Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fake hairy legs and saving seeds

The legs photo shows what happens when you start a job you didn't think was going to take long. It looks like instant hairy legs but is simply the muck and filth off the paving in the courtyard. I had the power hose out to wash my car (NCT imminent - just got this morning - hurray!) and thought I'd give the paving a going over. Three hours later I had it finished. The grime under the trees turned these bright colours to black. To remove it I had to hold the hose six inches off. Every edge threw up this wet blackness. Water everywhere. Intensely satisfying job though.

I suppose the film of dirt is actually a light covering of the beginnings of mosses and lichens on the paving. Stuff that grows so easily in the climate of this country. It was at its worst under the big apple trees that have been in this garden for eighty odd years. The trees are laden with apples of an unknown variety. A local type, probably passed around the farms in this mountainy place as slips and grown on. I have four of them all the same. I don't know if they exist anywhere else. There are many plants like this - only growing in their local areas and vulnerable to development or disease.

Down the road from me is the Irish Seed Savers Association, an organisation that has been instrumental in collecting and acting as guardian for old Irish apples that had gone out of fashion and so were not available in nurseries. Some, indeed, were thought lost, only to be discovered leaning in the overgrown garden of a falling-down cottage, or still-fruiting in an orchard unbeknown to the owner.

Nikolai Vavilov
Seed saving began in Russia with Nikolai Vavilov (1887 - 1943) who collected seeds from around the world, bringing them back to St Petersburg (then Leningrad). Vavilov was one of the first scientists to recognize the need to keep a collection of seeds and plants against future loss of biodiversity.

Vavilov is in the news recently as his priceless collection of fruit trees and berries growing on 1200 acres near St Petersburg at the Pavlosk Experimental Station is under threat from developers. The land has been zoned for housing to provide holiday dachas for wealthy Russians. This collection is probably the most important in Europe.

I suppose some people wonder at the point of all this. Who needs all those varieties of apple or blackcurrant or pear? Or maybe potato. The famine that destroyed half a nation here in Ireland happened because the populace relied on a crop that had no resistance to the blight. We don't know what is going to happen in the future, or which of our plants are going to succumb to disease or, indeed, over-development by humans. To destroy one of our most important plant safeguards to benefit a few of the world's wealthy would be an unbelievable act of human arrogance.

Vavilov was arrested during one of his plant-finding expeditions to the Ukraine and accused of espionage, sabotage and anti-Russian behaviour. He died in one of Stalin's prisons. Now his legacy to the world is also under threat. Sign a petition against this destruction here.

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