SEEDS, TYPES, WHY WORRY, and Heirloom Seeds.

Notes for a radio broadcast on 91.9FM, KCSB,

9.13.12, program Spindrift, 9:30 am PST.


BY Marika Davidek and William Olkowski, PhD. 9.13.12


This quote is by the political philosopher, George Kennan, (from the biography by Ronald Seal, 2004).


Please keep this quote in mind as we explore the subject of seeds in today’s broadcast.


The GMO companies, led by Monsanto have taken over 67% of the world’s supply of seed.

This means that most of the seed sources for most of the world’s food is in corporate hands, and we have no control over these companies.

This is direct threat to the world’s food supply.



Two aspects are important with these facts:

1) Why is this happening?  and,

2) What about the remaining 1/3rd of the world’s seeds?

1) Why is this take over happening?


The attempted take over of the commercial seed industry has only occurred recently and is primarily aimed at pushing Genetically Modified Seeds.  This is done by monopolizing all seed sources available to farmers, but only selling the GMO seeds.  The farmers who don’t participate are sued when the pollens from the genetically altered crops are blown onto their crops which then become contaminated.  These contaminated crops are then subject to patent law infringement and the farmer is sued.  This is a deliberate attempt to manipulate farmers by threat so they will only buy GMO seeds.

Certainly this is an unethical practice, but if you have only money in mind, ethics will always be dammed.

For thousands of years seeds have been passed from generation to generation ever since the development of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent about 10,000 years ago.

So, today, the corporate policy of about 10 companies controls the largest proportion of the world’s seed and thus the main proportion of the world’s food supply.  And these companies are polluting the human food supply with strange genes never before found in most foods. This is an unprecedented TAKE OVER FOR THE sole PURPOSE OF MAKING MONEY FOR THESE COMPANIES.  We were doing fine before these companies existed.

THESE COMPANIES use GENETIC technology to pollute the sources of the human life everywhere.

IN THE PAST SUCH MONOPOLIES WERE BROKEN UP BY GOVERNMENT ACTION.  TODAY, with deregulation being the zeitgeist, such action cannot be expected for the foreseeable future.

Let me explain further with some botanical facts.

A seed is the result of a pollination process which is a sexual means of reproduction.  Sexual reproduction is a genetic means for suppressing mutations and for creating variation without mutations.  Most mutations are deadly.

Only 10% of flowering plants are pollinated without animal assistance.[3]  The most common form of abiotic pollination is wind pollination.  This form of pollination is predominant in grasses, most conifers (LIKE PINES), and many deciduous trees.

Plants can also be propagated vegetatively, but this just extends the same genetic combinations without suppressing mutations.  It’s asexual reproduction, strawberry runners are an example.

The most important animals responsible for sexual reproduction in plants are insects, particularly bees, but others also occur, such as bats and birds.

The results of such pollination are seeds.

So seeds are a plant’s method to reproduce itself.  It is also a storage and dispersal agent. Many seeds require a certain period of incubation and some sort of weathering.  Seeds need to be stimulated to send out its stems and roots to produce the first true leaves.

In the human past since agriculture started about 10,000 years ago, seeds were passed from generation to generation by farmers.  These seeds are open pollinated varieties, which are now called heirloom seeds.  Being open pollinated means the normal pollination process was in effect.  This means either wind or insect pollination, although there are seeds pollinated by bats and birds.

In 1950’s hybrid seeds were developed and seed companies sold these as ways to create bigger yields.  Hybrid seeds usually do not produce the same benefits in the second season, because pollination of these hybrids create uncommon genetic mixes, called “throwbacks”, which means the orginal parental genes are expressed.  And they can have good and bad aspects.

To get stable safe passage form year to year one needs open pollinated varieties.


Knowing a little bit about seeds makes you a better gardener and farmer by helping you to make conditions right for your food plants and to discourage weeds.  For example, to discourage weeds from sprouting, don’t disturb the soil as turning will bring up seeds.  If you must condition compacted soil turn it at night when the light conditions are low.  Weed seed needs light to germinate, besides moisture.

Most of the vegetable seeds of WHATEVER THE TYPE can be planted in the spring in the soil, add watered each day to keep the area wet, and presto, you will see a small stem pop up through the soil surface.  A small root also is formed and grows downward.

