Monday, January 31, 2011

Introduction to The Best Practices Committee (BPC) of SLOLA

(This document was mailed to the initial members of SLOLA's Best Practices Committee.  If you would like to be a part of this committee, please leave a comment at the end of this document - any and all who are earnest  about saving our heritage of open pollinated seeds are welcome to contribute!  david)

Welcome to the Best Practices committee of SLOLA. This is the committee charged with setting the standards that will be observed by the Library in all of its dealings. 

A lot of our work will probably be done on the computer – books are marvelous resources, but the most up to date material will be found online at colleges and professional agencies. On the other hand, many folks who are not completely familiar with computers and the internet have years of valuable experience and knowledge about growing plants and saving seeds that should not be discarded simply because they don't use the web as the primary focus of information. ANYONE willing to put in the time is welcome to assist this committee. If you aren't computer savvy, please find someone in the committee who is computer savvy to team with so your expertise is not lost and you can either learn or at least be exposed to the information available form the internet.

At some point in the future, I even see experts who may not be a part of SLOLA might well become honorary members of this committee for a few weeks or months to address certain procedures or answer questions from the committee as whole. We need people dedicated to the saving of these precious seeds willing to work to that end and the more people we have working to that end, the better we will be.


Some of the books we will all find helpful, include, but are not limited to (I would appreciate other suggestions to round this list out):

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, Deppe, Carol © 2000, Chelsea Green Publishing
Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, Weaver, William Woys © 1997 Henry Holt & Co.
Seed to Seed, Ashworth, Suzanne © 2002, Seed Savers Exchange

The Deppe book is probably the most scientific of all and is probably the hardest to read, but will also probably serve as the best resource over all. The Weaver book is out of print, sadly, and used copies can cost as much as $95 or more. It is probably the most fun to read and is certainly the most inspiring. Mother Earth News, the magazine, has published the whole book on CD ROM which can be found advertised in the magazine or online ( about $30.00. If you find used copies of this masterpiece, snatch it up it is authoritative and delightful to read at the same time. You will not regret owning this book. The Ashworth book is excellent and was used extensively in preparing this document. If you have other books or sources that you think should be added to this list, please let us all know!

In addition to those you can buy, one published and free book I have found useful is called A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers and is available for free from Organic Seed Alliance. I have made copies of this publication which I have available at the Garden and will sell to members of this committee at my cost. It's an excellent resource. I hate the print size (small).

We should also make use of periodical material from seed companies (their catalogs can have useful information) and Seed Savers Exchange has a huge amount of material on seed saving and heirloom seed. If you can afford the expense, being a member of SSE is extraordinarily helpful.

If price is a concern, the Organic Seed Alliance booklet will do wonderfully. If you have some money to spend, but not much, get Ashworth's book followed by Deppe's. Get the rest of them if money is no object (and come see me about giving me a low-interest rate loan).

Seed companies that publish catalogs to refer to (or just look at the pictures) include, Fedco, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Landreth's Seeds, Abundant Life Seeds, Native Seed/SEARCH, Seed Savers Exchange, Bountiful Garden Seeds, and many others.
Most of these seed companies and non-profits maintain active web sites, I encourage everyone to investigate Organic Seed Alliance and Seed Savers Exchange's websites as well as those of other seed libraries. There are a number of seed saving blogs online as well, a list of those will be forth-coming, but every committee member needs to be familiar with 
The Record of The Seed Library of Los Angeles ( where this document 
and all other public documents of SLOLA are posted. This blog will be available on the SLOLA website ( once we have it up and running.

One of the projects of a BPC member might be to find and catalog all the web resources that are available to us in this endeavor pointing us all to the sites with the best and most relevant information. 


The work of the committee will necessarily involve research and documentation of research and conveying that documentation in a manner that is easily understood by a large number of people who may not have nearly the level of commitment as the members of this committee might possess. We will depend on our website of reference. If we can find information there about saving seeds of a given species, that will serve as our guide. If there is nothing in their listing about a given species, we will write it and post it there ourselves using the web or books or other sources of reliable information. This same information will be posted on the SLOLA website as well.

