|Dear friends, |
If you are reading this, then at some point you must have subscribed as a reader to the London Freedom Seed Bank blog. We’ve now moved our website and blog to a new wordpress host, and unfortunately we can’t take our ‘followers’ with us – so if you want to continue to receive news from the London Freedom Seed Bank, please sign up to our new mailchimp mailing list here.
Our new Autumn Newsletter is available now. It includes the Radical History of Amarath, how to submit seeds to the bank this year, seed saving podcasts and much much more.
Hope to see you on the other side!
Happy Seeds & Solidarity,
London Freedom Seed Bank team.
By all accounts, it is primed to be a huge year for home-grown veg in the UK. Seed producers and seed banks alike have been overwhelmed with demand as many Brits set up shop on balconies and gardens, facing up to the reality of a long summer of likely lockdown.
The LFSB also experienced a surge in interest. In London, there is a strong privilege dimension to those who have access to their own outdoor space, in gardens, allotments, or balconies. The closure of community growing spaces (which are only now slowly opening their doors again) has had a significant impact on the host of people who rely on these spaces for social connection, access to the natural world and respite. An emphasis in our response to the pandemic and corresponding lockdown was to prioritise providing seed to organisations catering for lonely, vulnerable or food insecure people.
Here are some examples of projects we supported:
1. Growing for our Communities, Incredible Edible Lambeth
Growing for our Communities builds off a fresh community spirit which has emerged in light of the pandemic, as individuals and communities step up to support each other. The project encourages people who have space, capacity and skills to grow food for their neighbours over the coming summer and autumn months. At the beginning of April, we provided 175 packets of seed to the scheme, that’s 7 different vegetable varieties supplied to 25 households, alongside trays and compost.
2. Companion planters, Garden of Earthly Delights, Hackney
Connection to the natural world and natural processes can have huge benefits for emotional and mental wellbeing. For those isolating, or spending lockdown in cramped indoor conditions, perhaps in solitude, it can be a really trying time with many struggling with their mental health and loneliness. Volunteers for the Garden of Earthly Delights built ‘companion planters’ with repurposed timber, filled with soil, a handmade card and a selection of 3 LFSB seeds and delivered them by bike to those who feel that they need something like this, in the hope that nurturing life can provide some sense of calm for those without access to their own outdoor space.
3. Southwark community gardens
We donated a further 250 seed packets to the Walworth Community Garden Network which delivered these seeds to a range of community gardens across Southwark borough.
Within a few weeks alone, and with substantial and efficient organising by Steering Group member Richard Galpin, we managed to distribute all our surplus seed stocks for this year.
This demand for seed was certainly not limited to Londonders, or to community seed banks. Sinéad Fortune, Programme Manager of the Seed Sovereignty Programme of the UK and Ireland, said some seed producers faced a 600% increase on demand for seed from last year. This interest is brilliant, and a great opportunity for organisations like ours to bring more people into an understanding of the importance of UK-produced open-pollinated seed in the context of food sovereignty. “It also raises concerns about supply,” says Sinéad, “For some companies, the surge of orders has significantly depleted their seed stock and it will take several years to build up again.”
Wayne Frankham of the Irish Seed Savers reports similar experiences. “Just as in the UK, many growers have had to radically adapt their production for changed demand -moving from market to box deliveries or contactless collection for produce or plants…What was known during winter planning totally changed and new seed demands saw a massive spike in orders from commercial, community, and domestic growers alike…The few seed producers and suppliers had to continue their producing activities, whilst processing a deluge of orders, with reduced staff.”
At the LFSB we’ve taken some time to reflect and now turn our focus to the longer term. Empty supermarket shelves and stretched food banks have put into sharp focus the fragility of the industrial food system. It cannot cope with external shocks to the system and often let’s the most vulnerable fall through the cracks. We believe seed sovereignty, seed saving and local food growing are crucial steps to building more resilient food systems where we can make sure no one goes hungry. Moving forward, we wonder how we can keep all these new growers on board, spread the skills of saving seed further and build our seed movement. We always welcome input and ideas so please get in touch.
“Now more than ever we need more people growing seed, saving seed, swapping seed, and selling seed,” says Sinéad, “If we want our future food system to be local, diverse, resilient, and agroecological, we must start with our seed!”
Imbolc is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of spring, usually celebrated half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, or on the 1st February. It honours the lengthening days and the return of warmth, as the soils begin to thaw and the daffodils show their heads. As we move from the dark months into the light, we at the seed bank wrap up the last of the sorting, cleaning and packing of last year’s seed, to now share the seed harvest with our growers who themselves are starting to plan and sow for the year ahead.
