This community bank is not for money, but seeds

By | February 10, 2019

Keen Ballarat gardeners are working to create a community seed bank to store and share the seeds of fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers.

Until 50 or 60 years ago, most amateur gardeners would have saved their seeds and used them to plant their next backyard crop. 

Now the knowledge of seed saving is largely lost as growers turn to the convenience of commercial stores. 

Fewer people saving seed is reducing the number of varieties of fruit and vegetables and impacting food security. 

Should there be a major disease outbreak in the future the genetics just won’t be there that have resistance.

Noel Schutz, Ballarat Seed Bank

Ballarat Seed Bank organiser Noel Schutz has been running an online seed sharing page since 2015, and is now working to create a physical community model to store seeds that works like a bank where users take what they need and deposit what they have. 

Some stored seeds.

Some stored seeds.

He wants to educate backyard gardeners about saving seeds and how doing so can preserve heritage varieties in danger of being lost and improve food security by creating a diversity of varieties. 

“Most companies select just a few varieties that are obviously more suited to the big commercial market gardener, but the home gardener is really not interested in any of those traits,” he says.

“Of the thousands of varieties that used to be grown we have had a severe bottle neck effect where only the most productive for commercial use have been saved. Should there be a major disease outbreak in the future the genetics just won’t be there that have resistance. If we have different varieties there is something to adapt to.”

Gardeners can breed genetic traits into their plants by keeping seeds from specific plants, for example the biggest of the crop or the longest lasting. 

Parsley that has gone to seed.

Parsley that has gone to seed.

After years of saving seed the crop will improve as it adapts to Ballarat’s growing conditions. 

Some vegetables are easier to save seeds from than others, but Mr Schutz says you do not have to be an experienced gardener to start – it is best to learn by doing and learn from your mistakes. 

He says lettuce, tomatoes, peas and beans are the best vegetables to start with. 

Lettuce that has gone to seed

Lettuce that has gone to seed

Fellow Ballarat Seed Bank organiser Althea Oliver says she enjoys experimenting with seed and shares varieties she likes with friends. 

That way if she ever lost her crop she could find the seed of her favourite variety in other gardens.

“I grow a bean that I particularly like. It is stringless, it is very forgiving, very prolific and very tasty. If I lost that seed I would be most upset,” she says. 

“It is very special for me to be able to go into my box of saved seeds and find them at the right time and say this is my next season’s beans I know I am going to eat, and enjoy and share.”

Ditchy's view.

Ditchy’s view.

The Ballarat Seed Bank will host a seed saving workshop on February 16 at the Ballarat Community Garden from 1pm. 

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