Seed conservancy and growing nut trees

What? A gardening column? But it’s freezing outside…. Well, what better time to dream of vigorous shoots pushing their way through the earth, than in the chilly depths of winter?

I’ve also been doing some mid-winter “mining”. that is, “mining” of my filing cabinets whereby I am digging out old files, searching through them, and tossing as much as I can into the recycling bin.

…And so it is that I rediscovered my “Gardening” file.

In it I found the Eastern Native Seed Conservancy catalogue that claims it’s dedicated to presenting “A Collection of Rare and Unusual Seeds for the Vegetable Gardener”. Because it’s a relic from 1998 (old in today’s standards) I got online and searched the Internet to check out the website.

Lawrence Davis-Hollander is the Director of the Eastern Native Seed Conservancy and his website succinctly explains the conservancy’s mandate: “The Eastern Native Seed Conservancy, endeavors to preserve rare genetic stock and in so doing is able to offer the public a sampling of true rarity.”

Although the Conservancy does sell seeds, their main focus is to preserve genetic diversity. Again, Mr. Davis-Hollander explains, “Many of you will be glad that we finally have a seed catalog which actually offers seeds, instead of merely tantalizing you with posted information. Its been a couple of years since we formally sold seeds — hopefully it will continue on a regular basis. Selling seeds is not our main focus — keeping the strains alive is. As I look at this seed listing I realize how many of our seeds are offered by very few if any seed companies, how really close to endangered many of them are. So if this seed catalog, this seed offering, is to be successful, its real success would have to be measured by your participation in seed preservation efforts.”

And he continues, to explain that if only we all took one variety of seed and continued to grow it and save it for future years if not generations, then we would be making a significant step in saving one heritage variety from extinction. He calls this the Conservancy’s “one bean philosophy.”

In fact, he cleverly finds a link between growing heritage seeds and patriotism. Although some might find this “over the top,” after the events of 9/11 all sorts of anti-terrorist claims are being made. His is no exception:

“And while we have been telling people for years about the many reasons to preserve these varieties we now find out that they are a useful tool against terrorism. Well against bioterrorism. The same things which make our mostly monoculture single variety cropping systems highly susceptible to insects and disease, make them vulnerable to artificially introduced diseases by terrorists. So please add another reason to the long list of reasons for preserving our food plant heritage.”

Whatever the reason, it’s food for thought, particularly in mid-winter. And, who knows, after you do your own research, contact the Conservancy yourself and order a catalogue, perhaps you’ll be inspired to join the “one-bean philosophy.” Here’s the contact information for you:

EASTERN NATIVE SEED CONSERVANCY, P.O. Box 451, Great Barrington, Massachusetts 01230, Tel: 413.229.8316, E-mail:


Closer to home, have you ever thought of learning more about nuts? Right. Nuts as in nut trees. On January 19, at the offices of The Ottawa Citizen, ECSONG is holding their annual Winter Gathering for members as well as for the public.

ECSONG is the Eastern Chapter of the Society of Ontario Nut Growers. Here’s your opportunity to learn about growing and using acorns, black walnuts, and butternuts. Registration is at 1:30 and the gathering is from 2-4 p.m. Call Hank or Vera for information at 613-231-4224 else e-mail Website:


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based north of Quyon. Contact her at