Lately, I feel as though our garden has turned into a battle zone. I'm either drowning Colorado beetle larvae, preventing cutworms, trying to foil cabbage worms or rub off the thousands of eggs they have laid on our growing food. If it is not the countless other pests and diseases trying to take over, it is the excessive heat, excessive rain or excessive wind storms that are trying to do my plants in.
And then, there is my back alley and the vacant lot next to us. It is full of weeds - or wild plants - depending on your perspective. I see no out of control pests devouring holes in leaves, no eggs on their undersides, no diseased parts (although I'm sure it's there to a degree). It seems peaceful compared to my growing plot. Here grows dandelions, and over there you'll find wild chamomile. There is also plantain, multiple varieties of clover and countless other plants crowded together in bunches, each doing its own thing without help from anyone and thriving.
The ground isn't much different on either side of the fence. In fact, I would argue that the soil in my garden is better. And yet, how is it that the wild plants seem to be growing so well with no care at all? It is a curious thought, isn't it? I have a feeling that the answer lies in one word: adaptation. It is the difference between wild plants and cultivated ones. Unless we are saving our own, the seeds we are using have likely come from another environment, different soil, and quite possibly, pampered greenhouse conditions. Compare that to the wild plant: it reseeds itself in the vicinity it has adapted to survive in. Wild plants have developed characteristics and properties that enable them to survive in less than ideal soil, in extreme weather conditions and against all other manner of pests and diseases.
I think back to my garden: it requires a lot of intervention. If I do not water it, thin it, weed it, debug it, cover it or use homemade concoctions, I'm not sure how much produce I would have to harvest at the end of the season. It is a lot of work.
This rant is likely just the result of a seriously exhausted gardener looking for ways to make growing food easier. But, could it also be that our produce seeds need some toughening up? I think the answer is YES!, and it provides a good case for saving one's own. Seeds that survive under minimal attention, that thrive despite local pests and diseases are really what we need more of, especially as weather conditions become more unpredictable.
I don't mean to underestimate the work that seed savers do, nor do I mean to oversimplify this topic. I am new at saving seeds myself. However, after several years on the front line, I'm feeling slightly desperate to see gardening become less of a challenge. There are many ways, I'm sure, but my thoughts lately have been on the seeds themselves. Experience makes us as humans stronger, but how do the characteristics of plants evolve if we continually purchase new seeds from far away places? Our garden produce is not given the opportunity to adapt to and eventually thrive in adverse, local conditions. Perhaps my own solution is to start learning about old fashioned trait selection and seed saving with the hope of creating hardier varieties of garden seed rather than trying to make seeds imported from a completely different environment work.
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