Thank you to all who contributed to our 2019 collection! We’ve got some really interesting varieties to share with you at upcoming events. We are looking forward to getting out and about..
On Saturday 8th February we’ll be at the Incredible Edible Seed Swap at the Garden Museum. It’s always a lot of fun so come along with some seeds to share and say hi. We’ll be giving a short talk on the importance of saving seed at 2pm.
On Sunday 23rd February you’ll find us at Organiclea for a seed swap. It’s an open day and a great chance to see the beautiful site of this growing cooperative.
On Saturday 29th February we’ll be hosting a get-together with our network. We’ll be packing seed, sharing some snacks, planning the year ahead and having a natter. Come by if you want to meet the team. Get in touch at email@example.com.
Hubbard Squash ‘Potimarron’ seeds donated by network member Patrick McCabe.
Arriving just in time for the Incredible Edible seed swap this saturday is a fantastic contribution of pumpkin seeds from one our top London seed savers and network members Patrick McCabe at Gunsite Allotments, Dulwich. The variety is Potimarron (or Red Kuri) a type of Hubbard Squash that has smallish (1.3 – 3 kilo) pear shaped fruit with red-orange skin and bright orange flesh. This variety has been saved for 7 generations on Gunsite Allotments, without isolation, and is still growing true to type – which could perhaps suggest some resistance to cross-pollination. If it has, this could be very useful for London seed savers. Patrick describes the squash as a very versatile and delicious pumpkin with a chestnut flavour. Catch us at one of the events above if you want to give it a try.
A highlight from the last few months was the Caring for a Community Seed Bank day we ran back in November at Walworth Gardens. The main motivation here was to bolster and build up the number of people and groups maintaining seed collections in London. This is a step on from saving seed, to really learning the skills to dry, clean, store and record seed collections properly. Featuring guest speaker Fred Groom from Vital Seeds and a hands-on afternoon of seed cleaning with LFSB’s own seed cleaning machine, it was a varied and interesting day. Sophie Doyle, new LFSB recruit, has some reflections here.
Richard Galpin and the seed cleaning machine he built for the LFSB from open-source plans by Real Seeds.
Back in October, co-director Helene Schulze teamed up with community microscope club, the Roving Microscope, to host Seed Stories and Symbionts, an afternoon of discussion, microscope gazing and seed sharing. It was about investigating the human and more-than-human stories carried by seeds. Helene hosted a seed storytelling circle, a space where everyone who had brought seed had a chance to share the tales of where they had come from and what they meant to them. It was a beautiful session and we’ll share some more reflections soon.
Poppy seed under the microscope at Seed Stories and Symbionts
For seed saving newbies, co-director Julie Riehl has some growing tips to get the year off to a good start. Now is a good time to get the ball rolling on your sowing, beginning with tomatoes, peas, lettuce and french beans. Advice on growing conditions, sowing depth, when to plant out and which varieties to get for can all be found here.
Finally, whilst in Berlin for a big anti-industrial agriculture demonstration this January, Helene met Vandana Shiva, professor and probably the most well-known global seed activist. It was in response to her call back in 2012 for a global movement to occupy, protect and free seed that the London Freedom Seed Bank was born. She remembers our bank from its origin days. 8 years later, much in the LFSB has changed, but crucially we’re still going strong. For volunteer-run, community projects like ours, this is no small feat and something to be celebrated.
Anyone wanting to get more involved with us is always welcome!
We hope to catch you at one of the upcoming events,
Helene, Charlotte, Julie, Richard, Sophie
As the coldest days of the year are supposedly still ahead, it is difficult to picture lush gardens and long sunny days just yet. But now is the time to get going if you want to get ahead of the curb on the growing front. Even more so if you are giving seed saving a go, as some plants – especially fruits – will need to be extra ripe to be harvested for seeds.
If you are new to seed saving, stick with the four easy crops that are true to type and less likely to cross. This means that the seeds you will harvest from them will grow into the same plant as the one they came from, they won’t be a cross between the mother plant and whatever pollen the bees have picked up. The four ‘go to’ seed saving crops are tomatoes, peas, french beans and lettuce. I’ll focus on peas and tomatoes here.
All of them can be sown from February onwards, albeit a bit differently. For the best germination rate, sow your seeds at the right depth: sow seeds the depth of the seed itself, so a pea seed will be 1/2 inch deep or so, and salad or tomato seeds will be almost right on the top of your tray with some soil sprinkled on top. Use a good peat-free seed sowing compost, and sow your seeds on a warm, bright windowsill or propagator.
