I have just noticed several tomato seeds have germinated in my garden from where the Tommy tomatoes were planted and I am considering bringing them inside and seeing if I can keep them alive over the winter for planting out later. For centuries farmers have collected seeds for the next year’s planting and harvest.
It has been a way of life from villages across the developing world to back gardens like my own. Who hasn’t collected a few pumpkin seeds and shoved them in the ground or had potatoes come up from kitchen waste buried in the garden? So I was shocked a few years ago when I discovered that Monsanto was developing a “terminator” gene so that seeds would become infertile and new seed would have to be bought every year from Monsanto of course. It was a recipe for starvation in poor countries where farmers cannot afford to buy seed every year.
At the same time we are losing plant varieties in the wild as a result of urban expansion, loss and conversion of native vegetation to monocultures, pest and disease incursions and climate change. People began to worry that humanity might not be able to feed itself, that ecosystems would be simplified and that many of the world’s plants would be lost forever.
So Kew Gardens came to the rescue. In 2000 Kew Gardens embarked on the world’s biggest plant conservation project and set up the Millenium Seed Bank to save the world’s plants’ genetic diversity.
It funded laboratories in 50 countries around the world to collect seed and to store half of it and to send the other half to Kew as insurance. To date they have successfully stored 10% of the world’s wild plants and hope to achieve 25% by 2020. Australia is a key part of the plan since we have 15% of the world’s total of species…isn’t that amazing!!! One of those laboratories, the Tasmanian Seed Conservation Centre is in the Tasmanian Botanical Gardens where seeds are stored in foil packets and kept at -20degrees.
Kew Gardens paid for the whole project including the Laboratory but the funding runs out this year.It costs about $350,000 per year to run the project. This is something that we cannot afford to lose.
Every Tasmanian plant that is threatened or endangered needs to be represented in that collection.
When I was looking at the terrific work that The Lost Seed is doing to conserve heirloom vegetable varieties, I got to thinking about the Millenium Seed Bank project and the plight of our Botanical Gardens. Like seeds and plants, you assume they will always be there, until they are not.