Some seeds however need some more help.  That’s because they normally require passage through the stomach of a bird or another animal.  Seeds don’t have legs so have been cleaver in figuring out how to get dispersed in the environment.  Some require cold temperatures, some hot, even fire to sprout.  Some have special hooks and sticky stuff so they can attach to an animal which will carry them around, which is how they can expand their ranges.

Scarification is the term used to describe any process for treating seeds to speed up their germination.  Sometimes a shallow knife scrap, or a light filing or a rub or two on sandpaper will open a hard protective seed coat.  Sometimes just a few weeks in a cold refrigerator, sometimes a chemical can stimulate germination.

Pests of Seeds

All sorts of organisms destroy seeds.  Of course birds eat enormous numbers of seeds as just a few minutes of BIRD observation will show.  Many insects eat seeds, milkweed bugs feed on the pods and seeds.  But when you want a seed to germinate and you put it into the ground sometimes they do not come up.  This is more covert. Fungi in the soil are always present and with the right temperature and moisture they will eat the seed before it can make it up into the light.  Many seed companies therefore treat their seeds with a fungicide.  With the growth of organic agriculture the seed community has developed seeds without these fungicides, so to get food without poison look for untreated seed, they are now common and are clearly labeled.

Heirloom Seeds

Fortunately, TODAY ABOUT 1/3 rd of the seed sources are not owned by Monsanto and their ilk.  So these sources are a force to push against these rapacious corporations.  There are many seeds still passed from generation to generation by farmers and seed savers.  One can learn about these sources by getting seeds from Heirloom sources.  These people are having a gathering in Northern California called the Heirloom Seed Expo.

This second annual conference in Petaluma, CA is expected to draw over 20,000 people.  There will be lectures, films, discussions and information exchanges at the Solano County fairgrounds from Tuesday the 11th to the 13th of September.  Many speakers from all over are coming to this little town formerly famous for its chicken ranches.  Also, the fairgrounds will be displaying over 3,000 heirloom varieties, some available to taste.

An heirloom seed is one that breeds true from seeds and is at least 50 years old in passage from season to season.  The heirloom seed industry is big in Europe and is just starting to grow here in the US as more and more people are starting home and community gardens.

Heirloom seeds, unlike genetically altered seeds, can be saved and replanted year after year. These open-pollinated seeds depend on nature’s pollinators for fruiting and evolving, whereas genetically modified seeds have been tampered with in the lab and are often treated with pesticides and herbicides.

The fear in the heirloom seed industry is that genetically modified seeds, which are patented and cannot be saved and replanted from year to year, will dominate, pollute and diminish the biodiversity of any given area.

The GMO crops are already known to pollute weeds, hybrid and organic crops by wind blown pollens.  This pollution is used by the Monsantos of the World to sue farmers claiming they have stolen their patented product.  UNBELIEVABLE.

When you own the supreme court and populate it with biologically ignorant lawyers what do you expect?  We could do a lot better.

The Heirloom seed industry is part of the pure food movement which got its start as a trade movement in the 1870s. Made up of food industry members, its primary mission was to advocate for a federal law against food adulteration.  But this idea is only now coming back to the US.

More information about the festival at

A friend, Amigo Bob Cantisano, is one of the speakers and he will be talking about an early seed saver named Felix Gillet.  We visited a site about 10 years ago around Nevada City, in Northern CA where many American Chesnut trees are still living.  The American chesnut was devastated when a pathogen called Chesnut Blight was accidentally introduced to North American many years ago.  The chesnut blight virtually destroyed the entire Native forest of Chesnuts.

Bob showed me a stand of these trees and at the time I was wonder stuck for I thought they were all gone.  I also found a large American chesnut up in Oregonon a friend’s farm at another time.  This means we could bring back the American chesnut from such sources, something akin to restoring a long lost species like we are doing with the condor, for example.

Remember the quote at the start of the broadcast?  I paraphrase it as: If we had the vision there is nothing we could not do to alleviate man’s condition.  So lets have a vision of restoration.  With such a vision, heirloom seeds will play a big part.

Confirmed speakers include Bob Hornback speaking about Luther Burbank, Amigo Bob Cantisano speaking on Felix Gillet, and Ram Fishman talking about on Albert Etter. John Preece, Research Leader at the Davis Germplasm Repository of the USDA, will speak about the extensive fruit collection at Wolfskill experimental farm, including heirlooms from around the world. Axel Kratel, a fruit collector who has grown over 500 varieties of apples, and other deciduous and subtropical fruits, will speak on his experience with European heirloom cider and fresh eating apples.


