How to Pass Heirloom Seeds to the Next Generation

Sister Diane Brennen and Janice Brant dividing up seeds.

BY CATE HENDERSON

In 2017 I wrote an article for this publication that quoted Father Thomas Berry and stated: “For this reason, the Heirloom Seed Sanctuary seeds are not a collection of objects that can be packaged up neatly in bubble wrap and put in the corner of the basement to be unpacked again when we get around to it. They are living beings who must be grown out on a regular basis and given the opportunity to realize their potential.” And here we are in 2019, in the 20th year of the Heirloom Seed Sanctuary ministry: Sisters and volunteers are packing seeds into crates in the hope that they will indeed be lovingly grown out and given the opportunity to realize their potential on new land. The two groups chosen to steward the seeds are KASSI (Kingston Area Seed System Initiative) and Ratinenhayen:thos (We the Seed Planters) of Tyendinaga.

This task of dividing up the seeds between the two organizations chosen to steward them is a big one, but it is far from the only task necessary to complete.  There has been some discernment on the part of the partner organizations as to what they can reasonably accomplish, which has led in part to a Seed Division Protocol to guide us in this task.  

Ratinanhayen:thos and KASSI are also meeting with Sisters and staff to develop a proper ceremony to honour the work that has been done and the transition to future stewards.

But the most time-consuming task by far has been amassing information to go with the seeds, so that the stories and needs of the seeds themselves and how they grow are not lost and can be understood and embraced by the new growers. Over the years we have kept notebooks and paper calendars, paper and digital crop record sheets, electronic spreadsheets, a database complete with seed packet labels and photos-many, many photos! All of this disparate information needed to be brought together in a usable format, a binder that can be taken out to the field and a computer database for easier lookup and tracking of information. The binder contains information on all the varieties so the new stewards know what to look for and how each variety typically behaves. The database is an updated version of what was built for the Heirloom Seed Sanctuary and includes variety information, research notes, seed saving notes, seed harvest information and photos of ideal plant growth for most varieties. A 46 page document has been created with text descriptions of all varieties currently in the collection. Along with our collected photos it would make a beautiful coffee-table book!

Over the years many seeds have been shared with the community in various ways-from donations to Loving Spoonful and the Community Gardens Network to free seed packets on the swap table and “How-to” workshops at Kingston Seedy Saturday-so hopefully the people of this area are carrying on in their own ways and gardens as well.  And of course Sisters Alda, Avita and Pat have received the seeds they requested for planting their food gardens.

This has been a wonderful learning opportunity and I wish the Sisters and Seeds all the best!

Jars of seeds on shelves.
1. Taking a variety from the collection.

Pouring beet seeds from a large jar into a smaller jar.
2. Dividing seeds for their new homes using the Seed Division Protocol.

3. Weighing and recording the newly divided amounts.

Sister Shirley Morris puts the newly measure and cataloged jar of seeds into a crate for one of the two partner groups.
4. Packing seeds into crates for traveling to their new homes.
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Providence Motherhouse

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Kingston, Ontario, K7L 4W4

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