Once you have sown seeds, cover your tray with a plastic bag, or a lid if your tray came with one. The water from the seeds coming to life (and breathing) will condensate on the cover and self water your tray, so keep the lid on. If needed, water from underneath by resting it on water. Check it daily and as soon as green shoots come out of the soil, take the lid off and resume normal watering.
So, when do you transplant your seedlings? A rule of thumb is to not transplant in the ground anything that has less than 4 true leaves (these are leaves that look like the adult plant leaves, as opposed to the cotyledon, the first two leaves that often look quite different from the adult leaves). Peas and lettuce can be planted out quite early (e.g. March), as long as they are covered (fleece or mini polytunnel) and protected from hungry slugs (plant rings, wool protection or similar- please no slug pellets!). For tomatoes and french beans, it’s a later affair- after all they come from central america. Tomatoes and french beans will benefit from a longer time indoors, and I plant mine out in late April- May. This means I will transplant the seedlings in bigger pots indoors in the meantime though.
Peas come in a variety of sizes and shapes. For shorter peas that will grow as a bush, I like ‘Havel’- it’s also early, so you might get a first crop as early as May. Taller peas are a delight to grow as they will climb and cover whatever frame you give them, and they are very ornamental. I had fantastic results with the heritage variety ‘Ne Plus Ultra’, which grew so tall we had to get a chair to harvest it. The beautiful ‘Latvian Soup Pea’ had gorgeous purple flowers and pretty mottled pods. Finally, if you are a sugar snap fan, I’d recommend the very reliable ‘Sweet Horizon’. And if you forget to harvest them early, they’ll just turn into peas. It’s a win-win situation!
Over the years I have moved towards smaller, sweeter varieties of tomatoes as they tend to ripen well and produce a lot over a long period of time. For very small varieties, I really enjoy ‘Yellow Pear’ because of it’s lovely shape and unusual colour. ‘Black Cherry’ and ‘Chocolate cherry’ (available from the London Freedom Seed Bank) bear stunning dark purple fruits that tend to be very sweet. None have ever made it to my fridge as I kept just eating them from the vine. I am intrigued by Centiflor Tomatoes: a variety that produces hundreds of small fruits (¾ inch across) on big truss – I’ll try these this year! For bigger fruits, I have had great results with the ‘Green Zebra’ and ‘Red Zebra’, which are both stunning and surprisingly sweet.
Check what the London Freedom Bank has available or check good seed retailers like Real Seeds, Vital Seeds and the Heritage Seed Library and start picking some great unusual varieties to eat and to save. Happy growing!
Caring for a Community Seed Bank
Day of Learning @Walworth Gardens (17.11.19, 10:30-4:30)
by Sophia Doyle
On Sunday the 17th November London Freedom Seedbank and friends came together at the beautiful Walworth Gardens for a Day of Learning about how to create and care for your own community seed collection.
A round of introductions revealed that we were a varied group of people from all walks of life. Many in the room had a background in gardening and permaculture, some worked in those fields, and others were students or doing courses in horticulture or herbal medicine. After an introductory talk on the London Freedom Seed Bank Charlotte introduced us to different kinds of community seed projects. She explained how they differ from each other, and how different types can facilitate varied engagement with seed politics. The distinction was made between Seed Libraries, Community Seed Banks, Grower Networks and Mobile Seed Banks, and how each of these achieve or centre different aspects of seed saving and seed sovereignty.
After this Fred Groom from the independent seed company Vital Seeds shared different ways to process seed, the basics of drying, cleaning and storing seed. It was fascinating to get an insight into the specifics of seed processing and storage, down to details such as what kind of mesh to use for screening the seed to separate it from the chaff. He also provided us with some tips and tricks for storing the seed, such as using silica gel or rice to make sure no moisture remains in the seed for long-term storage, and freezing the seed to kill off insects (especially relevant for pulses).
After a lunch break we continued with the practical part of the day, when we learned how to separate, store and label seed from different types (endives, spinach, fennel) and the importance of correct and detailed labelling. The more information the better! My personal highlight of the afternoon was Richard demonstrating the seed cleaning machine he built from the open-source plans provided by Real Seeds. He also talked in detail about the specifics of saving lettuce seed.
Finally, the day ended with a collective seed swap. Some of us had brought seeds from our own gardens and everyone was encouraged to take some of the seed we had packed up previously. Soon these seeds will be planted again for the next round of London growing, cropping and seed saving.
Sophia Doyle is an MA student at Goldsmiths focusing on Seed Sovereignty, Political Ecology and Indigenous and rural activist movements. (She got involved with London Freedom Seed Bank after attending this event).