The work of this committee will become the guide for the workings of SLOLA. We will write standards to be observed on, but not limited to, the following and the process of communicating these as follows:
  • Methods of ensuring seed purity, including distances between flowering plants
  • Accepted practices of pollinating fruit to ensure seed purity
  • Accepted practices of preparing seed for storage, best manner of storage, optimal storage conditions and length of storage time for each species
  • Articles and films teaching best practices in all these areas to SLOLA membership and for web distribution
  • Seminars for SLOLA members on seed saving techniques of the different plants to be saved.
The Best Practices Committee will also meet to update our policies as new information becomes available and to improve the workings of SLOLA.

It is envisioned that members of this committee will become experts in one or more specialized seed or family of seeds. Each member of the committee will need to know the botany and the practicalities of seed saving in their area of expertise.

Skip the following few paragraphs if you have familiarity with the botanical manner of naming plants – or don't want to deal with my simplification of the system.

To begin, the families and species of major food plants have been divided up to allow each committee member to select an area of interest to develop into an area of expertise.

The following represents an introduction to each family and the members of each family we would like to consider. Do not be intimidated by the Latin, it follows certain set conventions that help understand the nature of each plant you are dealing with. For example: the modern names of all the families ends with 'ceae' – there are some antique names that end in 'ae' and sometimes you will find those names used instead of the 'ceae' name – below, you will find the older names are in parenthesis. Most plants in a given family will share a lot of characteristics, some will even cross-pollinate. 

We will, for accuracy, use these scientific conventions for our work.

Large groups of plants with similar characteristics are placed into a 'Family.' As noted above, the current family names all end in 'ceae.' They are capitalized and usually are written in italics. Each family may contain more than one genus of plants. A genus is a group of plants even more similar than the family. The genus is the first word of a binomial – the two words that 'name' a plant. It is capitalized and is usually written in italics too. The species (or specific) of a plant is not capitalized and is italicized too. If I were a plant, we would turn my name around backwards and make look as though it was Latin. This would render my name something like Kingii davidii and that's how it would be written. Mind you, I'm not Latin and so no Roman would have a clue how to pronounce such a name so don't be afraid of murdering a few names as we stumble through this.

To further this lesson using me as an example; my mother's family was the Anderson clan of north east Kansas. I could be considered a part of that clan, so my 'family' might Andersoneaceae. Hence
Kingii davidii
and that is how this would be written. And you could see that a cousin in this family, could have a different last name, but still be a part of the family. Let's say Uncle Charlie – he could be rendered as Andersonii charliei – different part of the same family, Andersoneacea, but still a part of the family.

And the final part, that doesn't neatly fit with my cute little example above, are 'cultivars,' a shortened name for 'cultivated species.' These are plant humans have bred for specific characteristics that further divide the species. An easy example comes from beans, Phaseolus vulgaris and you and I know there are a LOT of very different beans out there! So if we talk about P. vulgaris, 'Royal Purple Pod,' we know we are not talking about P. vulgaris 'Pencil Pod;' the cultivar is the non-italicized words at the end inside of single quotes. 
If you have further questions, there are web and other resources that explain this and we will list them in future offerings. I certainly hope my explanations haven't driven anyone away. If you have questions, please contact me directly and I'll do my best to explain it.

Families That Contain Species of Major Vegetables

Several species of amaranth. As this is used as a grain, for the initial months or years of the library it is not considered a family of immediate concern. It could be part of a larger portfolio, but it will not be a huge undertaking.

The onion family, many of which are not usually propagated by seed, but enough to make this an important family and could comprise one person's portfolio – it includes, leeks, common onions, chives and shallots.

Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)
A group of vegetables that have been historically important but have been mostly neglected in modern cuisine, including: dill, chervil, celery, celeriac, chervil, coriander (cilantro), carrots, fennel, parsnips, parsley and skirret. This could comprise a single person's portfolio.

Asparagaceae (Liliaceae)
One plant, asparagus, which is not often propagated by seed. Knowledge of propagating this plant from seed might one day be important. Could comprise a portion of one person's portfolio.

