The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

A Druid’s Primer on Land Healing, Part VI: Working with Sites that Will Be Destroyed April 2, 2016

As I’ve mentioned throughout this series, the energetic land healing work that you do is largely based on the situation at hand–what is occurring, what has occurred, or what will occur. Sometimes, you are aware in advance that the land will be severely damaged or destroyed. Trees being cut down for new human structures, pipelines being put in the ground, new strip malls being built, new highways going in, scheduled logging, routine “cutting” of trees under power lines, massive surface mining operations and mountaintop removal, and much, much more are very common these days. Lands and waterways all over the place are under duress at present, and this kind of destruction is common in every corner of the world. Its one thing to hear about these issues, and its another thing to be directly confronted with them.  Today’s post is going to look at what we can do to help energetically and physically with sites that are going to be destroyed.  We’ll also briefly explore the self care strategies necessary for this kind of work. Today, we tackle what I consider to be the hardest situation of healing work: knowing that impending destruction will take place–and being willing to do something about it.

 

Note: Today’s post continues my land healing series, and if you haven’t read the earlier posts, I would strongly suggest you read them in order first, as this post builds on the previous ones and doesn’t explain terms that I’ve gone into depth with before. Here are links to the full series: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.

 

Remember that THIS is why we heal the land!

Remember that THIS is why we heal the land!

Self Care Strategies, Mental Health, and Environmental Destruction

Going to a place that will be destroyed prior to its destruction, holding space for it, and witnessing the aftermath, is in my opinion one of the hardest situations to work with as a land healer.  And so, before we can attend to the land, I want to briefly through the mental health implications of such work.  Grist magazine recently ran a story on the mental health implications of mountaintop removal, one of the first stories I’ve ever seen on this topic. As the article suggests, the loss of “homeplace”, places where one grew up or is intimately connected with the land, has severe mental health consequences.  Of particular note, high rates of clinical depression and higher rates of suicide are linked with such destruction. While the Grist article focused on mountaintop removal, other articles and studies have looked at the overall linkage to environmental destruction and mental health in places all over the globe; one study in Australia is of particular note. I don’t really think we need scientific studies to tell us how bad watching environmental destruction is firsthand is–however, maybe knowing there is scientific research helps us feel less “unbalanced” or “crazy” after working on such a site. What I really worry about are the people who feel nothing, the people who actively destroy.

 

The truth is, This is the really difficult stuff, the stuff you wish you didn’t have to see, the stuff you wish you didn’t have to experience.  No amount of daily protective or energetic work takes away that pain and suffering that you feel as a witness. I just want to clarify that, and tell you that it’s OK to feel this way. As I wrote about last week, part of what we have to do is start acknowledging, paying attention, and holding space.  It’s also OK if you feel you can’t handle something, or if you have to step back for a bit.  This stuff is overwhelming at times (especially depending on where you live).  I’ve been feeling a bit unbalanced in this regard since coming back to PA because of the many kinds of destruction here present: logging, fracking, mountaintop removal, acid mine runoff, factory pollution–to name a few.  Its hard to deal with seeing this stuff everywhere, often, and even trying to go into a natural place free of fracking wells, for example, is a difficult thing to do.

 

Given this, its important that as we do various healing work on sites–particularly those that will be destroyed or undergoing active harm–we practice self care. I have found, personally, that doing this energetic work outlined here in this post really helps me overcome the strain and pain of these kinds of situations.  For me, painting through it, or playing my flute, or visiting places that are protected for rejuvenation also helps (I’ll write about this in more detail in an upcoming post).  I’ll also note that going to places that are actively regenerating, and looking for the regeneration, and regenerating it physically is another way to work through the trauma.  But its there, and its real, and we can talk openly about it and acknowledge it for what it is.  And with that said, let’s look at some specific strategies for healing for sites that will be destroyed.

