Farm News | February 14, 2023
Seed Stories for Seed Week
Seed stories from the Lauriston Farm community, and news of Scotland’s Seed Kist…
Hot Chilli Survivors
When I was living in Northern Thailand on a community farm, some friends from Sri Lanka came to visit and brought us some chilli seeds. These seeds grew into lovely, small, very hot, purple chillies. In 2016, there was a terrible drought in the area, and we had to evacuate people from the farm to a place where there was enough water. My family stayed behind and watched that Sri Lankan chilli plant appear to die – it lost all its leaves and withered. I used to feel sad when I walked past it. But then the rains finally came, and it revived and came back to life – the only chilli plant on the farm that survived. That plant taught me a lot about the need for diversity, and how learning which varieties can survive extreme weather – knowing your seeds and their strengths – is so essential for food security.
Powering Through with Perennial Kenyan Kale
My seed story is of perennial Kenyan kale – Sukuma Wiki. Translated literally from Kiswahili, Sukuma Wiki means ‘to push the week’.
The plant, quite ubiquitous in Kenya, can be found growing in gardens large and small across the country and is perhaps best described as a sort of ‘democratising vegetable’- traversing economic and cultural boundaries. It features prominently in most daily or weekly diets, helping Kenyans – rich and poor, and regardless of ethnicity – to ‘push along’ their week.
As Kenyans have travelled and settled across the world, they have often taken their Sukuma Wiki seeds with them. Wherever a small growing space can be found, it is often the first plant that many will try to grow in their ‘Diaspora’ gardens. Just as these communities have adapted to and thrived in the new places they now live, so too it turns out, has their kale. I know of Sukuma Wiki varieties growing in Ireland and as far away as Australia. A particularly hardy plant, it has adapted and proved quite tolerant to varying conditions – surviving just as well in an Upstate New York winter as it does under a hot Texan sun.
Recently, my friend Laura told me a story of how she found a mysterious lone Sukuma Wiki plant growing in the Alpine Garden she was trying to create in West Lothian. She lives a few houses down from her mother who has been growing Kenyan vegetables throughout her life in Scotland. Laura herself has never grown the plant and could not account for its presence in her otherwise Scottish collection. I like to imagine the seeds ‘found her’ and took root in her garden and that maybe somewhere on a street in West Lothian, other Scots are discovering it in their gardens, and perhaps will push their weeks along with it too.
Seeds in the Market Garden
Kelvedon Wonder – a traditional pea variety, which is high-yielding and very tasty. It was one of the first things I planted when I joined the Lauriston Farm team. Sweet plump peas popped from a pod in the summer are magic. People who were lucky enough to have veg-growing grandparents often get a nostalgic rush when they taste it, going straight back to childhood in a garden or allotment – it’s a classic!
The Seed Briefcase
The Seed Briefcase – for the seed nerd in your life! It’s not as beautiful as an antique box, but it’s great for storing and organising seeds. When I look at it, I think about all the potential in here for delicious plants to spring forth when you plant a tiny, miraculous seed. I like to imagine that muddy trews, thermals and a seed briefcase will be seen as the new power dressing for the post-neoliberal agrarian renaissance…
Scotland’s Seed Kist
For over a decade, the Seed Kist has been at the heart of efforts to restore seed sovereignty to communities in Scotland. Rob (one of our new Farm Co-ordinators) first got his hands on the Seed Kist while working on the Fife Diet Seed Truck. The kist travelled all over Scotland in the truck holding a stash of seeds to give away, plus the seeds gathered along the route in swaps. Then the Common Good Food project (formed by Fergus Walker, Mags Hall and Rob) picked up the baton, and the kist, and gave away thousands more free seeds across Scotland. But lately, it’s been in Locavore’s lockup, waiting for its next job, as the Common Good Food folk have been working on other food projects. We’re really happy that they’re now handing the Seed Kist on to us, to be the Lauriston Farm seed library. Rob will be reunited with it once more, and it will become a fantastic resource for the community.
And of course, there’s the epic tale of The Great Granton Gourd – but that’s a long, fireside yarn, for another time.