Seeds of Growth in Southern California

by Krystal Rains

21688079_sAmong other traditions of the New Year, I participate by choosing a ‘word’ to focus on during the upcoming year. My word for 2018 is “Growth”. While that has many personal meanings, my work with the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA) is certainly a significant part of it. I cannot imagine a better opportunity for me to share the seeds of my ‘growth’ than in this Imbolc season newsletter.

In 2013, a fellow female Veteran let me know that she was attending a meeting 5 minutes from my home, and that became my first introduction to SLOLA. While I wasn’t up to vegetable gardening at that time, the mission of this organization was something I was excited to support, and I joined for a lifetime membership fee of $10.  Founded in December 2010, the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA) is headquartered at The Learning Garden at Venice High School. The San Fernando Valley branch was the first out-growth of the main library when they recognized the significant difference in climate between the SFV and Westside LA, and what and how to grow in the different regions. In the past few months there have been new branches opening in Woodland Hills and Altadena with another soon to open in Watts.

“SLOLA MISSION is to facilitate the growth of open-pollinated seeds among residents of the Los Angeles Basin. We are building a seed collection and repository, educating members about the practice of seed-saving, and creating a local community of seed-saving gardeners. We seek to preserve genetic diversity, increase food security and food justice in our region, safeguard alternatives to GMO’s, and empower all members through a deeper connection with nature and the experience of self-reliance. We will strive for excellence in all that we do, knowing the preservation of seed is a sacred trust.”

Unlike a seed bank, a seed library is interactive. Members can check out seeds for free in the hope that they will take them out, plant them and in the next two years, let a few of the plants ‘bolt’ and bring some of those seeds back to the library. Many members also donate favorite seeds to the library to expand the collection. Meetings include a presentation to spur enthusiasm and learning for members of all interests and skill levels. Presentations I have enjoyed have been about Peppers, Tomatoes, composting (traditional and worm), several urban farms in the LA Basin (including a couple of field trips), water capture systems, and recently a presentation by the founder of the Palestinian Seed Library.  Each branch has a slightly different perspective and format. Our SFV branch includes a luncheon potluck, the Woodland Hills branch is part of a community produce exchange, and the Venice and Altadena branches have various presentations.

My recent contribution to our local branch was a presentation on “Seed Saving in the Native Garden”. I have my own California Native Garden that started over 9 years ago with whole plants; it is designed to self-seed when appropriate, but this gave me a chance to learn more about native plant seeds and seed saving. After my first presentation at SFV in October, I was asked to present at the Woodland Hills branch in December, again in January at the Venice main branch, and in Altadena on February 3rd.

Native plants might sound unusual in a fruit and vegetable garden, but there are important reasons to add a few native plants in your own garden. Many people are aware of the problem of the honey bee colony collapse. This is devastating for many reasons, and as an herbalist, I value my honey bees, but I also value the over 1400 native California pollinators. Using native plants in your gardening is as important as their use in large agricultural farms and vineyards, because it increases the yield and health of the other plants. Those native pollinators require specific plants to survive, just as the Monarch Butterflies require milk weed, but they pollinate many other plants. For more information on Native plants, I recommend the Theodore Payne Foundation and the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden, two important organizations in the history and preservation of our California native plant species.  Their members literally wrote many of the books on the subject. As native plants are becoming more popular, you will find many gardens and nurseries carrying them. There are other organizations in other areas of Southern California that are great resources too, but these are what I am most familiar with. The California Native Plant Society has an amazing reference  for landscaping, called Calscape, that includes which at nurseries you can find the plants locally. The appropriate season to plant and seed most of our local native plants has nearly ended (although native milk weed should be planted in early spring), but I hope that these resources will give you inspiration to plan and design some interesting upgrades in your own gardens. Plan on planting between October and January of next season as this will give the plants the best chance at surviving our harsh summer temperatures when many are dormant.

Continuing on my personal theme of “growth,” I am excited to be working on edibles in my own backyard this year. I already have two citrus trees, some herbs, and succulents. A recent visit with a friend and her very active imperfect gardening has inspired me, especially as she shared plants, cuttings and seeds. My ancestral heritage is farmers on both sides of my family, but childhood divorce separated me from the family that would have helped me learn to grow, cook and preserve food at just the age that I would have started. Each of the steps I take on this part of my path is forging a better connection with my ancestral line in a healthy and productive way. I have emotional blocks and anxieties that have slowed my connection, but I can hear the encouragement in my heart each time I attempt something new in my gardens.

Links:

Seed Library of Los Angeles
My native garden album on Facebook 
Altadena Seed Library presentation event
Theodore Payne Foundation 
Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden
California Native Plant Society
Calscape (a service of the Native Plant Society)

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