 

Strategies for Land Healing on Sites that Will Be Destroyed

 

Experiencing the powerlessness of visiting a site that will be destroyed is difficult, but you are not actually powerless.  I learned this lesson in Michigan–we had a replacement oil pipeline coming in, cutting across the whole state, to replace an old pipeline that was no longer in use.  The new pipeline required a lot of digging up of the earth, cutting of trees, damaging the land, and it was really awful (I blogged about it a bit here and some of the restoration work here; I also wrote about oil pipelines energetically here). This particular pipeline was doubly damaging because the pipeline was pumping tar sands oil through its veins, and that’s really bad stuff for the land. A good friend of mine had a number of acres of forests that would be cut along the pipeline route. She asked me to come and do what I could for the trees and the land, as a druid. And so, I and a few others came together and did what we could–and we were rather amazed by the experience.  I can tell you this–doing something, the somethings outlined here, make a world of difference when compared with doing nothing.  I’ll also mention that a lot of what you can do on such a site depends on if its private or public, and so I’m going to share some strategies that can work for different kinds of sites.  Most of these are energetic healing strategies, but a few have physical components as well, and doing some work on both levels is really effective.

 

Skunk cabbage coming back after the land has done some healing!

Skunk cabbage coming back after the land has done some healing!

Communicating with the land. I begin this kind of work by speaking with the land, using both inner and outer approaches.  For those who don’t know what I mean here, I would suggest reviewing my discussions of connecting with trees on the inner and outer planes–most of what I wrote in those posts applies.  I share with the land what I know will happen and when, and listen to what it responds in turn.  I offer to help and ask it of its needs.  Sometimes, I am asked to return at a later date.  Sometimes, I am asked to leave and not return.  But most of the time, I’m asked to stay and help as I am able.  This, as I wrote in the post on the process of unfolding, is the necessary first step.

 

Saving Seeds and Transplanting. For trees that will be cut, places that will be destroyed, etc, I highly advocate transplanting and saving seeds.  Even a single plant saved from a site that will be destroyed can be a very healing action.  For example, when my friend’s land was being logged in Michigan, I gathered hawthorn haws and apples from the trees; these I planted in fields where they would have a chance to grow.  I also saved a New England Aster plant that I transplanted to my homestead, and saved seeds from a number of other plants.  You can’t save everything, but you can save a few key things, and the land and her spirits find this kind of work extraordinarily healing. Even more powerful–if you save the seeds from those that will be lost, and later, you can go replant them in the same spot–you are engaging in extremely powerful healing work. I’ll also say that if you can bless those seeds, using something like what I wrote about here, and then replant them, that’s even better. What this does, essentially, is ensure a future for some of the plants and trees. You are saving this land’s offspring and future offspring. There is nothing more sacred and powerful than that act.

 

Now there is a whole other layer to this, I’ve discovered, through the practice of herbal medicine.  The seeds I mentioned above that I gathered are all healing plants and trees.  New England Aster, for example, is a fantastic lung relaxant plant and something that a number of people now take for treating asthma and other lung conditions (myself included!) When I replanted that New England Aster plant, I saved its seeds and I harvested some of the flowers each year for medicine. That medicine was shared with others.  So were the seeds–I started them–growing new asters, that I’ve given to people and made medicine from (in fact, I have some downstairs right now growing for new friends here in PA!)  Think about that energetically–here is a site that is devalued through human activity. When nature is replaced with something else, whether that is a strip mall, an oil pipeline, and so forth, the message is that nature is of little to no value in its current form. But, through herbal medicine, plant, and seed saving,  I’ve given that land a different narrative.  Showing that the plants it holds, through their very nature, are valued.

 

The New England Aster seeds

Saving the seeds…

Putting the Land in Hibernation. One of the best things you can do in this circumstance, and what a lot of these other strategies that I describe next are getting at, is to put the land in stasis or hibernation energetically, to help it disconnect in some way from the pain and suffering that will happen. This is really the underlying key this kind of work. If you can find a way to lower the energetic vibrations and consciousness of the land, to disconnect it, to help send its spirits away, that is the best thing you can do. Its kind of like giving a suffering person a pain killer–it helps make the process bearable, even though its still painful.  We’ll look at a number of techniques aimed at doing this–and you can also let your own intuition guide you in this respect.

 

 

Working with the Stones. I have found, at times, that with logging or other surface destruction (something that is not impacting the bedrock), you can preserve the energetic patterns of the land by sending them into them into the bedrock, into the soil, beneath the land.  This is another “putting the land to sleep” kind of strategy, and one that is particularly powerful. The rocks can hold this energy for a time, sometimes, a very long time. Its hard to put this practice into words.  Essentially, every living landscape has knowledge, wisdom, energetic patterns, that are in need of preservation in the face of destruction.  These energetic patterns are part of the land uses to heal and regenerate when the time is right.  I believe, that if you do this work with the stones before destruction, it can help regenerate the land much more effectively once regeneration can occur.

