Noah's ark landraces

Hi, two things collide in my mind this morning, kind of fusioning then in an idea:

  • the fact that some of us know how to access “gene banks” (awful name ^^) and request accessions
  • a story told by an ex-researcher about the 8000varieties of bread wheat in the french INRAE: after screening they realised they 350 of them concentrate 97% of the overall gene diversity (reference to come), so they decided to concentrate their conservation effort on these, meaning allocating them more space and more frequent cultivation in the field than the others

Then the discussion in Ceccarelli’s book between 2 kinds of different approaches to creating modern landraces: the first based on similar agronomic traits (taste, cooking time, or whatever): you put together varieties similar in this regard, and the second based on the widest possible genetics. This second thought to be the best for the widest ecological adaptation. (For more details, read here, p79-80: Evolutionary Plant Breeding : Salvatore Ceccarelli and Stefania Grando : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive)

Then I say to me why don’t we make a collective effort to create the most diverse landraces possible (on behalf of going to seed or not, for just the european part or not…), meaning for exemple:

  • in one species (let’s say cucurbita maxima), find an assessment of genetic diversity of the accessions (= finding research papers, assessments by gene banks, etc)
  • discuss with the stakeholders implied (genebank)
  • obtain some selected accessions representative of the overall diversity
  • reproduce seeds on a place of choice
  • in year 2 share seeds to whoever of our network, and let those newly created grexes live their own lives, in different places, getting them more and promiscuous and locally adapted.

I would prefer not to use the terms “Noah’s Ark”, but it is some kind of image for the process… But saying “Noah’s Ark” seems conservative, which is not the idea here, as we mix genetics: it is more of a creative process…

…As I tend to be a “stubborn hard worker” a few months a year, that is exactly what I would do on my own, and then share the seeds with others, but I believe it would be more joyful to do it with others from the start…

It may be a bit too generic as a process without a precise context… but what you think of it?


I think is super nice idea to preserve broad genetics of species. You never know when the plants will need those genomes.

There is a good chance that I can help reproduce and share seeds.


I’ve been using Ceccarelli’s other approach (mixing varieties that taste good to me and hoping the mix has enough genetic diversity to become adapted to my locality), but from the viewpoint of creating crops for the future, your approach seems like the right one.


I’ve been wondering about the same thing. Requesting seeds for the greater community. Whether that would open some more doors, or not.

Some spontaneous thoughts:

I’m not sure if genebanks would give germplasm to “the people”. They don’t know where the seeds end up, who’s going to grow them, how much competence the growers have etc.

I think most genebanks are also heavily understaffed and possibly also underfinanced, that’s why they don’t give seeds to private persons. If we now request as a group of private persons, how is that better, from their perspective? I think that a group request will still hinge on those few that will be “responsible” for the growout (that have some credentials, or history, or affiliation to request) – the very same persons that may already be requesting seeds for their own little projects and then share them down the line.

If we somehow do request as a group, we need to be able to offer something more than what individual requesters can offer. I’m not sure that “decentralization” alone is a strong enough argument.

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How about Vavilovs Vision Collective?

Hi Hugo, I do not know it yet

We would need to be very “serious” about it, and it would be complicated.
In France we have a few groups (“collectives”) who do this, for example Mètis did this on 15 sorghums last year. But they have credentials, working with farmers and bakers, and some are past researchers. They are also implied in the “semences paysannes network” which is all about promoting seed… “for the people”.
After the gmo struggle around 2000 this network was created, still existing but there is less and less citizen awareness of those issues: for the 20th anniversary, we were only 100, all looking for a second wind. Maybe through new approaches like landrace gardening / adaptation agriculture… We never know…
Anyhow, I will talk to them about their relationships with seedbanks, advantages and drawback they see.

Seed laws are very restrictive in the EU, so any newly created landrace cannot be sold for professionnals, and if you sell on the internet to gardeners, you need to comply with “phytosanitory requirements”, which you can’t afford…
That is one reason why you don’t find small breeders in Europe: it is all about multiplication and conservation, in situ at best (i.e. versus ex situ: in seedbank fridges). “Old varieties versus hybrids” to summarize the choice.

That is why my strategy is more about working with amateurs, or with farmers collectives (like Mètis) who can swap seeds to some extent and do things like making mixtures for direct use (ex: bread wheat mixtures for farmers doing bakery, or at least milling).

