Berlin’s pedal-powered seed bank

Reflections on the affinities between the SeedBike and the London Freedom Seed Bank

As urban seed savers, we are confronted with a very particular host of challenges. Our London gardens, balconies and allotments are not known for their abundance of space. The unique London microclimate and awkward clay soils, suffering under hundreds of years of construction and pollution has not led to a wealth of London veg varieties. Packed so tight with other growers, avoiding cross-pollination is tricky to say the least. Cross-pollination occurs when a plant pollinates a plant of another variety. This combines the genetic material of both plants and produces seeds with characteristics from both parent plants. These seeds are not true-to-type and so cannot be saved as such. Preventing this our little gardens is difficult stuff!

This has not stopped us though. The more you look for greenery, the more you realise that our city is bursting with potential in concrete nooks and crannies. Whether pots of herbs piled high on balconies or meticulously tended Estate communal veg patches, Londoners want to grow their own food. Increasingly, I am convinced, they want to close that loop completely and save their own seed too.

A few weeks back I met Hanna Burckhardt and Svenja Nette from the SaatgutRad, or SeedBike, in Berlin. Sat over packets of fresh seed in the office of the Prinzessinnengarten, the community garden where they are based, we realised that their SeedBike and our London Freedom Seed Bank (LFSB) were confronted with quite similar issues.

The SeedBike is a new project launched this spring. Observing and adapting the folding mechanism of sowing or tool boxes, the team built their own XL version which was mounted on a bike. The structure folds into a handy wooden box as it is cycled around the city.

Vik_SeedBike

(Illustration by Viktoria Spittler)

Travelling to allotments across the city, the SeedBike wants to facilitate both seed and knowledge sharing. Packed up in many small jars, they provide an expansive range of seeds as well as much information material on the importance of crop biodiversity and the practicalities of seed saving. One of their key struggles, the pair tell me, is the bulk of information they feel they need to provide.

Seed saving is not necessarily easy business, they argue, and it is not to be taken lightheartedly. When you choose to grow and save seed from a rare variety, you become a custodian of that genetic heritage. That is serious stuff. Particular varieties often require quite specialist care in order to ensure seeds are true-to-type. I enjoy this attention to detail and the seriousness with which the pair approach this work.

It has me thinking. Much of my own work in the food and seed movement over the passed few years has been around accessibility: how can we get more people with their hands in the soil? How can we make sure that everyone who eats food feels themselves to be part of a food movement for tastier, healthier, more socially and ecologically just food? How do we make these issues easier to engage with? I thought the more people involved, the better our chances.

For the most part, I still stand by these concerns. But I also think it is worth stressing that saving seed, particularly of rare varieties, is important and sometimes tricky work. It requires care. The question is: how do you balance valuing seed saving as specific, challenging work whilst also being accessible and encouraging more people to save seed?

The challenge is to not put people off. Novices, such as myself, should feel themselves motivated to really learn about these plants and learn how best to nurture them.

In terms of access to information, the SeedBike is working on creating an online database of advice and guidelines. With seed packets, growers are given a questionnaire to complete what went well, what was tricky and what tips they could pass on. This will at some stage be gathered into an interactive section of their website. Our own seed bank is increasingly collecting this kind of information also and some kind of easily-accessible online or physical collection of this information is certainly something we should think about.

For now the bike travels around the city to hold seed saving seminars in allotments but the team hope to expand their reach to schools and other food-growing spaces in future. Interestingly, and different to the LFSB, they are not targeting community gardens. Our logic is that we need only one community gardener to join our workshops, to get a whole garden saving seed. Knowledge is passed on. Their logic in focussing on allotments is that they are frequently ignored in much of the attention given to urban agriculture. Many allotment gardeners are of older generations with many years of food growing experience under their belts. These make ideal, knowledgeable candidates for saving seed.

The SeedBike has only its maiden journeys behind it so they cannot yet speak of that many experiences. With a busy summer ahead of them and big plans for the future though, I am excited for what stories they will tell the next time we meet. We are both necessarily small projects, our reach extends just to London and Berlin city boundaries, respectively. Because of our similar urban contexts and differences in experiences, I think there is real potential for fruitful skill-sharing between our networks and perhaps some future collaborations. At the very least, I will make sure to bring some LFSB seeds to our next meetup for an exchange.

By Helene Schulze, Co-director of the London Freedom Seed Bank

(Main image credit: saatgutrad.org)

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Seeking designer for interactive seed bank

We are seeking an artist / designer / carpenter / maker to design and build an interactive seed bank as part of the Seeds for the Better World project in partnership with Global Generation.