 

Part of the reason that this works was revealed to me when I was at Ohiopyle State Park in the Laurel Highlands region of PA late last year. I was walking there with a fellow druid and dear friend, and we came across all of these fossils there on the edge of the Youghiogheny river. The fossils were from very ancient forests, ancient trees and branches, shells and more. I realized, at that moment, that the stones and the living landscape were extremely intimately connected–the stones themselves had been living plants at one time–and now they are all beneath the living landscape. I had been using these connections could be used for healing work for some time, but this realization helped me understand why.  These stones, fossilized stones in particular (of which we have layers all over the planet) can handle living resonances particularly well.  And hold them for as long as necessary.

 

My method of doing this is simple–I enter a state of meditation and open myself up to the rhythms and flows of the land.  I explain what is happening, and show the spirits of the land what I could do with regards to the stones. If I get the affirmative, I essentially take those same energetic patterns, and, using the solar current, push them deep within the stones, deeper than any destruction can go. IMoving energy in this way can take a lot of effort–and a lot of practice.  Many of the energy healing practices (like Reiki) or magical practices help attune you to the movement, raising, and flowing of energy, and so those are particularly helpful for doing this work, especially on a larger scale.  Reiki practice and other esoteric forms of energy work, for example, teach you how to work with others’ energy (whether that other is a person, plant, or landscape) while not sacrificing your own or sending your own somewhere else.  Make sure, if you are doing this work, that you are practicing extreme caution in this regard.  Otherwise, this work can be extraordinarily depleting, which is not what we are going for!

 

I’ll also note that this particular “stone” technique would not be as effective for fracking and mountaintop removal.  Oil pipelines that go only 10 or 20 feet below the surface would probably be OK. I am in the process, now, of developing strategies for the fracking wells and mountaintop removal–and when I’ve done so, I can share those as well.

 

This is ghost pipe when its a little past its prime and is going to seed. There is a wild bumblebee on the flower! You can also see the dried ghost pipe sticking up as they complete their growth cycle.

This is ghost pipe when its a little past its prime and is going to seed. There is a wild bumblebee on the flower! You can also see the dried ghost pipe sticking up as they complete their growth cycle.

Working with Ghost Pipe to Distance the Pain. One particular plant spirit energy is good for this kind of work, especially for when the destruction starts happening or is ongoing. Its a plant called Indian Ghost Pipe, Ghost Flower, Indian pipe (Latin Name: Monotropa Uniflora). This plant, when used for human herbal healing, offers distancing from pain and suffering or, as Sean Donohue writes, it helps in “putting the pain beside you.” Ghost pipe also functions as a plant that helps cross the boundaries between the worlds, very useful when destruction is imminent or just beginning. I have worked extensively with this plant over a period of years, and I have found it to be an extremely potent ally for land healing work–both for you as the healer and for the land.

 

What this plant does, energetically, is essentially provide a buffer to the pain and suffering the land experiences both before the event and in the middle of ongoing destruction.  Its an exceedingly good plant to use for palliative care applications as well as this specific one.

 

Usually, to work with this plant spirit in land healing, I will do one of several things.  My first method is to see if there are any ghost pipes growing on the land (they come out in midsummer, after good rains, usually for me here that’s late June into July and August).  If they are present, I sit and connect with them.  A lot of times though, Ghost Pipe isn’t present on the land.  And so for this, I tincture the plant (I make a tincture in the same method of my write up on magical crafting and hawthorn). Note Ghost pipe is particularly watery, so a high proof alcohol is needed for the tincture.  I water the tincture down quite a bit, putting a dozen or so drops in fresh spring water (blessed through a healing ritual). Then, when I go to do the land healing work, I will bring the ghost pipe-blessed water with me, dropping it at intervals around the location, usually on trees and roots. If I can, I will try to drop it on at least the four quarters of the space, or find other prominent markers (large dominant trees work well).  Alternatively, if bringing the ghost pipe tincture and spring water isn’t possible, I will place the tincture on some stones that I will bless, and then bring them with me to the site. If I don’t have any tincture or stones, I can still summon this plant in my mind’s eye, and envision the Indian pipe rising up out of the ground and covering the land (I’ve used that particular strategy when I witness suffering–like a truckload of factory farmed chickens going off to the slaughter while driving down the highway, for example).  This year, I’m also going to make a magical anointing oil with ghost pipe (probably dried ghost pipe due to its high water content) and use that as well.

