Earth friendly gardening in the Kootenays region of British Columbia, Canada
Sustaining connection between people and plants
|Progress might have been all right once, but
it's gone on too long - Ogden Nash
Visit to Wynndel
Seed companies and nurseries that sell heirloom and rare or
| At the beginning of September 2010, four years since I last saw
them, I went to Wynndel in the Creston Valley to see again the two greatest
vegetable gardens I have ever seen and their keepers, two amazing organic gardeners, Dan McMurray and Alex Bone.
Dan and Alex have different styles of gardening. Alex is traditional.
He calls his garden old fashioned.
Dan in some ways is old fashioned, too, he grows only heirlooms, but first of all he is an experimenter.
Alex's garden looks beautiful. You don't see beauty when you look at Dan's
garden, but you see great beauty when you look at his plants.
Alex and his wife Ruby, who takes care of the flowers, and Dan,
love their gardens. They don't treat their plants with "drugs" - herbicides, pesticides or synthetic
fertilizers. They create for their plants optimal conditions to flourish. On little plots of soil they
both grow vegetables that could feed ten families. They don't sell their bounty but share it with others.
When looking at their gardens it
strikes you as a true miracle what the nature can
produce from the combination of a tiny seed and soil.
You start looking at the land with different eyes. You look at it with wonder and reverence.
It is not "dirt" under your feet, it is the source
and the holly sustainer of life.
I am thinking: instead of
paving the land with asphalt to transport goods, mostly food or related to
food, its production, packaging and
distribution, how much better it could be to cover it with gardens and
grow our own. How much healthier that could be for ourselves and how
much more respectful for
Unfortunately there are less and less people who
can do the gardening.
Some time ago I wondered why there are not that many really
good vegetable gardens around. I thought, anybody can garden. Now I know
better. Gardening is a difficult art, that requires love, knowledge, understanding and experience. It
is why! For a person who, like most of us, has lost her/his
connection with the land not just in the physical, but first of all in the
spiritual sense, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to become a
good gardener. It becomes the proverbial
catch 22; we transport more and more because we grow less and less
ourselves and we are less and less capable of growing our food
ourselves because we have more and more brought to us.
I went to Wynndel with the purpose not only to see the gardens and the gardeners,
but also to get some heirloom seeds from Dan.
|Among other seeds, I got this little Small Shining Light Watermelon. It is sweet
and juicy and it is tiny, 12 cm in diameter (~ 5 in) and weights less
than 1 kg (~2 lbs). I ate the flesh, happily collected the seeds and will grow it next year in my own garden.
Dan's heirlooms -
Here are links
to Dan's web albums where you can see more pictures of his plants:
I lean more and more towards heirloom gardening.
Heirlooms are heritage varieties that have been in cultivation for at least 50 years.
Over the years they were able to withstand on their own adverse weather conditions,
invasion of diseases and insects. Now they are quickly and irreversibly disappearing (as do other open-pollinated
varieties) due to conventional agricultural practices favouring big monocultures where only
a few varieties or, more and more often, F1 hybrids or genetically
modified plants, that require heavy
application of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides and
often intensive irrigation, are chosen for cultivation first of all on the basis of
high yield, ease of harvesting, long storage and transportation.
It took 10,000 years for humankind to create, through selective seed
saving, agricultural diversity we had 50 or so years ago. It took 50
years or so to destroy most of that diversity and replace it with
unsustainable monocultures of super-hybrids.
But there are many wonderful heirlooms still left (not always easily
available, though) and worth preserving. Besides
their great taste, often beautiful, unusual or funny looks, another
great thing about heirlooms is that, as with newer open-pollinated
varieties, you can save their seeds and, if not allowed to cross-breed
with another varieties, the plants will
always come true to type. This is not the case with F1 hybrids
that do not produce seeds true to the parent. I am not one hundred
percent enemy of hybrids. Growing them can be sometimes a good idea,
without bothering with saving their seeds, though.
Preventing heirlooms, as well as other open-pollinated varieties, from cross-breeding is especially easy in the case of
in-breeding, self-pollinating species like French Beans, Lettuce, Peas, Peppers and
Tomatoes. They have bisexual flowers that have both stamen and a
pistil and are built in such a way (retracted pistils) that they
almost always self-pollinate. Cross-pollination can occur, but is
rare. There are some varieties of Tomatoes, like potato leafs and
currants, that have exposed pistils and can normally cross-pollinate,
though. By their very nature in-breeding species are not prone to
in-breeding depression. You need not to worry how many plants you grow
for seed. Even one is good enough.
