Pardon me while a nerd out for a moment… but really, how cool is a seed? Everything that a plant will be and do, all the code for color, taste, timing, is wrapped up in a tiny shell and thrown out into the big world to grow. That tiny vestigial sprout, tucked inside densely packed fat and nutrients, waits for the perfect conditions to push up to the light, and push down to the water. And it can wait for years! That tiny little speck of potential can wait unobserved forever, and then suddenly explode into life.
I just received the majority of our seed orders for the farm. They were cleverly packed into a medium sized box, and while surprisingly heavy, I could easily hoist it on to one hip and carry it up the stairs to the attic. And I was struck, as I kicked my shoes off, that I was carrying 7 acres worth of food in that box. That one ordinary cardboard box contained the potential for 4000 individual CSA shares of vegetables. Just add sun, water, and TLC.
There are a million different kind of plants, and they all grow different ways, but it all comes down to the seed. Every plant’s purpose is to create the next generation, and spread them around. Some literally explode. When I was a kid, my parents had a flower farm; they grew field grown pansies for wholesale. A pansy’s tendency, when left to it’s own breeding devices, is to get smaller and yellow and purple, so my parents started saving their own seed. We would choose the biggest, healthiest plants of the different colors we liked: deep reds with black faces, blues, salmon pinks, white, and all the colors in-between. Then we would group them with their own kind in far-off corners of the farm, so they would be pollinated with themselves and retain the genetics we were looking for. When the flowers died and produced their seedpods, it was me and my brother’s job to pick them. We learned to watch for the right color – not too green, but just beginning to turn brown and dry. We would put them in paper grocery bags and roll the top down, then stow them in the laundry room to finish drying.
When they dried completely, they would explode. The genius little pansy plant had created a spring loaded seedpod, and once the seeds were mature and ready to nestle in the dirt, the seedpod would explode open and launch the seeds in a spray, away from the mother plant. We would hear the pop and scatter from our beds in the middle of the night, as the pods exploded in the paper bags and the seeds hit the side.
Many of the vegetables we eat were created as a different way for plants to disperse their seeds, and that’s with fruit. I know people realize that tomatoes are actually a fruit, but really a lot of veggies are; eggplant, cucumbers, summer and winter squash, peppers… these plants decided to disperse their seeds by enfolding them in delicious flesh. When the seeds are mature, the fruits ripen to attract animals (like us!) who harvest the fruit and carry it off to eat. Wherever we rest and eat, that’s were the seeds end up, and if it turns out to be a good place to grow, the plant has spread the next generation far and wide. We are all lucky that plants included us as they evolved their seed distribution tactics… isn’t the world we live in amazing?