 

I would suggest if you want to use this plant in the manner I am suggesting here, you should start cultivating a relationship with it in your own life: finding it in the forest, sitting with it, tincturing it, taking some tincture when you need it, etc. In fact, it works extraordinarily well in regards to giving you processing space from the mental health difficulties associated with this work.  This plant is extremely distinctive and nearly impossible to mistake for another (and yes, its a plant, not a mushroom).

 

A recent painting of ghost pipe I did to study the plant further

A recent painting of ghost pipe I did to study the plant further

I will end by saying that Ghost Pipe has a tremendously large range in North America (see this link).  However, if you live outside of its range or in a different part of the world, I am certain that you can find another plant with similar features–you’ll need to consult local herbals (or herbalists, medicine makers, wild men/women, etc); alternatively, you can trade for some from someone living in an area where it grows (like me!).

 

Distance Palliative Care and Healing Work

A final technique that I’ll share for now involves taking a stone or some other natural thing from the land (a piece of branch, etc) that can then be worked on further at a distance. I did this kind of work when I was in Michigan a lot with regards to this pipeline and some other sites that needed ongoing palliative care–if I felt led, I would take a stone with me and bring it to a special altar I had setup on my homestead. The altar had protective warding around it (both stones and water) that helped shield the rest of my sacred sanctuary from anything that might be brought in with the linked stone. Then, at regular intervals, I would do whatever healing work I could–play music there, just sit there and hold space, pour blessed water over the stone, etc.  Sometimes, at a later point, I would return the stone to the land. Sometimes, it would stay for a long period of time, just sitting there.  I use my intuition in this regard.

 

I think that’s enough for this week–I’m over 3000 words here, and there’s lots more to say.  We’ll continue to work through these different techniques–and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences with what I’ve just posted.

 

Sowing the Seeds of the Future: Spiritual Insights on Seed Starting and Growth December 16, 2013

Sprouting lettuce for spring planting

Sprouting lettuce for spring planting

There is so much magic in a tiny seed. Dormant, still, silent, the seed speaks of unimaginable potential. The seed is the first—and last—step in the cycle of most plant life; they complete the circle of life. Seeds can lay dormant for years, decades, and in some cases, centuries.  When parched earth finally gets rain, when the fires die down and only ash remains—the seeds carry new life forth.

 

Growing a plant from seed is a magical experience. Through this process, a magical transformation takes place both in the druid gardener and in the seed. You nurture and support the seed, giving it rich soil, light, warmth, and water. The seed nurtures you, providing lessons, healing, and strength. In the briefest of moments, the seed sprouts, sending tendrils up into the heavens and down into the earth, uniting the solar currents of the sun and the telluric currents of the earth. For some fast-growing plants, you can literally see them growing early in their life cycle. This same process is mirrored within the soul of the grower, hope and life are born anew.

 

As the seed springs forth, its first two leaves (called cotyledons) are not “true leaves” but rather represent the seed’s first tender steps into a larger world. Once true leaves develop, the plant takes on the characteristics of its variety.  Like a human infant, springing forth is only the first step of the journey of growth and development.

 

Sorting seeds in December!

Sorting seeds in December!

I know that for many, the period between Alban Arthan and Imbolc can be challenging because of the darkness and cold. But I, sitting near my warm fire with the seeds of hope and life, enjoy such times. As a druid gardener, December and January are times of such joy, for these are the times when I return to my seeds. I spend weeks sorting through saved bags of seeds, remembering seeds given to me from friends, re-establishing relationships with seeds I have been saving for years, or studying new seed packets I purchased.  Part of this is just to reconnect to the plants, to look forward to what is to come.