Out-breeding plants are made for cross-pollination.
Preventing open-pollinated varieties (heirlooms in particular) of
out-breeders from cross-breeding with other varieties within the species can be difficult.
Out-breeders can be monoecious or dioecious, but there are
also many species with bisexual flowers
that don't self-pollinate.
Pollen from out-breeding plants can be carried by pollinators or by wind quite far,
sometimes much farther than the area of your garden. If you grow more
than one variety of any out-breeding species you can be absolutely
sure that cross-pollination didn't occur only if you
hand-pollinate your plants. Even if you grow only one variety, but
your close neighbours garden, too, and grow different varieties than
yours, chances are your plants will cross-breed with your neighbour's.
Things get even more complicated with out-breeders that are prone to
in-breeding depression. In-breeding depression is a loss of vigor
because of cross-pollination between insufficient number of plants
within the variety. Carrots, Beetroot and Swiss Chard, Onions and
Leeks, Brassicas and Sweet Corn belong to this group. You have to grow a lot of
plants of the same variety for seed to maintain healthy gene pool for cross-pollination. Carrots and Sweet Corn
are especially prone to in-breeding depression and at the same
time most easily cross-pollinate with other varieties within their species.
To conclude, to keep out-breeder variety pure
and strong you must not only prevent plants from cross-breeding with
other varieties but also grow sufficient number of them to ensure good
enough gene pool for pollination within the variety. That could be
either impossible or at least very impractical for many gardeners to
do. It is what farms, even small ones, are good for. That doesn't mean
you should not save seeds from open pollinated out-breeders. Just be
aware of the problems, and when it comes to seed saving, do it right.
For more information see:
The websites belong to experienced long term gardeners and seed savers.
To avoid confusion here is how the terms used above should be understood:
Flowers can be
Bisexual or hermaphrodite with both. male and female reproductive structures,
in the same flower. They are called perfect flowers. Some
self-pollinate. Others are self-incompatible, meaning they will not
receive their own pollen.
Unisexual (imperfect or incomplete flowers) with reproductive
structure that is either male or female.
Plants can have
only (hermaphrodite plants, most
common, 85% of plants are hermaphroditic)
- Separate unisexual male and female flowers on the same plant (Monoecious plants)
- Only male flowers or only female flowers on an individual plant (Dioecious plants)
- There are also plants with combinations of both, bisexual and
unisexual flowers, on the same plant.
There are two kinds of pollination:
- Self pollination: Pollination of a flower by its own
pollen, in a flower that has both stamen and a pistil
- Cross pollination: The movement of
pollen from one flower to another, either on the same plant, between
different plants of the same variety, between plants of different
varieties, and sometimes between plants of different species.
plants that self-pollinate
: A loss of vigor because of cross-pollination between insufficient number of plants within the variety.
Out-breeding plants: plants that don't self-pollinate
Species: A group of organisms
(plants) capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring.
Variety: A taxonomic rank below that of species.
A variety that is stable and will always come true to type from seed if not
allowed to cross-pollinate with another variety.
Hybrid - offspring produced by cross-pollination
between different varieties or species. Plants grown from seeds
produced by a hybrid almost never come true to the parent.
||September in Alex's garden
|Amazing Onions. On the left Tomatoes, on the right Leeks, amazing as well!
||Rows of Tomatoes
||Ruby and Alex's favourite flowers, Dahlias.
| It is hard to believe this garden is
a labour of love of one 75 years old man. For 37 years already
Alex grows his own food there and shares surplus with others.
There is a lot of talking
these days about buying local, green living, 100 mile diet, etc.
Buying local is a good idea, growing our own in the earth
friendly manner is even better. How different our planet could be
if there were more people like Alex, just doing,
without big words and fanfare!
I hoped for
a long conversation with Alex, who loves talking about his
garden and his plants. Unfortunately, it started to rain soon
after I came to Ruby and Alex's place what stopped my visit and
picture taking there. I had three hours drive back home and
didn't want to sit in the car soaked wet and get cold. May be
| ... Alex passed away suddenly, on April 12,
2011, from complications with pneumonia. His death is a great
loss for the Kootenays gardening community.
We will miss you, Alex, very much.