Category Archives: Perennial Vegetables

Seed Banks – Good Idea or Hype?

Someone asked me what I think of seed banks. I liked the question because it tells me people are thinking ahead, and that is something not enough of us do. Especially in the city. I know we are strange bedfellows, we sustainability freaks. Many of us are greeners because we love the planet. Many of us are gardeners because we love fresh food. Many of us are here because we are concerned parents who want the best for our children. Many of us are here because we believe we inherited a divine creation that has been desecrated and defiled and we are doing our best to make things right again. Many of us are here because we believe tough times are coming and we want to be more prepared. And some of you are here because your spouses force you to be.

The sentiments behind feeling like we need a seed bank are valid: if times get tough it will be quite awhile before seed houses can meet demand and you can bet your peapods prices will shoot up – especially where hybrids and GM seeds are concerned. You didn’t think seed growers and scientists were busy patenting seeds for no good reason, did you?

And to continue thinking we are immune to shortages and hunger is foolhardy. Even in my affluent neighborhood full of working two-income household professionals I was a little unnerved by how many comments I got at the last neighborhood potluck. Things along the lines of “if anything happens I’m coming to your house.” My response has been to provide as much gardening advice to neighbors as humanly possible because I may have enough food for the winter for us but I sure don’t for my entire neighborhood. Think food security in your neighborhood is good? How many meals do you think people can go without before they stop being polite? Start being aggressive? Begin stealing to feed their babes? My guess is not more than 6 meals.

But I don’t think seed vaults are the answer and here’s why:

Some seeds do keep for years under perfect storing conditions, but others, especially those really filling things like peas, beans, winter squashes, roots and potatoes – the things I would rather have versus a plate of sprouts in a survival situation – may not last longer than the next growing season.

It takes a few months to grow most foods. Some things need four or five months to really ripen, especially with the paltry sun and cool temps global warming has gifted the Northwest. If you are out of food, you don’t have four months, or even two. You may not even have the four days it takes to sprout greens.

Here is a better strategy:

Plant a four season garden.

Include as many perennial vegetables as possible.

Include lots of reseeding things, like arugula, hardy and wild lettuces, and kale.

Save seeds from plants that are easy to save, like peas and tomatoes and beans and corn and greens.

Grow things that store well over the winter, like potatoes and winter squashes and dried peas and beans. You can’t count on home canned goods or frozen things. What if there is an earthquake and all your jars break? Or utilities shut down and you lose the food in your freezer?

If you think utilities would never shut down for long think again. A few years ago we had torrential flooding in Seattle in mid-December and huge sections of the city lost power. Not just for a few days. Many for a few weeks. We were lucky in that our side of the street didn’t lose power but the houses across the street did – for 10 days. We ran power cords across the street for each other, cooked hot meals and provided showers for neighbors. We made a party out of it but if we had been without power it would not have been so festive. It was eye opening.

I can tell you that if there were suddenly no food at the grocery store I would get busy dehydrating the meat in my freezer and start planting. But before I did that, I would get my neighborhood together and teach them how to provide for themselves as well. An even better idea? Turn your next blockwatch into a preparedness meeting.

Perennial vegetables come in many varieties but I am most familiar with those that grow in my area. Here are some of my favorites:

    Alexander’s Seeds (Smyrnium olusatrum)
    Alfalfa (for rabbit and goat food – then for chickens to eat the spill and droppings, then into the garden)
    Artichokes
    Asparagus
    Bush kale (Brassica oleracea ramosa)
    Chicory
    Chives
    Dandelions
    Good King Henry
    Jerusalem artichokes
    Leaf Celery
    Lovage
    Oca
    Parsley
    Perpetual Swiss chard
    Salad burnet
    Sea Kale (Crambe maritima)
    Sorrel
    Tree Collards (Brassica oleracea acephala)
    Turkish rocket (Brassica unias orientalis)
    Walking onions

Where can you get seeds for these? I have found them all over the place, but just a few here and a few there:

  • Nichols Garden Nursery
  • Forest Farm
  • Sand Hill Preservation
  • Food Forest Farm
  • If you want to know more about perennial vegetables I highly recommend this book:

    Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles

    It’s worth it for the resources section alone.

    Rather thank banking seeds – start banking self-sufficient skills. I would rather rely on that than a bucket of overpriced seeds if it comes down to it.