But, this is so I can plan how much seed I need to start and when I need to start it. For the seeds I’ve saved, I think about the relationship I’ve shared with that plant, that strain of seeds. Now in my fourth year of serious organic gardening, I have strains of kale, lettuce, beans, tomatoes, corn, peppers, and herbs that I have had many years of friendship with—the seeds represent a way to carry our connection through the darkest of times before it begins anew.  As I sit with my packages of seeds, I reflect upon our past history and look forward to future harvests.

 

This year, dear readers, I suggest that you sow at least a few seeds. If you have the space for a larger garden, consider sheet mulching an area in the spring  and planting some vegetables. Create a sacred garden space for growth—of the druid and of the garden.  Growing a bit of your own food puts you in a sacred relationship with the land and its cycles—and all of it begins with the seed that you grow. If you only have room for a few pots on a porch or a windowsill, you can still experience the magic and teachings of the humble seed. I suggest starting some herbs (mint, oregano, or chives are all very easy to grow) or growing some vegetables in containers.

 

Once you start your seeds, consider your relationship to the plants.  I have found that plants really enjoy music, and I play my flutes and panflute for them often.  I speak to them, listen to their stories and secret tales, and open myself up to their teachings.  This is a very personal process, but you will your way. Meditation with the seedlings can provide great insights.  Connect with the spirit of that plant—each species has a spirit, and you can see that spirit out and learn from it.

 

If you decide to start seeds, ask around.  Chances are, someone you know has seeds and is willing to share.  If you are purchasing seeds, it is important to know that not all seeds are created equal.  The seeds of our ancestors were all what is now known as “heirloom” and “open pollinated” and could be easily saved from year to year and were adapted to the localized climates that they lived in. The seeds of today—including nearly all you would purchase in a big box store—are often genetically modified and hybridized. GMO and hybrid seeds are modified so that you can’t save them, and often have other modifications to the plant and/or are treated with chemicals. Energetically, these seeds represent the worst of humanity’s shattered relationship with nature, and buying them supports industries that are actively causing harm to our planet.

 

For seeds that are open-pollinated and heirloom, you can visit the Seed Saver’s Exchange, Horizon Herbs, Baker Creek Heirloom Seed, or High Mowing Seeds.  For information on how to start and save seeds, the book Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners (Ashworth and Cavagnaro, 2002) is a wonderful reference and one that I have used for many seeds.  I also have a post on seed saving spinach and lettuce seed this blog.

 

There is no greater magical gift in the world than that of a seed, and no greater magical act than that of growth.  If you have questions about seeds, seed starting, or magical gardening please feel free to contact me or respond here.

 

*I’d also like to acknowledge that some of my insights gained in this post came through mediation from the first knowledge lecture in Greer’s Celtic Golden Dawn system (which I have been studying for the last 8 months).

 

Seed Saving 101: Spinach & Lettuce Seed Saving August 24, 2012

Before Monstanto, before Walmart, and before any modern hybrid seeds available in convenient packets, humans saved seeds from season to season.  This brought us closer to our land, to the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, and to our own food.  These saved seeds, which were adapted to the particular climate and carefully chosen from the best fruit or plants available, were unique and wonderful.  In my own family’s history, we have journals detailing how when the women came over from Ireland, they stitched the seeds into their skirts to make sure they didn’t get stolen–their seeds were that important to their family’s prosperity.  Today, “seed savers” are those individuals who continue the practice of saving seeds and preserving old lines of seeds. In  a previous post, I detailed some good reasons for saving seeds and using heirloom-only varieties. In this post, I’m going to talk about saving two kinds of seeds–lettuce and spinach.

Watch out! Chickens enjoy spinach seeds....

Watch out! Chickens enjoy spinach seeds….and will snatch them up as you bag them!

Spinach and Lettuce Seed Saving

Two early spring greens you can grow each year are spinach and lettuce.  While the harvests of these two greens come quickly and with ease, saving the seeds requires quite a bit of waiting. Saving seeds from either plant is fairly easy, however.  Basically, rather than harvesting all of your lettuce or spinach, you let them grow.  Eventually, the plant will “bolt” which means it starts getting ready to produce seed (and for both, it means they don’t taste good at all).  Lettuce and spinach will both grow up in a tall, stalk with short leaves jutting out the whole way up the stalk.

Lettuce that is bolting

Lettuce that is bolting…it has a large, woody stalk and small, very bitter leaves.

