Elevate Difference

Swap n' Stores: We Must Cultivate

A 'swap n' store' is an opportunity for dedicated gardeners to exchange from their seedstock, providing not only for their lots and pantries, but also for the genetic strength and proliferation of the plants. My interest in gardening has been piqued not only by health and global fiscal conflagration, but also because I finally got around to reading Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire. Informative and well-crafted, the entire work could be justified by a single observation: “Monoculture is where the logic of nature collides with the logic of economics; which will always prevail can never be in doubt.” Nature's answer to monoculture is the Irish Potato Famine. Pollan's book—an examination of the role of plants in human myth and practice, pleasure and necessity—is structured around the stories of four desirable species: apples, tulips, marijuana and spuds.

If I were to write a book around the possibility of a 'Recovery Garden,' the sections would be preparation, sowing, growing, and harvest. And in preparation, even a neophyte knows a garden needs four things: earth, sun, water, and seeds. Earth, I've been cultivating, maintaining a compost heap composed of dried leaves, grass clippings, coffeegrounds collected from Starbucks, and kitchen waste. (Those without access to dirt can find splendid tutorials on sub-irrigated planters and other knowledge helpful to urban gardeners at Greenroof Growers—one of their contributors gave a presentation at the swap n' store.) Sun and water, I've got covered. That leaves seeds.

I consulted with the seed archive organizer, permaculturalist Nance Klehm. My question: “What, say, seven species would you recommend for the inexperienced urban gardener? Keep in mind that I have two black thumbs. I have killed cacti. I make silk roses wilt...”

“Brassicas!” Nance exclaimed. “That's kale, chard, radishes, and choys."

I nodded and took note. Dozens of seed-swappers milled around us, eating the unprocessed native popcorn from a wooden bowl; it was prepared simply with hot oil in a metal kettle. I had nothing to exchange but mundanely hallucinogenic heavenly blue morning glories, and some heirloom varieties with deep burgundy trumpets, their seeds little black ball bearings. A variety of heirloom strains, including flowers and Dakota Black or Japanese Hullless popcorn, are available through Seeds of Change. They also offer sets and seedlings ideal for the urban gardener: a selection of culinary herbs, an edible patio garden, and a range of rare tomato seedlings, such as Constaluto Genovese, Pineapple, Red Calabash, Tigerella and Zapotec Pleated tomatoes. Something to plant in the rooftop constructions of industrial white plastic buckets and used plastic pop bottles that we were told about.

“Garlic. Then there's lettuce—but why plant lettuce when there's lamb quarters, chickweed, dandelion, and dock available for soups and salads?” Foraging is also consistent with the ethos of sustainable resources. Nance continued: “For squash, patty-pan, not bush squash; it takes up less space. Same with cherry tomatoes—and they'll grow all season. And plant bush beans or peas; you can dry them if you don't eat them fresh.” I scuttle to one of the swap tables and begin to label the little manila envelopes provided, take far too many seeds, leave my morning glory seeds, and go. Another visitor's contribution—a slick white packet of wildflower mix—drops from my pocket as I trudge through sleet. Until my garden flourishes, I enjoy cleaning out the cook-'em-now markdowns produce bin at my local (small, independent) grocers and then scouring the greens cookbook for possible preparation. Time to put on Another Green World and figure out what is to be done with twenty-five poblanos, perhaps a green chile stock to keep things warm in the chilly white.

Swap n' Stores are held four times a year.

Written by: Erika Mikkalo, February 28th 2009

Thanks Damon & Erika. I've made the correction

Thanks -- I'll let her know.

That's a nice photo, but it's not mine. Nance told me that someone wanted to post my Seedy Sunday pic, but the one posted here was taken by someone else.