The Mornington Peninsula farming couple putting seeds in the spotlight

You can buy flower and vegetable seeds everywhere, from supermarkets to hardware shops, but that doesn’t mean all seeds are equal. Some seeds are more resilient than others. Robin Koster-Carlyon and Peter Carlyon of Transition Farm on the Mornington Peninsula go so far as to say “the hard-bodied memory of a seed” means anything you grow from it can reflect the life it leads.

This won’t be news to anyone encouraging self-seeding flowers to romp around their gardens. The strongest and healthiest self-seeding scabiosa, poppies, marigolds, or the like are always those that have been proliferating about the place for generations. Once the seeds get acclimatized to the soil and the climate, the resulting plants get better at handling everything that the site can fling at it, extreme weather events included.
This point was driven home to Robin and Peter over the past 12 years when they were growing vegetables for the weekly produce boxes they were supplying directly to consumers from their seven-acre (three-hectare) farm in Fingal. At their peak, they were producing 120 organic boxes a week and supplying to a small number of restaurants, and they had neither the time nor the space for unproductive plants. “All our focus was on how do we provide this box, how do we keep it diverse,” Robin says. The couple had been building up the health of their soil, establishing diverse native corridors, and following organic and biodynamic processes to “reinvigorate our whole farm ecosystem,” but over time, they noticed it was their seeds that were the “biggest limiting factor” to producing reliable, flavorsome produce.

They began trying seeds bred in all sorts of places for all sorts of attributes and what they found was that, no matter how well-bred a seed was, if it came from far enough away – and some came from the United States and Europe – the resulting plants weren’t necessarily resilient on their patch of land in southern Victoria. An heirloom leek bred to do well in the Netherlands was not necessarily cut out to handle the conditions in Fingal.

So Robin and Peter started devoting more time to saving the seeds of varieties that worked well for them. They chose the cultivars that yielded the best-tasting vegetables or the most beguiling flowers. They left their strongest, most uniform, most pest- and disease-resistant plants to mature and ripen so they could collect seeds to propagate their next crop, and then they did the same the next year and the next.

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