For Spinach, seeding takes about 50-60 days for the varieties I’ve been growing (American, Winter Giant, and Purple Passion).  Once you see the seed forming, just let that plant keep growing.  Eventually, the spinach will die and start to dry out and fall over–and THIS is when you collect it up.  I usually harvest it and hang it upside down for another week or two just to be sure.

Dried spinach seeds still on stalks (American Spinach)

Dried spinach seeds still on stalks (American Spinach)

For lettuce, the seeding process actually takes a little longer, around 70-80 days.  You’ll see your lettuce start to get little puffs–it works a lot like a dandilion.  The puffs open up, and if you are unlucky, your lettuce seed all blows away.  You can capture it by shaking it into a bag.  Or you can dry the stalk right before it opens up.  I let so much lettuce seed that I don’t notice much loss from the wind. Like spinach, when they are at their seeding stage, you can hang them upside down for a week or so.

Seeding Lettuce

Post-Seeding Lettuce

Once you have let your stalks dry, you can either carefully pull the seeds from the stalks and heads, or you can just put the whole stalk/head in a bag and store it that way.   I usually opt to do this, then I can hand out seeds to friends and they see the seed still on the stalk, reminding them about seed saving practices.  I also make sure to date my seeds, as most seeds are only good for a few years.  Keep the bag somewhere dry, cool, and dark.

Purple Passion Spinach Seeds

Purple Passion Spinach Seeds

 

Seed Saving, Heirloom Seeds, and Sustainability February 12, 2012

When I started patio gardening some years ago, I didn’t really know a lot about seeds.  Like most Americans, I had simply gone to the store, bought a packet of seeds (or a group of plants already started from a local nursery) planted them, tended them, and watched them grow.  Then, a good friend of mine opened my eyes to the real controversies surrounding seeds, and I worked to educate myself about this process–and realizing how important it is.

A quiet war has been waging for some time concerning the future of human food production around the globe–how it is produced, who controls it, and whether or not it is done in a sustainable or destructive manner.  In light of the recent news about the group of 3,000 organic farmers suing Monsanto and the growing Farmer’s Market/organic movement in America, I thought I would take some time to write about the importance of seeds for the average gardener. Understanding where your seeds come from and who is selling them is an important part of understanding gardening as a sustainable, earth-friendly practice.  This post will describe a bit about the types of seeds available and resources where you can find more information.  I’ll be doing a series on seeds in this coming year–including some posts on how to start seeds indoors and save certain varieties of seeds.

Types of Seeds: Hybrid vs. Open-Pollinated / Heirloom

There are essentially two types of seeds (and several sub-categories of seed) currently available: Open Pollenated/Heirloom and Hybrid:

Open-pollenated Strawberry Popcorn - Seeds saved from last year's farmer's market!

Open-pollinated seeds are seeds that are pollenated/propogated by natural means (birds, wind, etc) and usually are long-standing varities, carefully saved and grown each year.  Open-pollenated seeds can be saved from year to year, and will continue to produce the same variety (assuming no cross-pollination with other like plants, such as tomatoes).  Open-pollenated seeds were the only seeds that existed up until the latter part of the 20th century when big agribusinesses developed. 

Heirloom seeds refer to open-pollinated seeds that have some history–in that gardeners/farmers have been breeding the same variety for many years (how many years of breeding = heirloom status is subject to some debate in the gardening community).  Not all open-pollinated seeds are heirlooms, but most are. Open-pollinated Heirloom seeds are richly diverse–you can have black or yellow tomaotes, purple carrots, purple or pink potatoes, etc.  Or, one of my favorites, strawberry popcorn (in the photo above).

Hybrid seeds are seeds that have been created in a carefully controlled setting, usually focusing on yield output and consistent qualities.  Big seed companies (Monsanto, others) like hybrid seeds because, unlike open-pollinated varieties, you can’t save seeds year to year meaning that customers/gardeners/farmers must come back and purchase seeds each year for planting–which generates the seed company much revenue.  On a larger scale, the carefully controlled settings in which these seeds are produced limit biodiversity and ensure conformity–usually for overall yield production and size of fruit (but not flavor).  Part of the controversy with hybrid seeds is that some of them–like those produced by Monsanto–contain massive amounts of genetic modification, including built-in pesticides, etc.  Unlike open-pollinated varieties, these seeds haven’t developed naturally.