Asteraceae (Compositae)
The family of sunflowers, lettuce and artichokes also includes a number of minor players and could comprise one person's portfolio.

Brassicaceae (Cruciferae)
A most important food family that includes major players like kale, rutabagas, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, Brussels sprouts, mustard, turnips and others. This family should be shared among two people at least. I have no suggestions for how this family should be split.

The family of quinoa, which is a pseudo-grain that will probably become important in the near future. Also includes beets, orach and spinach – this family could be part of one person's portfolio.

A minor food family, but it does include sweet potatoes – would be a portion of a person's portfolio – is there enough to consider it at all a part of our efforts or should we leave this be for the time being?

Most certainly will need to be divided among several people, this family includes, watermelons, cucumbers, cantaloupes, honeydews, casabas, squashes of all spots and stripes, and gourds. They almost all have the same pollination procedure and will cross among themselves with ease. A suggested delineation could be:
Cucumis sp. For one person ('sp.' is short for 'species.')
Cucurbita sp. For another
All other species to a third person

Mind you, this is merely a suggestion. I have other ideas (Cucurbita moschata, C. pepo and C. maxima could each comprise a single person's entire portfolio); this family is not only important, it is not an easy one to breed true. (I think I want to be in on C. moschata.)

Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
Another large family that includes all the beans, including lentils, peanuts, soybeans, garbanzos, jicama, and peas, although they do not readily cross and are not all that difficult to separate. Because these are inbreeding plants and easy to keep pure, the entire family won't consume a lot of time and could be a part of one person's portfolio.

Lamiaceae (Labiatae)
Do you call basil a 'vegetable?' This is the family of the mints and only basil comes close to being a vegetable, and most of the others are usually vegetatively propagated, so this family could be a part of someone's larger portfolio.

Okra. One person could include this in their portfolio. Or we could just skip it...

Poaceae (Gramineae)
Grains and the only grain the library initially intends to curate would be corn. As such, it could be a part of a larger portfolio – it crosses promiscuously and careful attention must be paid to any seed saved from corn. In the future this might well be a complex portfolio including rice, wheat, barley and others – and at that point, it would need to be a portfolio divided among several members.

The family of rhubarb and sorrels. Mostly propagated vegetatively, there is little of interest to a seed-saver, but it might prove fortuitous to have someone skilled in this family in the future.

Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are the major players in this family, but it also includes tomatillos and potatoes. Should probably be shared – tomatoes alone should be shared!

There are many other families, but these include almost all the important edibles in our culture that are propagated by seed.

Note that many of these families include species that are not currently a part of our diet, but in a post oil, high carbon world, may well become plants of economic importance and should be included our field of interest.

After reading all of this, please, by return email, list your first three choices for your personal portfolio and any of the smaller families that might interest you. I will try to assign folks the area they wish to be involved with – I will give precedence based on when I get your email. I imagine we'll have some trading and shifting of areas of interest in the future. None of this need be considered permanent – it is a 'portfolio' and the contents of yours can change.

So this is a starting place. At this point, SLOLA does not yet have a clear vision of the seeds we want to save – so far we only have two lists of 25 varieties offered of seeds we want to include in the seed library (most of the lists I received were of species and did not mention varieties – I had lists that were: “carrots, tomatoes, peas, beans... etc.” which were not helpful.). We are a ways from knowing even if we are going to save Apiaceae at any time in the near future. I encourage all of us to make up a list of at least 25 varieties that we each would like to see saved and share those lists with this committee. I would be very please to compile the lists. If you want to see mine, it is at the SLOLA blog ( the article is called “A Vision of What SLOLA Could Be” - my list is at the very end).

I would like to see us have a face to face meeting in a week or two.. It could be at The Learning Garden but need not. A location more central to everyone would be delightful but I don' know of any place that would fit the bill. I'll be in conversation with many of you in the coming few days.

Email me at once with your portfolio choices and any corrections/additions to this document.

Thank you for time and attention to this very long document. I hope you are fired up and want to go save some seeds!


No comments:

Post a Comment