The interactive seed bank will travel to community events, schools, and other organisations to educate and inspire people about seeds in an engaging, interactive and playful way.

The designer must be able to work collaboratively with the project partners (London Freedom Seed Bank and Global Generation) and the young people who are participating in the Seeds for a Better World Project.

For more info about the project, a full design brief, timeline, and budget, please download Interactive Seed Bank Brief.

Deadline for proposals is Monday 28th May at 9am.

Incredible Edible Seed Swap – 27th January

Our friends at Incredible Edible Lambeth are holding a Seed Swap at the Garden Museum next Saturday 27th January from 1-3pm.

We will be there with a variety of seeds grown and saved in London in 2017 by our network of seed savers including some heritage tomato varieties, climbing french beans, Amaranth ‘Latte’ originally collected from a Pakistani women in Leyton, and more.

You can bring seeds and/or plants to swap and Incredible Edible will also be giving away Franchi Seeds for FREE!

More info here:

https://gardenmuseum.org.uk/events/incredible-edible-seed-swap/

We hope to see you there!

Seeds Festival, Saturday 3rd February

Come and join us at the Skip Garden in Kings Cross to celebrate seeds, the first signs of the emerging Spring and the stirrings of new life. We will be growing, cooking, sprouting, swapping, creating, wondering and marvelling at the knowledge, qualities and life that seeds hold.

The London Freedom Seed Bank will be leading an Introduction to Seed Saving workshop (from 11:15-13:00) and distributing FREE SEEDS, grown and saved in London by members of our seed saver network.

The event is broken down into morning and afternoon. The morning activities are geared to adults, including the home-cooked lunch. The afternoon activities are geared to families with children.

Timings for the event are as follows

10:30 – 11:00 – Arrivals, hot drinks and seedy nibbles

11:00 – 11:15 – Welcome by Global Generation and young people

11:15 – 13:00 – Workshops for participants to choose, including

  • Workshop 1: Introduction to seed saving
  • Workshop 2: Exploring and milling ancient grains
  • Workshop 3: Creating batiks inspired by the beauty of seeds through the microscope

13:00 – 14:00 – Home-cooked communal lunch cooked by our Skip Garden Kitchen chefs and young people

14:00 – 16:00 – Family activities including cooking, growing and making with seeds

The event is free but please register your interest by following the link below so that the cafe can cater accordingly:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/seeds-festival-tickets-41209382372

The full address is: Skip Garden, 1 Tapper Walk, N1C 4AQ.

We hope to see you there!

Seedy goodies at the Winter Market

Join Global Generation for their Winter Market on Wednesday 7th December (5.30-7.30pm) at the Skip Garden. Celebrate the beauty of winter and enjoy the magic of the handmade products made by young people for the festive season. The young people have created a gorgeous array of goodies including some inspired by, or made from, seeds.

winter+market+flyer

The young ambassadors are taking part in Seeds for a Better World, a partnership project between Global Generation and the London Freedom Seed Bank. They are part of a year-long programme to learn about the natural cycle of growing and seed saving and to educate and inspire others about the tradition of saving seed.

The Winter Market takes place at the Skip Garden, Tapper Walk N1C 4AQ.

Deadline to join network extended by 1 week!

We have extended the deadline to apply to become a member of the Freedom Seed Saver Network by one week. The new deadline is Sunday 3rd December.

New members will gain access to FREE training sessions taking place in early 2018, peer-to-peer support from our network of seed savers, and seeds from the Freedom Seed Bank.

More details here: https://londonfreedomseedbank.wordpress.com/2017/10/04/join-our-seed-saver-network/

If you are interested in applying please send an expression of interest explaining about yourself and why you are interested in taking part to: freedomseedbank@gmail.com

We hope to hear from you!

Join our seed saver network

We are recruiting new members to our Freedom Seed Saver Network! All new members will benefit from free training, support from our network of seed savers, and the chance to grow and save seeds for the Freedom Seed Bank.

We are offering new members the opportunity to take part in a series of workshops covering all the basics of saving seed for the most popular vegetable crops: in return we’d like you to grow and save seeds for the Freedom Seed Bank. The workshops will take place in the first half of 2018 at various community gardens across London.

Our network fosters peer-to-peer learning and support and so each of the workshops will be lead by a different network member. Each of the gardens that we visit will feature a seed saving garden/plot that has been established by one of our members.