1: Get GMO labeling passed in California.  As California goes so goes the Nation.

2: Grow your own food and learn how to save seeds.

Labeling is first because the election is coming up rapidly and this labeling requirement can be accomplished by passage of a proposition here in CA.  Over a million people signed the petition to place the proposition on the ballot.  And when CA passes the proposition (37) other states will follow.  Then by knowing which foods contain genetically modified ingredients one can make a choice.  Now most of the main sources of calories in theUS(corn, soy beans, sugar beets, canola oil, others) are contaminated with GMO genes and their derived proteins which have not been tested for safety.  Roughly 80% of our food supply is already contaminated.

The deregulation push and some careful insertions of people from the GMO industry helped the regulatory agencies (FDA, EPA, USDA) skip over the testing requirements.  The assumption is that these products were safe.  It’s regulation by neglect.  The widespread contamination of the food supply and its associated genetic pollution is part of the payback for deregulation. 


With labeling we will be in a position to avoid buying any seeds or products sold by these companies (see list below).  Over 50 countries have already adopted such laws.  Only Canada and the US have not passed a labeling law

NEXT, START TO GROW YOUR OWN FOOD, STARTING WITH VEGETABLES.  I have been teaching and practicing this for over 40 years.  Now this idea is rising to become a reality as thousands of people are now starting to grow their own foods.  By growing your own vegetables you get pesticide free food, at little cost, and can begin to save your own seeds.  Plus there is no transportation cost.


The following extract from The City People’s Book of Raising Food (by H. andW. Olkowski, now out of print but to be republished again in the spring).  This book is instructive about saving seeds.

“We have had particular luck with saving our own seeds from peas, beans, carrots, onions (leave them in the ground over winter, they will flower the second season), lettuce, coriander, New Zealand spinach, chard, cooking celery, parsley, upland cress, and tomato. 

With most of the above you can either collect the seed from the dried flower head, or, as in the case of chard, keep the entire branchlet of seed pods stored for the winter.  With tomatoes you’ll need to mash away the pulp from the seeds.  Then dry them thoroughly, spread out on a paper towel or screen, before you store them away.”+

Chaos Gardening – The Lazy Man’s Way

The lazy man’s way to grown your own seed is to let plants go to seed in the garden.  For example, just let a lettuce plant go to seed.  Then you can harvest seedlings to eat directly or weed them out where you want to plant something else.

In my SB garden, for example, I let borage, sweet allysum, cherry tomatoes, nasturtiums, and fennel seed in, but pull them out where I don’t want them to grow up.  Borage is a good bee plant, sweet alyssum feeds the beneficial insects, cherry tomatoes taste good right off the vine, nasturtiums flowers are edible and fennel is a nice spice and feeds a beautiful swallowtail butterfly.



FINALLY WE LEAVE YOU WITH THE FOLLOWING STORY FROMRUSSIA.  Would you think seeds are worth human lives to defend?  The following true story raises this idea in a most dramatic way.

It’s a story we can gain courage and direction from:

This story is one of courage in the face of totalitarianism from the Nazi disaster which arose inGermanyin the 1930’s.

Most botanists and geneticists know the name Vavilov because he identified the centers of origin of cultivated plants.  His full name was Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov -1887 – 1943).

Vavilov was an outspoken critic of Lysenko, a scientist elevated by Stalin to dominate Russian agricultural policy.  Lysenko’s ideas have subsequently been shown to be false, but not until they ledRussiaon a many decade farcical, miserable agricultural policy.  For his criticism of Lysenko, Vavilov was arrested and died in prison in 1943 near the end of WWII.  So he gave his life for his scientific beliefs.

Vavilov is famous for discovering the origin of the main centers of cultivated crops.

By the early 1940s inSt. Petersburg (formally calledLeningrad) then the focus of one of the turning points in WWII, Vavilov had created a seed bank which had in its vaults almost 400,000 seeds gathered from all over the world. While the city starved under siege from the Nazis, Vavilov’s staff barricaded themselves in the seed bank, protecting this precious resource from both the starving citizens ofSt Petersburg and their invaders. Over the 28 month period of the siege, twelve of those scientists starved to death while literally surrounded by food. Why? Because they believed that saving those seeds for future generations, was more important than their own lives.