we know and love and to preserve it for future generations.

The most important thing is to learn to save seeds.  If you save some seeds, no matter how you selected them, you have taken a gigantic step towards freedom for you, your family and your friends on what they eat and how it's grown.

There is nothing more important than that.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Varieties of Vegetable Seeds I Believe We* Should Save

*"We" means the Seed Library of Los Angeles 
Every year we revisit this list.  This is the list first promulgated in the waning hours of 2010, just after the very first SLOLA meeting on December 4th, 2010.  This is the list I first came up with as the minimum varieties of seeds we should always have in our inventory.  I invite anyone to add their selections they feel have to be saved.  I have changed this list, adding and subtracting.  

This list is never complete, nor is it ever done.  The attempt is to come up with those varieties that must be saved.  What varieties do you feel that I am missing?  I'd be happy to add some more.

I personally have dedicated myself to curate many of these varieties as far as I am able, those, I have marked in a different color.

Artichokes (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus)

Green Globe
Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)

Aquadulce (Fava – Vicia faba)
Broad Windsor (Fava - Vicia faba)
Cannelini Bush Bean (Dry/Bush)
Christmas (Lima/Climbing - Phaseolus lunatus)
Envy (Soybean – Glycene max)
Golden Wax Bean (Wax/Bush)
Henderson (Lima/Bush)
Hutterite Soup
Pencil Pod (Wax/Bush)
Pineschi Family Bean (Vigna unguiculata)
Royal Burgundy Bean (Purple/Early)
Scarlet Runner (Phaseolus coccineus)
Beets (Beta vulgaris)

Bull's Blood
Crosby's Egyptian
Burpee's Golden
Detroit Dark Red
Yellow Cylindrical
Broccoli (Brassica oleracea)

Brussels Sprouts (Brassica oleracea)

Long Island Improved
Cabbage (Brassica oleracea)

Copenhagen Market Cabbage
Early Jersey Wakefield
Glory of Einkhuizan
Mammoth Red Rock
Perfection Drumhead Savoy
Premium Late Flat Dutch
Carrot (Daucus carota)

Scarlet Nantes Carrot
Chantenay Red Core
Danvers Half Long
White Belgian
Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea)

Early Snowball
Chard (Beta vulgaris)

Five Color Silverbeet Chard (AKA Rainbow Chard)
Fordhook Giant
Celery and Celeriac (Apium graevolens)

Giant Prague (Celeriac)
Utah Tall (Celery)
Collard Greens (Brassica oleracea)

Corn (Zea mays)

Black Aztec
Country Gentleman Corn
Golden Bantam Corn
Oaxacan Green Dent
Stowells Evergreen

Corn (Popcorn) (Zea mays)



Armenian (Cucumis melo var. flexuosus)

(Cucumis sativus)

Eggplant (Solanum melongena)

Garbanzos (Cicer arietinum)

Grains (except corn and wheat)

Quinoa, Shelly 25 Black
Sesame, Light Seeded

Kale (Brassica oleracea)

Curled Scotch

Leek (Allium ampeloprasum var porrum)

Blue Solaise
King Richard
Lentils (Lens culinaris)

Black Beluga
Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

Back Seeded Simpson
Brune d'Hiver
Drunken Woman Frizzy Head
Merveille des Quatre Saison
Parris Island Cos
Red Romaine
Rouge d'Hiver
Rouge Grenobloise
Tom Thumb
Webbs Wonderful
Yugoslavian Red
Melons (Cucumis melo)

Green Nutmeg
Hale's Best
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)

Clemson Spineless
Don't Knowcra
Star of David

Granex (Allium cepa)
I'itoi's (plants not seed, perennial, Allium cepa var. aggregatum)
Red of Florence (Allium cepa)
Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)

Harris Model

Peas (Pisum sativa)

Little Marvel
Tall Telephone
Oregon Sugar Pod
Sugar Snap
Pepper (Capsican annuum)

Corno di Toro
Italian Pepperoncini
Jalapeno Early
Jimmy Nardello Italian
Red Marconi
Squash – Summer (Cucurbita pepo)

Lebanese White Bush Marrow
Zucchini – Lungo Bianco
Squash - Winter

Black Futsu (Cucurbita moschata)
Delicata ( Cucurbita pepo)
Marina di Chioggia ( Cucurbita moschata)
Queensland Blue Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
Sweet Meat (Cucurbita moschata)
Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)

Amish Paste
Annie's Apricot
Big Rainbow
Black Cherry
Black From Tula
Black Icicle
Burbank's Slicer
Cherokee Purple
Cream Sausage
Juane Flammé
Orange Banana
Roman Candle
San Marzano
Striped Roman
Wapsipinicon Peach
Turnip (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa)

Purple Top White Globe
Wheat (Triticum spp)

Perennial Wheat
Sonoran White


Saturday, July 25, 2015

GMOs Won't Work In the Long Term

The problem we’re facing, however, is not about lack of sustainable solutions. The problem is that Big 6 pesticide companies like Monsanto — supported by USDA and backed by the U.S. government's export-driven trade agenda — have built up an agricultural economic system that puts multinational corporations' profits above people's well-being, and locks farmers into these unsustainable practices. – Marcia Ishii-Eiteman Apr 16, 2015  in GroundTruth (

It's tough these days to be against genetic engineering of our food. Articles in Slate and The New Yorker make us look like looney fringe nut cases and the House of Representatives voted by a large margin to ban labeling of food that have genetically altered ingredients in them. It's bleak. Science, they tell us, is against us and we are just paranoids.

