Monday, January 7, 2013

Holy Celery Seed Batman!

I recently learned that saving and sharing certain seeds is illegal. Illegal. Yep - illegal. As in, breaking the law. While it's probably a civil matter, there is of course the problem whereby civil issues are becoming criminal offences. Things like copyright infringement.

Which, incidentally, is what makes harvesting certain seeds illegal. Okay, so not exactly copyright, but patent infringement. Close enough. Things like soy seed, corn seed, hops plants (I was curious to see if you could grow your own hops for brewing beer - I quite like the idea of being able to start from the garden and producing your own bits and pieces) etc. I imagine this applies to just about anything that's used in just about all of our foods. Soy seed is used to make soy products (used as a filler in most of our manufactured foods). Corn used for sweeteners and thickeners. Hops which give beers their flavours. Wheat, barley, sugarcane, sugarbeets etc.

And then there are those plants that can't be grown from seeds. Commercial apples for example, if I understand it right, are actually apples grafted with citrus fruit to give them size and juiciness not otherwise found in apples. This is well before the whole "genetically modified" debacle - I argue that while genetic modification goes quite a bit further, the combining of generally unrelated plants to produce something that is not able to reproduce itself is in essence a form of genetic modification.

Last winter I threw a celery plant into the garden. I loved it! Instead of going to the supermarket to buy half a celery, using a couple of stalks (usually a layer in - the ones on the outside just seem way too stringy) and having to throw the rest out, I was able to go out to the garden, cut off the bits that I needed and the next time I wanted celery, it was still there! What I also found interesting is that it likes to spread out. None of this growing straight and tall as you buy from the supermarket. Instead, all of the stalks were tender (not quite so stringy) and it dominated an otherwise empty vege garden.

I recently pointed out the plant to a friend and said "Who knew?". The thing has gone crazy. It's been flowering. Like really flowering. Probably thousands of tiny little flowers while it went out of control. I looked up on the Internet how to harvest the seeds (how great would it be to do my own seedlings rather than relying on nurseries?) and it turns out each of those tiny little flowers yield seeds in which case, there's way too many for me to plant (assuming I actually let the plant dry out. There's pressure to pull it out as it's now getting in the way of tomato plants).

And of course, we get to the whole sharing bit. If I'm growing vegetables, and I end up with seeds, shouldn't I then share the excess with people? Even better, if I'm growing seedlings, chances are I'm going to want to grow too many - as a bit of an margin of error. In which case, why don't I share some of them as well?

This could be made really cheap. If I'm saving bottles for brewing purposes, then I could also learn to cut bottles (and drill a couple of holes on the bottom for drainage) and use them as reusable robust plant pots. Better value for money in terms of the quality of plants. Rather than the lush looking, root bound seedlings from the nursery which need to be planted immediately, we could produce plants that have a higher chance of surviving a re-potting.

This probably leads to much more interesting cooking. If you're growing varieties of plants with less commercial viability - i.e. varieties of vegetables that don't yield as much or don't grow as conveniently as other varieties - then swapping seeds helps with playing with slightly different flavours and textures. The one that comes to mind is dwarf celery - much smaller stems and great in salads.

Of course... sharing with your neighbours could be breaking the law.... meaning that the different, less commercial, more interesting varieties are probably more desirable...

Oh - and the name of the post. It turns out celery seed, as sold as a spice, might not necessarily come from celery plants. Who knew?

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