It’s harvest time for people who collect and swap “heirloom seeds.” These are living antiques, and many grow in Decorah where the head of the Seed Savers Exchange is Kent Whealy. He says saving and growing old-fashioned plants is partly a matter of taste.Whealy says some gardeners love the old-time flavor of varieties they remember. But Whealy says there’s also the feeling that a handful of hybrids should not replace the multitude of plants people once cultivated for flowers and food. They’re keeping 5,000 varieties of beans, 4,000 kinds of tomatoes, 1,200 varieties of peppers, a thousand kinds of peas, 800 different types of lettuce — and the “living collection” must be grown every year so they have viable seeds. Whealy and eight thousand other gardeners in the U-S and Canada grow, save and swap the seeds that may contain genetic potential to revive or diversify valuable crops. Breeders need a lot of the old material to breed disease and pest resistance into modern crops so they’re keeping it alive for its genetic potential. And it’s already harvest time for vegetables and fruits.In Decorah, up in the northeastern part of the state, the first frost can hit as early as September 20, so he says “it’ll be frantic” between now and the time they’ve harvested all the seeds. You don’t have to be a scientist or geneticist to be a seed-saver, and catalogs and exchange information are available at www.seedsavers.org.
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