Editor’s note: This article has been updated with important and helpful information. See Free Seeds from the Government.
DURING LAST WEEK’S #SEEDCHAT discussion group on Twitter, one of the participants brought up Plant Gene Resource Canada. I know this sounds like a boring, scholarly topic for a post, but stay with me, it’s really pretty fun and interesting for backyard gardeners.
Plant Gene Resource Canada (PGRC) is a gene bank where Canadians can get rare and unusual seeds and plant cuttings for their gardens at no cost.
This was intriguing. The thought of getting seeds for hard to find vegetable and fruit plants from the government just for the asking is right in Suburban Hobby Farmer’s sweet spot.
Think of it as an adventure. It’s kind of a flash back from the past when there were many more varieties growing in people’s kitchen gardens, and you didn’t know exactly what was going to come from the seeds your neighbor had passed to you.
Germplasm Resources Information Network
I felt compelled to look into the U.S. version of PGRC, called the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN), which is part of the USDA Agricultural Research Service. There are more than 500,000 accessions (distinct varieties of plants) in the GRIN database. These accessions represent more than 10,000 species of plants. How many vegetable and fruit plant seeds does GRIN have in its possession? I don’t know, but I bet it’s a lot.
But working with GRIN can be challenging. It’s difficult to find seeds if you don’t know exactly what you want. Someone searching by name for a specific plant would find it easy. However, plant descriptions are not very detailed and there are no photos. I resorted to finding plants with names that looked promising and then Googling to find other information sources.
The search page for seeds and cuttings is on this Agricultural Research Service page.
Seeds I Selected
I settled on seeds for three infrequently-grown tomatoes:
Kwand Hsi Hung Shih, a red tomato of Chinese origin that looked promising. See the picture of a mature Kwand Hsi Hung Shih plant embedded within this post.
Pomodoro Palla Di Fuoco, a red, Italian tomato that takes as much as 5-months to ripen and has a reputation for excellent flavor.
IXL Bolgiano’s Extremely Early Tomato, a red variety that was listed in seed catalogs around 1910.
Once I settled on these varieties, I clicked on the “Request this germplasm” link and it brought me to a checkout cart to review what I had selected. Then I clicked “complete” and filled out the form on the next page with my address information, etc.
The Sticking Point
The one sticking point is that the information form asked what kind of research I planned and could GRIN publish the results. I explained that I was going to grow the plants, save the seeds and publish the results in my blog. We’ll see if they think this research is worthy enough to send me the seeds.
I have no idea what kind of luck I’m going to have with these tomatoes, but it certainly is a great adventure with the added benefit of very little out of pocket cost. As best I can tell, the U.S. government even pays for the postage.
On the other hand, it may be a dead end if my request doesn’t live up to their standards. I’ll let you know how this turns out.
1. Free Seeds: How I got 19 Heirloom Varieties
2. My “Kick Start” Seed Trading Package from DG
3. Free 30-page Seed Saving Guide
4. Free Vegetable Seeds
5. Free Vegetable Seeds, Part II
6. Free Seeds from the Government