Anyone who has been to Seedy Saturday knows how home gardeners hunger for seeds — and not just any garden-variety seeds — for their flowers and vegetables.
The mid-winter event, organized by the Thompson Shuswap Master Gardeners and Friends of the New Victory Garden, draws lineups before the doors open. Their plots may be under a blanket of snow, but gardeners can barely stand the wait.
It was on the night before Seedy Saturday last year that Katie DeGroot hit upon the idea of germinating a home-based seed business. Not just any business, mind you.
Now a fourth-year TRU sciences student and lab assistant at age 19, DeGroot found herself with surplus inventory at the time.
“I only ever grow two or three tomato plants of each variety,” she explained. “I’m never going to grow all my
tomato seed and I certainly won’t eat that many.”
So began Sun Flower Seeds, which is really an offshoot of DeGroot’s gardening hobby, fortified by her biological studies. She started gardening at age 14. Her parents were getting rid of surplus plants at the time. “No, I’ll save them,” she said. “The next year I expanded.”
A visit to her family’s backyard in South Kamloops revealed the degree to which she’s taken over. Her mother’s raised-bed garden is about the size of a dining-room table, while Katie’s plots have expanded to cover much of the yard with a wide variety of vegetables and herbs already showing promise.
“I started growing massively before university,” she said. “But there’s a lot bigger issue by way of genetic diversity, which is why I’m selling at the farmers market.”
Sun Flower Seeds is not designed as a for-profit venture, but rather as mission in spreading the wisdom of heritage or heirloom seeds as opposed to the hybrid varieties most commonly grown.
DeGroot offers her seeds through a website, www.sun-flower-seeds.ca, but she’s not actively selling them — the season for seed gathering now drawing to a close — after setting up her stall at a Saturday farmers market earlier this spring.
“Plant varieties bred prior to the 1930s did well on their own without fertilizers and pesticides. Now plants don’t have to be all that strong.”
Brandywine tomatoes, for example, have been around since the 1850s. They’re not as vigorous as hybrids, but they’re low-maintenance, requiring nothing more than manure and water, she said.
More to the point, heirloom seeds can be saved year after year to reproduce, while hybrids do not produce seeds that will reliably replicate the same results.
Then, of course, there is the flavour incentive. There is no substitute for fresh vegetables and heirloom varieties are prized for their taste.
Does she have an instinctive passion for gardening, an inherited love of tending the earth, borne of her own family roots, perhaps?
“No, I like to eat them,” she answered matter-of-factly.
She started with tomatoes and beans — growing 100 bean varieties one season and nothing else — before expanding her efforts with herbs and other vegetables, including zucchini, potatoes, garlic, kale and cucumber.
She uses no fertilizer or pesticides, preferring the organic route.
“I’m really, really interested in vegetable breeding for the purpose of organic gardening.”
She’s got an eye set on possibly working with an Oregon-based researcher in that regard.
Beyond that, the world is her garden.
“I would like to have a large garden where I would really like to be able to grow all my own food.”
As a young scientist, she can see merit both in preserving biological diversity and taking advantage of innovation and advancing technology.
Beyond that, she sees the virtue in sewing the soil for self-reliance.
“The best way to ensure your contribution to the future of the world is to grow your own food.”