Tuesday, April 23, 2013

SLOLA And The Concept of A Seedshed

The idea of a 'seedshed' first came to my attention via Cris Franco, founder of the Rio Salado Seedshed Library (and of www.sewapermaculture.com) in Phoenix. To me, it was easy to grasp the significance of a 'seedshed' and quickly see that SLOLA's seed library model was in direct contrast to a seedshed.
Cris Franco tabling at her Rio
Salado Seedshed Library
The term 'seedshed' takes it's cue from a 'watershed.' You also see the concept showing up these days in the term, 'foodshed.' They all come from the concept of trying to define what is local and what's not. A watershed denotes a commonality in water resources. Water draining the same direction, along a given slope, is a watershed. There is commonality therefore a case can be made that water conditions within a watershed are similar and consequently 'local.' Seeds grown in common weather, rainfall and soil would comprise a given seedshed and therefore be local to one another.

In contrast, the Seed Library Of Los Angeles embraces the entire greater Los Angeles area and a quick glimpse at the Sunset Western Garden Guide's Zone map shows we cover several seedsheds with some fairly different seedsheds included. Never mind that they are only a few miles apart, conditions from one to the other can be different enough to not allow for local adaptability which is a hallmark of being a seed saving gardener.

I'm sure Sunset would have a cow if I reprinted the LA map here, but the book is ubiquitous enough you can find it at a library or pick up a copy locally or on Amazon. Their website has this representation, although before you go there, please be advised the pop-up ads are more than just annoying.  Even though Sunset is primarily concerned with growing ornamentals, the book is a valuable resource for all west coast gardeners if only for the information it gives on the 24 zones delineated along the west coast.

Los Angeles, running between Zones 18 to 24, with each zone constituting what Cris would consider it's own seedshed. Zones 18 and 19 are interior climates, having less ocean influence, while Zones 20 and 21 are influenced by the ocean as well as the interior climate. Zone 22 is the cold winter portion of our area, while zone 23 is the thermal belt of the coast. Then there is Zone 24, in which the actual library itself is located, which Sunset defines as almost completely dominated by the ocean.

Each one of these zones, then, is its own seedshed and should save seeds for itself; in fact, there are probably different seedsheds within some of the larger areas of the zones. Zone 24 extends along the coast North past Santa Barbara and south beyond San Diego. While there is a lot of commonality between Santa Barbara and San Diego, I don't know if we can put them in the same seedshed. Zone 23 around Whittier might have a lot in common with Zone 23 at the Pacific Palisades, but I can handily see they might comprise different seedsheds.

I see a lot of diversity in these areas and a lot of compromising of seedsheds. But SLOLA has an answer and already we are moving to implement a system of 'branch libraries' under the SLOLA umbrella. The San Fernando Valley Branch of SLOLA will open this Friday (on International Seed Day, by the way) and will begin to steward seeds that will be most at home in their 18, 19 and 21 zones. Their initial inventory will be the same as the original library, but over time will diverge and each library's inventory will take on different characteristics, adapting to the different climate and soils. The two will not be totally dissimilar, but will diverge somewhat over time. Seeds, left to their own devices, will always be local to the place they are grown over time. This is one of the ways that open pollinated seeds and not nationally produced hybrids adapt and are therefore better for the grower. Remember, seeds are local and many of the open pollinated heirloom seeds are local to the east coast or the mid-western states and therefore are often a disappointment to Los Angeles gardeners. If we want a local tomato, it will be up to us to grow it!

The two inventories provide a duplication we have always wanted. It has never been our intent to store all our seeds at one location – any disaster could wipe out our entire stock of seed, setting SLOLA back years. So having two inventories near each other is a valuable asset. Of course, we hope to do more – Long Beach and Eagle Rock have both expressed interest in having a branch and we hope to accomplish that this year or next.

On International Seed Day, residents of the Valley can gather to inaugurate their own library. The first meeting of the San Fernando Valley branch of the Seed Library Of Los Angeles will take place on Friday, April 26th, at 1 pm at the Sepulveda Garden Center, 16633 Magnolia Blvd, Encino, CA 91436.

No need to RSVP. Just come on out and take home a seed to steward into a truly local seed to feed your family and the families of those warmer Sunset Zones!