Ancient Seeds for Modern Gardens


Ancient Seeds for Modern Gardens 

I recently received a seed catalog that, by accident, I found on the internet.  I got excited about this seed organization.  Native Seeds/S.E.A.R.C.H (Southwest Endangered Aridlands Resource Clearing House) is a nonprofit organization that, through their retail store, online store and catalog--where they sell seeds, are all a means to their mission to conserve, distribute and document the adapted and diverse varieties of agricultural seeds, their wild relatives and the role these seeds play in cultures of the American Southwest.  The company is located in Tucson, Arizona.

In the late 70s I lived in Las Vegas, New Mexico for a year   Located about 70 miles north and east of Santa Fe, I admit for a California gal I had to adapt to a new way of life.  There wasn’t a day that went by that my husband and I didn’t explore the area.  During that year I think we saw every mesa, every outpost, and every pueblo in the state.  Santa Fe became our favorite Sunday excursion.   We witnessed afternoon thunder storms that should have sent us running back to California.

What always fascinated me were their gardening practices.  We saw corn growing in the middle of nowhere, in little patches, and no water in sight.  We realized they couldn’t be planting modern day corn, or the other two sisters, beans and squash, that always grew together.  But ancient varieties that depended on what daily rain they received.  At the time we were working on a garden book called The Vegetable Gardener’s Sourcebook.  Since there were no commercial growers featuring Native American varieties, we couldn’t include them.

Today, there are two seed catalogs that feature Native American seed, Native Seeds/S.E.A.R.C.H and Plants of the Southwest (which has a limited variety).  Other seed catalogs offer a few native varieties, a few bean varieties, maybe some corn or a squash or two.    These varieties are drought tolerant and hardy and I don’t see any reason they wouldn’t grow in drought areas.  Native Seeds offers seeds that were originally collected from subsistence and small-scale farmers and gardens.  They state, ‘these are the food crops that have sustained traditional communities for centuries.  They have been selected and nourished by farmers over generations, becoming adapted to local culinary and ceremonial practices.  Some of the varieties come from high desert, others come from low desert and some come from both areas.’  

Another thing we witnessed during our year in New Mexico was during the harvest season were men who sat on the side of the road stringing those famous New Mexican hot chili peppers.  Houses had string after string of red chili ristras drying from their roof eaves.  What a colorful spectacle. 

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