The use of hybrid seeds in farming, including an emphasis on yield and vegetable/fruit size has helped farmers increase profits.  However, it has contributed to a loss of biodiversity in our foods (see graphic below) as well as significantly declining nutritional value.

Corporate Control of our Seeds

Why Open-Pollinated Varieties Should Be Supported

So what? Who cares?   There are a few very critical reasons why gardeners should purchase open-pollinated seeds (whether or not they choose to save them).

#1) Biodiversity.  Evolutionary theory indicates that survival of an ecosystem and an individual species is about biodiversity–within a species and between species.  The long-term ramifications of limiting vegetables, fruits, grains, and herbs to a few small strains is potentially quite dangerous.  To give you one such example of why biodiversity matters: if a massive blight were to strike our vegetable crops, the more species of crops we have growing, the more likely one or more of these species would prove resistant.

#2) Flavor and nutrition. Open-pollinated seeds, which have not been highly genetically modified for vield and size, produce more flavorful, nutritious foods.  If you don’t believe me, try this experiment.  Purchase one packet of “normal” seeds from the big box store, and purchase 1 packet of “Black Krim” tomatoes from the Seed Savers Exchange. Grow a plant or two of each, and when the fruits are ready, compare them.  You’ll be amazed at the flavor of the Black Krim (and, I might add, so spoiled by the taste that you’ll never eat supermarket tomatoes again!)

#3) Variety for your garden.  You can grow a wide variety of interesting open-pollinated plants in your garden each year.  Last year, I grew three kinds of carrots (Paris Market, Dragon, and St. Valery) each with a distinct flavor and purpose.  The Paris market carrots were excellent for eating and soups, the dragon carrots, being more spicy, worked great for salads, and the St. Valery were saved for long-term storage in a root cellar bin (which I blogged about here).  If I didn’t have access to these wonderful varities, I would be stuck with just “carrot.”

#4) Sustainability.  It is unsustainable (and simply unwise) to depend on a few big seed companies year after year to provide suitable seeds for growing crops. What if something were to happen to our shipping lines and seeds weren’t available?

#5) Local Independence. What about all of that fossil fuel big agribusiness is using to move their hybrid seeds from place to place?  If farmers/gardeners were able to save their seed and use open-pollinated varieties, the seed for each year would be produced in the same place that it grew, minimizing dependence on fossil fuels.

 

Lovely open-pollenated arugula under my hoop house in early October

Seeds from a Druidic Perspective

As someone who uses gardening not only as a way to be a more environmentally conscious citizen, but also as a spiritual practice, I think the issue of seeds is also a critical one.  If we think about the energies that go into producing a seed, we begin to see the spiritual dimensions of this choice.  An open-pollinated seed is grown naturally, using the wind and birds to pollinate (air), the sun (fire), the rain (water) and the fertile soil (earth) to grow.  The hybrid seeds, grown in their carefully controlled lab settings do not necessarily have this elemental balance.  Furthermore, if we, as druids, are to be tenders of the land and lead by example, supporting long-standing traditional ways of growing our food rather than a system designed to maximize profits seems like a wise idea.

Each day, when I go to my beautiful, organic garden full of seeds that are open-pollinated in varieties that, until I grew them, I never saw in any store, I am once again amazed and awed by the value of life.

 

Resources for Open-Pollinated Seeds and Seed Saving

I have been working to save my own seeds (which is a work in progress, haha!) and also support companies and organizations devoted to keeping our open-pollinated and heirloom varieties of seeds available.  Here are a few resources for you:

The Seed Saver’s ExchangeThe SSE is a non-profit organization that is devoted to educating the world about seed saving as well as making many open-pollinated seed lines available to the everyday consumer.  This is where I’ve purchased the bulk of my seeds for my garden–and thus far, I have loved every single variety I’ve planted!

Victory SeedsThis is a seed company who grows and maintains many of their own seed lines–and the rest they get from other small farms.  They have a number of different seeds that you cant find at SSE.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  Another excellent source of open-pollenated seeds.  The owners of this company are also very active within the seed saving community.

Seed to Seed: A Seed Saving Handbook. When I started saving seeds, this was the best resource I found.  This book teaches you how to save many varieties of seeds and includes information about storage, preparing the seeds, and information for each plant type.  Well worth the price!