I’ve found the answer: they exchange seeds.
Imagine this: A gardener, let’s call her Helen, has transitioned her veggie plot into hibernation mode. She’s cleaned out the remains of the vines and bushes, planted cover crops if she can, and seen the sparkly crystals of frost glittering on the surface of her beds. A Saturday morning rolls around, and she—usually one to pop out of bed and throw on her ripped garden jeans to head out to be with her plot—shuffles in her slippers to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, then plops in front of the computer.
Helen turns on the computer, waiting impatiently through the startup screens, sipping the coffee and pulling her robe tighter against the cold of the morning house. When the computer wakes up, she begins clicking through her bookmarked forums, signing in as (What screen name shall we give her? Hmm. I’ve got it.) lnched1000ships_69.
In this virtual world, lnched1000ships_69 is gardening. She’s tending to her crops for next year, culling her excesses, and adding diversity where needed. Her latest post, “HAVE: heirloom tomato seeds, many varieties,” has drawn responses from other gardeners all over the country, the most thrilling from veggie_daddy who has offered her Fordhook Gem melon and Kentucky Greasy Bean seeds for her Reisenstraube and Omar’s Lebanese tomato seeds. Oh, she has been wanting to try growing Kentucky Greasy Beans for years! Giddy with the taste of the legendary bean, she emails veggie_daddy offline, tells him she’s in for the deal and gives him her address.
When she heads back to the forum, a new posting leads the list: HAVE: Seminole squash seeds available by SASBE. She learned early on, when she first got in the seed trading game, that SASBE meant “self-addressed stamped bubbled envelope” and a deal that was too good to pass up, free seeds.
In ten minutes, she’s already added to next year’s garden and shared her wealth with others. She can spend hours on seed exchange forums. It may be an addiction, but at least it is passing the time until she can get her hands in the dirt again.
Now, clearly, Helen is not me, for I could never, ever pull off a screen name like lnched1000ships_69. But, I’ve gotten in the game too. This summer, ECG collected plastic snap-close boxes at his lab for me to keep seeds in (I place the boxes in a larger box and keep them in a cool, dark closet), and I’ve been trading what little I have and taking advantage of those glorious SASBE offers. Seed trading is not only a fun way to connect with people all over and to build up our gardens, but it helps us keep even the rarest of heirlooms alive. In a recent exchange, I received seeds for a small, yellow-fleshed watermelon that is an American Indian heirloom I’ve never heard of. These were seeds that the sender included as a “Christmas gift;” they were an extra I hadn’t even exchanged for. And now, they’ll grow in another garden, and this little melon will stay alive in the midst of the ever-narrowing genepool of industrial agriculture.
To see seed exchange forums, and perhaps even participate, check out these sites:
In the spirit of passing along seeds, I’ll pass along one of my favorite late fall, early winter recipes that you don’t even need to send a SASBE to receive.
I’ve modified this recipe a bit from the James Beard classic, found in his little beauty, Beard on Bread, to fit the needs of our household. This time of year, when the persimmons are in abundance around here, I cook with them a lot. This is one of my favorite means of using the fruit. I can eat this bread all the time, with butter or cream cheese, or even plain, but ECG and I both agree that the best way to eat this is spread with a soft, salty, creamy blue cheese. Persimmon bread with blue cheese and a good cup of hot coffee may just be the perfect breakfast on a cold morning.
You will need:
3 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 ¾ cups sugar
3 tablespoons flaxmeal
1 cup melted butter
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups persimmon purée (the pulp of about 4 medium, very ripe persimmons—not necessary to peel)
1 ½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup raisins
3 loaf pans, greased and floured
To make the bread:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir all the dry ingredients (flour, salt, soda, ginger, sugar, and flax) together in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add the persimmon purée and the rest of the ingredients. Mix the dough until all ingredients are thoroughly combined, and pour the mixture into the loaf pans, so that each pan has approximately the same amount of batter. Bake for 1 hour, or until the bread bounced back when gently depressed by a finger in the center of the loaf. Cool the loaves in the molds and turn out on a rack.
(Oh, and if you're looking for something fascinating to watch while you're munching on persimmon bread or putting your seed list together, check out Mustard Plaster's recap of her garden here. It's definitely worth a visit.)