The workshops will cover:

  • Botany for seed savers
  • Planning a seed saving garden
  • ‘How to’ guide for saving seeds of tomatoes, peas, beans and lettuces

There will be a total of 5 – 6 sessions with a minimum commitment of 4 sessions. Workshops will be approximately 2 to 3 hours on a Saturday morning, roughly once a month, plus optional trips or gatherings at other times. Exact timings and venues to be confirmed.

We are looking for people who already have knowledge and experience of food growing and have a space where you can grow seed crops (this could be a home, community or school garden).

This a great opportunity to receive FREE training, to learn about the lost art of seed saving and to help preserve our precious vegetable varieties for future generations.

If you are interested in taking part then please send an expression of interest (max 2 sides of A4) telling us about yourself and why you are interested in joining our network. The deadline for expressions of interest is Sunday 26th November.

Please send your expressions of interest or get in touch with any questions to: freedomseedbank@gmail.com.

 

Image: Lettuce seed heads, by Richard Galpin, Walworth Garden Lettuce Trials and London Freedom Seed Saving Project, 2017.

Seeds for a Better World

We are delighted to be working with Global Generation and Garden Organic on a new project, Seeds for a Better World, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Seeds for a Better World aims to connect to and give back to our natural heritage by educating and inspiring young people and other London residents to learn about the cycle of growing and saving seeds. We will be:

  • working with a team of Youth Ambassadors to unearth the memories of immigrant communities in the Kings Cross area about vegetable varieties and growing traditions from home
  • creating new community seed gardens and a mobile interactive seed bank to take heritage seeds and the stories of those who grew them to new audiences
  • holding a Seed Festival to bring together diverse groups of people to swap seeds and learn from each other

The project kicks off in September when the Youth Ambassadors take a visit to Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library to gain inspiration from their collection of over 800 heritage varieties. The Seed Festival in January 2018 will include a Seed Swap, seed-themed cooking, food and creative workshops, such as making seed charms and jewellery. Activities will continue throughout 2018.

The project will inform participants about the heritage of cultivated vegetable varieties and how they are being threatened by industrial agriculture. Participants will also learn traditional seed saving skills and understand their importance in conserving open-pollinated vegetable varieties for future generations.

Seed diversity across the globe is more severely threatened than ever before. There couldn’t be a better to time to embark on this exciting project.

 

 

 

Walworth Lettuce Trials

August is the perfect month for saving lettuce seed and so in early August a group of us headed to Walworth Garden to find out about the work of seed buddy and artist Richard Galpin.

Tucked away in a quiet corner of the otherwise immaculate garden, Richard has created a seed saving bed and is trialling 30 lettuce varieties. He is assessing each variety based on its vigour, flavour and resistance to pests and diseases and will be selecting the best varieties to save seed from. The bed was riotous display of lettuces in full flower – a reminder that seed saving is not a tidy business. Many of the lettuces had reached over a metre in height, and they were nearly all covered in the characteristic tiny yellow flowers.

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Lettuces in flower at Walworth Garden (photo: Charlotte Dove)

Of the 30 varieties that Richard started with, about half of them had reached this stage. Others were lost along the way to slugs, foxes and that long dry spell in early summer (seems a long time ago now). It was remarkable how the varieties had coped so differently under largely the same conditions; some hadn’t made it past the germination bench, whilst others had reached full and glorious maturity.

Richard Galpin Lettuce Trials

The lettuce bed earlier in the season  (photo: Richard Galpin)

Richard is planning to save seed from about five of the varieties and is also experimenting with a cross between two of his favourite lettuces. Here Richard explains a bit more about more about his breeding experiment:

“I’ve been collecting speckled varieties of lettuce for a couple of years – a project that started with my interest in the Bloody Cos (or Spotted Aleppo) variety that originates in Syria. My interests are generally in the cultural aspects of the variety, and their amazing visual appearance – but some people also get excited about the health benefits of the anthocyanin that these red lettuces contain. By emasculating the flowers and hand pollinating I’ve managed to cross one of my long-standing favourite lettuces – Marvel of four seasons – with a vivid red spotted variety bred by Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds in Oregon, USA. The aim is a wider gene pool to make the variety more resistant to adverse conditions – and selected for suitability for London’s urban growing conditions. It will need some testing, and a few generations of growing out and selecting the best strains – but because i’m less concerned about uniformity than commercial growers would be, i hope to be able to supply the London Freedom Seed Bank with this variety within a couple of years. Look out for the Bloody Marvel…!”

We were impressed with Richard’s careful planning and attention to detail and can’t wait to include some of his Walworth-saved seed in the Freedom Seed Bank.

For more info about the Walworth Lettuce Trials:

https://www.richardgalpin.co.uk/walworth-lettuce-trials