Slides from the presentations on the day are available on our resources page here
About this Event
This annual event is always really well attended and no one leaves it empty handed! If you have seeds to share, please bring some, marking the packet clearly so everyone knows what they are taking away with them.
Sat 8 February 2020
13:00 – 15:00 GMT
5 Lambeth Palace Road
Free / Donation
Dear members and friends of the London Freedom Seed Bank,
Whether you’re new to seed saving, an established saver wanting to try out some new varieties, running a relevant community event, or keen on the politics of the seed trade, we’ve got it all for you this month.
First up, we’re excited to share with you a project which has been some time in the making. Last year, we teamed up with Global Generation for the Seeds For a Better World project. A key outcome of this collaboration is the London Mobile Seed Bank. A portable, interactive tool, the bank contains 20 of our favourite freedom seed varieties along with the stories of those who saved them. Artist-researcher duo Sara Heitlinger and Franc Purg made the bank with the Seed Sisters, young people working with Global Generation on seed politics and saving. The outcome is beautiful and has been enthusiastically received so far. We’ll be taking the bank to community events across London so get in touch if you’re hosting an event that might like it.
photo: global generation
Our featured variety this month is the experimental Bloody Marvel Lettuce. Bred by our own Richard Galpin in Walworth, South London, it is inspired by research Bloody Cos variety, also known as Spotted Aleppo which originated in Syria in the 18th Century. The parent plants for Bloody Marvel were Marvel of Four Seasons and Majan Jaguar, selected through the 2017 Walworth Lettuce Trials for their suitability for London growing conditions. They were then manually cross-pollinated and the resulting cross selected for desirable characteristics – resilience, red flecks of colour, vigour and taste. This is only the third generation and so plants will vary considerably. Community gardens are being asked to help trial this variety and report back on the results, in a collective effort to develop a new London variety. Get in touch if you’d like to trial the next generation.
photo: Richard Galpin
New to seed saving? Where to start?
If you are new to seed saving, but want to give it a go – it’s not too late for this growing season as some seeds can be saved from plants you are already growing for food. The easiest plants to save seeds are self-pollinated (the pollination happens within the plants’ own flowers, with no pollen being transported from another flower via wind or insects). Which means the seeds will grow to become a plant with the same characteristics as the parent plant – it comes ‘true to type’. So, the easiest plants to save seeds from are the following:
- French beans (not runner beans)
Initially grow just as you would for eating, and we’ll be posting more seed saving tips in the next newsletter, as the crops mature.
Reading on Seed
Here is our own Helene Schulze writing in Anthroposphere about some of her research into the UK seed saving scene:
“Fostering concern for seed preservation is essential for the potential thriving of human and non-human life on Earth. By supplementing national and international seed banking networks, individual and community seed saving initiatives are taking this important conservation work into their own hands. [They show us how] resistance to corporate domination and resilience to climate change play out on a smaller scale.”
You can read the full article here
That’s all from us for now. Stay tuned for the next events we’ll be attending and hosting and as ever, let us know if you’re growing out our varieties. We’d love to see your pictures and feedback!
London Freedom Seed Bank team
We’re looking forward to Grow Fest at Glengall Wharf Garden tomorrow. London Freedom Seeds up for grabs… Matt’s Wild Cherry, Grandpa’s Cress, Amaranth Latte and Yellow Horn Pepper to name just a few… Come along to see what seeds we have in the bank and get hold of some FREE organically-grown, London-sown seeds.
Grow Fest 2017 is a celebration of growing, community and gardening in Southwark. It’s taking place on Saturday 6th May (11am-4pm) at Glengall Wharf Garden in Burgess Park.
The London Freedom Seed Bank will be there in all our seedy glory! We will be giving away FREE SEEDS from the Bank, all grown in London, using organic principles, by our network of Freedom Seed Savers. Come along and say hello and find out about all the wonderful varieties we have at the moment.
The festival will also be a chance to find out about growing around Southwark, learn new skills, support gardening projects, and explore permaculture and wildlife gardening.
The Freedom Seed Bank and Capital Growth have trained a team of Seed Buddies in the art of seed saving. Now we are looking for community or school garden groups who are interested in receiving help and guidance to start saving seeds. Participating gardens will be matched with a Seed Buddy, ideally from your local area.
A trained Seed Buddy will visit your garden at least twice over the 2017 growing season and will help you to come up with a plan for how to incorporate seed saving. They will offer practical advice about which crops to save seeds from and how to get the best seeds.
Your Seed Buddy will provide you with FREE SEEDS from the London Freedom Seed Bank and you will be offered the opportunity to donate seeds back to the bank at the end of the growing season.
To sign up for a buddy, just complete this simple form: