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UI Student Garden starts seed-saving

BY DORA GROTE | SEPTEMBER 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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Food won’t be the only thing University of Iowa students harvest from their garden this fall.

This semester, officials with the UI Student Garden plan to increase seed-saving practices as a means for financial and educational gain.

“Our goal is to learn methods and create more efficient ways for saving seeds,” said Stephen Bonett, the 21-year-old harvest manager.

He said gardeners will focus on letting more plants develop in their natural course of life — past the edible food point — to produce mature seeds, saving the UI money.

The Student Garden typically spends around $200 per year on seeds. Through seed-saving, officials hope to reduce that amount to $0, Bonett said.

Once the plants have grown past the edible food point, student gardeners collect the seeds through various methods, depending on the plant.

Bonett said some techniques for saving seeds are harder than others.

“For example, peppers you can open up and simply scrape the seeds out, but tomatoes are a whole different story,” Bonett said.

With tomatoes, the seeds are wet from the fluids in the tomato, so people must soak them in water, ferment them to allow the seeds and fluid to separate, and then let them dry in the air, Bonett said, noting that the seeds can mold if the process is not carried out correctly.

Once the seeds are harvested, they will be saved in a cold environment before being planted in the spring.

Ray Tallent, a UI Biology Department instructor, said the lives of seeds are prolonged when stored cold because they become dormant.

Bonett said saving seeds also aids the genetics of future produce by helping to preserve heirloom varieties — seeds that cannot be commercially bought.

“It is sort of like selective breeding,” he said.

By taking the seeds from the best fruits and planting them in a particular spot, he said, the future seeds will develop traits and evolve to thrive in that particular area. In the end, local produce will continue to flourish over the years.

Giselle Bruskewitz, the president of the UI Environmental Coalition, said her group will continue to harvest the garden every Monday and Thursday morning to sell produce to the IMU for the River Room and catering service.

In addition, she said, she plans to host Service Learning Days for students taking Introduction to Environmental Science classes.

She said she will offer a Seed-Saving Workshop, based on informative classes she took through the New Pioneer Co-op, demonstrating different seed-saving techniques on plants, depending on which ones are in season.

No dates have been set for the workshops, but they will be open to all students.

“Anyone who comes out to the garden, new and returning members, are more than welcome to join in the experience,” Bruskewitz said.

Tallent gave all the credit for the project to the students involved, noting that while the Biology Department provide the facilities, the students do all the work and experiments.

“[They are] a really motivated bunch of students,” Tallent said. “They are all self-directed and self-educated.”


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