Saving Seed for Climate Adaptability

Saving seed helps us maintain genetic diversity, and we can enjoy a culinary adventure along the way. We can encourage locally adapted foods by conserving the genes of animal plants. Then we propagate the plants that do well in our area. We get to select for ourselves by tasting the new varieties and keep the seed.

Buy Seed. Grow. Reap, Sell. Repeat?

 In the conventional system, the seed selector influences what the farmer will grow, and then the produce goes to market, and then the cook and the diner are parts of the chain. But certainly the waste does not go back to the garden. The home has a very short close plot to plate cycle. We plant, tend, harvest, share, cook, taste it, and then select the seeds from the best tasting plants, save the seeds and the next year plant again. 

Got enough bananas?

Bang for Your Buck

Vilda Figueroa in Cuba with her husband Jose Lama dedicated their life to re-educating people about what could grow in Cuba. Because for 600 years the Cubans have been eating white bread, and yet they can’t grow wheat. So here’s the challenge we can ask the soil and the environment to keep growing what we like to eat, or we could change what we eat to suit the site. If you want big bang for your buck, you want a lot of yield for a minimum effort then spend that effort on annual plants. But if you want a sustainable system, if you want a food forest, then start looking for perennial plants. 

Difference between annuals and perennials

The big difference between annual and perennial is that the annuals spend some of their energy, and some of your energy, building up their structure. That structure sustains the plant through the off season. And help them get through winter. So, their yield comes in two parts: part for you in edible fruits, and part for them in sustaining their life.

Let’s spend a moment thinking like a plant. What are the goals of the plants? A perennial plant needs to work towards the long-term survival, it’s going to spend less energy on reproduction in those early years because it needs to grow. It is slower to grow because it’s spending time on its structure, but the extra yields of a perennial plant can be harvested for  people such as timber shade and habitat for the wildlife. They do need to be managed after 10  years or so, you will need to be able to cut the trees. 

The Perennial Seed Plans Beyond Short-term

On the other hand, animal plants have got a short-term survival plan they only need to last a couple of months, and they can die off in winter. They’re quick, and they’re lightweight in their structure so they’re a little bit easier to handle. They’ve got a higher reproduction drive, they really want to pump out seeds. They have a greater edible yield for humans because most of what they grow we can eat the leaves, the roots, the seeds. They do need to be managed yearly but the management is usually less heavy lifting. So that management involves preparation of the soil, the seed selection, keeping records, planting it, protecting it, watering it, weeding and pruning. The sad thing is if you skip a year because of a drought, then you can lose that genetic material. Generally speaking perennial plants will out-compete annuals because they’re stronger.

Judith explains how her pigs propagate the pumpkins for her

Long-Term Perrenials

So whilst you can have animals early in the system, the perennials will live on. In a food forest, you design so that there’s some open areas to continue to grow annual plants. Annual plants optimize the use of energy, they get in there they use the sun and water, and they grow quickly. So they give you a useful yield quickly. In this example from our site in Mount Kembla New South Wales Australia, we converted a paddock, actually a paddock of weeds, into annual gardens and then into perennial food forest. That gave the site much more drought resilience, and a varied microclimate.

Tamarillo – better than tomato sauce. An umbrella shaped small tree that lasts for only a couple of years. It has savoury fruit that ripens in Autumn.

In the early years we grew sorghum on our site, which was a great fodder for the chickens. and we planted tomato, lettuce, silver beet, parsley and other common herbs for us.

Then and now. Boys thrive in sandpit 1995 – Mango, avocado, shrubs and grapevines mature 2021

The young trees were hidden amongst the herbs. They started to grow taller, and finally shade out the annual plants. Then eventually that whole lower area became shaded out. But it turned into a good refuge for the chickens. The main trees now in the first vegetable patch are: avocado, mango, Mulberry and Tamarillo which is Biennial plant. And grapevines and kiwi fruit wind amongst the trees. 

Your First Seed

So if you’re going to start saving seed, concentrate on the common plants as you build your skills. And then move into some uncommon plants for a bit of a culinary adventure. Traditional culinary knowledge is being lost on those uncommon plants. So, it’d be great to seek out people who can help you there. Start small. Focus on the plants that you really love.

Kang Kong growing in Bathroom

I love Kang Kong. It is such a delicious green, and so I’m happy to spend time and energy learning how to grow that in my climate. You will find some new foods grow really well in your climate maybe even better than the common foods that you once grew. But the new foods require research, they require some deeper understanding. You will be pioneering this. 

You’re Our New World Pioneer

You can pioneer new foods for your area. The easiest way to do this is to save the first fruit. And the best looking fruit. Don’t eat that seed, save it for the next season. Talk to your neighbours, especially older gardeners, to find out what grows really well in your climate. And to try to find some old varieties.

Try to find some out-of-climate varieties so foods that grow in warmer areas or cooler areas. That will build the biodiversity of the food plants that you’re growing. And then have a look around at some multicultural foods. You might be surprised at what will grow. 

restorative lunch at Consciousground near Byron Bay NSW

Looking Forward

We know we are living through a period of rapid climate change, the best way to help humanity and to help the food plants to adapt, is to diversify and gather cultural knowledge. There are heritage varieties of nearly every food that you know, and the forgotten foods include bitter lettuce or Monstera deliciosa fruits, and there are also native foods these include indigenous nuts and grasses. Saving rare varieties requires a lot of responsibility especially in record keeping and isolating the different strains. But, on the plus side, we know that this conservation will help maintain  genetic diversity. That is key to humanities adaptation.