However, I don't know if you've noticed, but a lot of this bad press seems to have rolled off the same printer – there is a remarkable consistency through all of this that seems to look like one source fed these writers – that their research was something akin to calling up Monsanto and saying, “Do your GMO crops produce more?” And publishing Monsanto's answer with Monsanto's test results and calling that science.

Just like calling up the tobacco companies and asking if their products caused cancer and getting their 'no' answer and quoting their studies that prove that their cigarettes did indeed not cause cancer. In other words, a lot of what we are reading about the success of GMO crops is paid for by the biotechies pushing the stuff. And when you get a study that proves them wrong, they go after that researcher, not by refuting the research, but by slandering the researcher and attempting to ruin his or her career. It takes more guts than most people have to see their careers ruined and their name dragged through the mud, ergo, not much research disparaging genetic alteration gets very far along.

Thank God, in recent months, glyphosate has come under scrutiny. That is a shining chance to thwart at least that segment of genetic engineering. Not only is it a carcinogen, as declared by the World Health Organization, but touted as appearing in such benign places as mothers' breast milk as reported by Moms Across America, who noted that their sample of women were aware of GMOs and had worked for some time to avoid GmOs. Of course, the herbicide has been used to dry out grains like wheat (which s not commercially genetically altered) after harvesting, so simply avoiding GMOs will not stop glyphosate in your diet. In addition, testing showed considerably more glyphosate in the mothers' urine samples – way over what was found in the urine of European mothers in a study conducted in 2013. Now several counter studies to the breast milk study have responded indicating that the MAA study was wrong, but of course, Monsanto can buy (and has bought) favorable test results in the past, so who to believe? When there is any question about research, I like to trust those who aren't benefiting financially from the results, but who is that? Please note the MAA study is only preliminary but the World Health Organization's findings have got to be accorded some significant weight.

Those of us familiar with the lying nature of Monsanto are not surprised that the biotech giant has lied (and continues to lie) about glyphosate, the main ingredient in their popular Round Up weed killer. Remember they told us it was not only benign once in the soil, but also that it did not persist in nature; both claims are obviously incorrect. Did they somehow just overlook these facts or did they consciously lie about them? Take your pick, with Monsanto's track record on DDT, PCBs and their lies about those and other products, I'll believe the latter. If corporations are people, Monsanto should be placed on a lie detector.

But honestly, we do not need to argue these facts with all the biotech apologists and paid off cronies. We have a bigger truth that they cannot assail.

GMOs will lead to inevitable starvation in those countries that use them as the primary source of their food..

That is the simple honest truth.

It is provable that we have far fewer varieties of plants on our store shelves today thanks to the GMO boom and it will only get worse. It is this loss of genetic diversity that will be the death of us. Instead of having a robust variety of different kinds of the same produce, there are only a few genetically altered varieties to work with. Our acres and acres of corn are all planted with very similar genetic varieties. This means a pathogen that can attack one field, can attack many fields and suddenly you have a destroyed corn (or soy or whatever) crop. Prices go up – poorer folks suffer disproportionately, hunger in America.

To the labs creating these 'new' varieties in their labs, this is seen as a boon. After all, they can find the flaw in the pathogen and GMO a new variety that resists it and have more products to sell. But in truth, that becomes a new marketing gimmick – a new variety every year making investors and the company richer.

Conventional breeding would breed a different way. First off, we'd have many varieties in the field and some would be resistant and would find more people planting it next year. Conventional breeders would attack the problem in a different way. Genetic alterations of a crop operate in a specific way called “vertical” breeding – one trait is changed for the crop to survive. The one gene variation is easy for a given pathogen to circumvent. Conventional breeding happens “horizontally” and is much harder to thwart by a given pathogen. These are generalizations and there are exceptions, but generalizations tend to become generalizations because they are more often than not (and by a margin) true.

This was the genesis of the Irish Potato Famine. The blight attacked the two kinds, genetically similar, of potatoes grown in Ireland and these potatoes were the only food that most of the Irish peasants depended upon. (Before some one calls to me task for oversimplifying it, I know the “God sent the blight but English brought the famine” but this is an article on crop diversity, so please forgive me, we can deal with the famine another time). The same thing could happen here in a heartbeat. We are one of the most food insecure societies on earth because of our current dependence on genetic engineering. This will only get worse if Congress continues to take the biotech money and biotech lies and allow our health, our environment's health and our food diversity to continue to deteriorate at the alarming rate it is currently.  

Mind you, this is only one of many reasons we need to move away from the genetic engineering option to the traditional way of breeding new plants and also move away from the massive amounts of pesticides we use to grow our food.  

It has felt lonely these last few days, fighting the genetic alterations of our food. But the end game of this is too big to loose!  If we do not save our varieties of seeds and continue the tradition of saving our seeds from the big bullies, we will find our food supply locked up by the corporations and then what do we have?  We all wish to eat.  

Let it be healthy food, not patented and laced with poison or contaminated with genetic engineering.