“The most powerful natural species are those that adapt to environmental change without losing their fundamental identity which gives them their competitive advantage” Charles Darwin

 What are your plans for yourself and for your garden’s future? In our Permaculture Design course notes we offer useful resources and methods for saving seed. Enrol today to design your new future.

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Succession Secrets Boost Production

Fuelling an Upward Spiral

Food forests often get old and woody as they mature. The fruit sits high, out of reach of mere humans and the permaculture garden looses it’s edge. Bunya Halasz, with support from Flávia Assuncao and their community, pioneer forest management strategies to increase production and diversify harvest on commercial farms. Through targeted disruption of natural forest succession, a richer production begins.

Part of our student moodle video on how creating glades boosts plantings

Magically, the forest grows with a wealth of diversity and resilience. In this short video Bunya is harvesting a pineapple with slips for replanting. Cassava lays in background. The soil is rich and diverse plants surround him.

Strategic disruption triggers succession. With skill, an upward spiral of successions evolve. Disruption naturally results from the collapse of old trees, wildfires or storms. Sometimes, the existing diversity and resilience of the mature soil system fuels an increase in production.

Bunya and Flavia’s team carefully execute a disruption to boost production. Their technique is developed on traditional farming in the tropics with their deep knowledge of the species, soil ecology and climate.

Bunya-explaining-the-diversity-to-production-spiral – enhance this image. Photo: Flávia Assuncao

Beyond a boost in production, the yield expands. Their yield now includes pioneering knowledge, skills sharing, empowerment of others and supporting diversity in the community.

Flávia is heartened by the community who value their diverse produce

What is Succession?

There are two types of succession. Primary succession builds on rock, creates soil and supports grassy plants. Whereas Secondary succession builds up layers of plants, deeper soil and a web of life.

Finally, the canopy of a mature forest closes. And a few trees become the dominant species. In a food forest, this limits our diversity of crops. At this point, the fruits of the forest ripen in the sun at the top, far from reach for mere humans. Very few annuals, herbs, shrubs or smaller trees can survive. And the area below becomes empty and becomes dark. Sometimes, a closed canopy is useful. For instance, a closed canopy can help combat weeds or to create shaded paths and work areas. But production is limited to one layer only – the canopy.

worms eye view of forest during day time
Bamboo forest showing growth at the top. Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

Disruption Opens Opportunity

One way to overcome the loss of easy pickings is to disrupt the system. Disruption enables a new wave of primary succession that immediately benefits from the deeper soil. In addition, the leafy harvest reinvigorates the soil system.

Red cedar stump regrowing at our permaculture demonstration site in Mt Kembla NSW Australia
Red cedar stump resprouting at our permaculture demonstration site in Mt Kembla NSW

Suddenly, production intensifies when the canopy opens. Lower layers once common in a primary succession, thrive again. And they grow better due to the rich soil conditions.

Spiral succession is fuelled by three factors:
increased light, released root sugars and organic cover.

Careful planning is instrumental in maintaining the wealth of organic resources. Of course, the planning depends on knowledge of species needs and careful timing. After all, chaotic large scale disruption can damage diversity and resilience.

Coppiced Logan tree interplanted with Emergent tree, banana, pawpaw, yam and much more

Mimic Nature: Slash, Sequester, Succeed

Overgrown food forests and young alley crops both benefit from this new style of succession planning.

Part of our student moodle video showing how coppicing works

Reinvigoration of Woody Forests

At ConsciousGround in the rolling hills behind Bryon, the old food forest was coppiced and interplanted. Then, the new plants were protected with mulch made from the slashings. Furthermore, the coppiced trees regrew. This provided lots of fruit within easy reach. Now the site supports an understorey of pineapples, taro, bananas, herbs and a wide diversity of trees. In addition, flocks of turkeys and chickens browse fallen fruit.

Like the surrounding rainforest, the layers vary with vines and herbs. This reinvigorated food forest is bursting with banana, papaya, berry, native fruits, yams, cranberry hibiscus, taro, tamarillo, sugarcane, cassava, arrowroot, ginger, pineapple, sweet potato and culinary herbs.

wonderful culinary creations by chef Nic Barrett and his wife Kath Austen at Consciousground NSW
Wholesome and delicious culinary creations by chef Nic Barrett and team at Consciousground in NSW

Power of Emergent Trees

Emergent trees act like solar panels, gathering light from above and protecting smaller plants below. Bunya’s team, keeps 10-20% of the compatible emergent tree cover to protect the site from harsh summer sun in Australia. At first, they trim the side branches to force the emergent trees to grow tall and strong. In a few years, the emergent trees become strong enough to support a ladder. Then the team cut and harvest them as poles. Consequently their root systems either die or retreat. This unlocks nutrients for the next plants. As a result, another succession begins. And a resilient production spiral arises.

Part of our student moodle video on use of emergent species in agroforestry at GrowingRootsPermaculture

Enriched Commerical Mono-cropping

Hosted by the innovative The Farm at Byron, a rare agricultural beacon is demonstrated. Here you can see the power of intensive diverse cropping taught by GrowingRootsPermaculture in conjunction with Living Agroecology and Hungry Earth Agroecology. This plots using spiral succession and permaculture are brimming with produce.

Layers of production at The Farm in Byron.
Layers of production at The Farm in Byron.

The progression from monocropping through to alley cropping and then low canopy agroforestry is clear. Diverse intensive production replaces standard commercial mono-cropping. The plantings start with annual crops such as corn and beans. As the annual crops are mature, perennial plants are introduced. Spent stems and leaves shelter young plants from sunburn or frost. Next plantings are fast-growing emergent species. Emergent species shoot up to capture light. As a result, they also serve as mist collectors and wind or frost protection.

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