I need to check what the drawbacks of getting accessions are: for my cereals I remember I have to send INRAE my communications about what I do with these…I have to be more precise about the scope of this obligation, and be sure that we have the right to do some breeding work starting from accessions…


Yeah i like the idéa overall and think we will stand a better change as a seed saver’s collective to acquire seeds from seed banks in that way.
I mean quite a lot of us expérimental hobby farmers have studied. I 'vé studied biology for a year. I could sée myself experimenting as a teenager but it was books,books,books. I fled.
For this work, you don’t need to have studied, it’s like Joseph said, most of the world’s breeding work has been done by people who couldn’t read or write.
They’re being paid by public money, they don’t like to sée their seeds wasted, but as a collective you can have an online présence they can acces.
Maybe it’s too early day to do this. And we should make due with what we collectively have obtained so far.
Speaking for myself, i have some grexes growing… I haven’t established my goal of growing big healthy plants with little watering on poor granite soils.
You’ve gotto come with results. Everybody approaching gène banks has ideas…
As a collective with an online presence we should empasise the rather unbelievable breeding work people in relative short time have accomplished with very little means. Like people in desserts and people up north i believe, because there’s no arguing with that.
If Cathy like succeeds with her cukes up in the pole because of landracing techniques and hard stuborn work it’ll open some eyes. We’re in like comfortable zones. For me it’s easy to cheat. Just add compost. Up there or in desserts it’s very clear there’s no cheating with sunlight. Évidence of a working method is overwhelming.
That might open some employées to being more forwarding.
On the other hand, if and when seed companies feel threatened after, they’ll let money and influence speak and shut down gène banks hard. Top down world.
In that sensé i feel muddling on under the radar is best.
Timing is of essence.


Yes I agree on all you say, and that timing is essential. I would prioritize networking for now.


Reference as told in first message:
“A worldwide bread wheat core collection arrayed in a 384-well plate”
98% of the allelic diversity in 372 accessions out of 3900 accessions (= varieties)

I do not know if this is already something that the Going to Seed volunteers that collect and pool the seed do already, but it may be interesting/fun/useful to start saving some germplasm each year and preserving it. I’m not saying a lot, but maybe a mix of several dozen to several hundred seeds from each year could be set aside and preserved with oxygen/moisture absorbers in freezers when appropriate for later years.

I think if we had several years of germplasm saved like this, it might pique the interest of a researcher or two later on who could do the sequencing and analysis of our past seeds. It could be insightful if its ever done to quantify the total SNP diversity and if there are any trends between years.

I think it’s a great idea, and it may be something worth trying as a community project someday.

I highly recommend that everybody archive some of their best seeds from each previous year in a freezer – you may want those archives for personal backups, and if you ever wind up wanting something from there, it will have been well worth the small amount of space and time. Same principle as computer backups.

A natural side benefit of that is that you’ll have the option of sharing seeds from your garden archive later if you decide you want to.

Perhaps you started selecting a population away from a trait you don’t like five years ago, and somebody you know loves that trait. Maybe they would love to have some seeds of your landrace from five years ago, when that trait was still in the population.

Or maybe you had five years of drought followed by five years of abundant rainfall, and this year you’re in a drought again. It may be smart to mix in seeds from your landrace five years ago, back when the population probably had more drought tolerance.

All kinds of reasons it may be useful to have archives of prior years of seeds.


I found that idea interesting for all purposes

Same as well.

Overall, the thing to me is to find balance between projects and our yearly gardens, and joy gardening: I am quite sure the methodology exposed on top is fine (botanically it is the same as Joseph’s or evolutionary plant breeders’s) + is nearly what best we can do for local adaptation of a species in all different environments (see the spread and agronomical and economical success of Salvatore’s EP wheat in different regions in Iran, then Sicily, Toscany, , Morocco, Italia, and now coming in France… A wheat which gets rapidly locally adapted + the property of ther farmers themselves ) … but !!! A few things, at this stage:

  • it could be very time and efforts consuming + needing some more intellectual and networking work to access an enlarged “genepool” through seed banks… And in doing so I fear losing the joy of doing things simply (personnally last winters I just scrolled down on the Internet and bougth all cucurbit seeds I could find from Portugal to Ukraine using a few pre-set criterias, an activity that I enjoy a lot. Just looking at pictures makes me happy! Much easier than making researches on researchgate, accessing seedbanks databases, then exposing the idea then negociating with them, etc. ) Scientific papers and seed bank databases are not very… funky!

  • There are legal implications behind getting accessions from seedbanks which I don’t master well right now : when getting “accessions” (i.e. varieties) from seedbanks you sign up a Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) and all things after that are not crystal clear. Any expert on this technical subject welcome.

Until that day I’ll keep on seed swapping as I can :slight_smile:


Absolutely. I think it’s really important that we all remember that Joseph Lofthouse’s goal has always been to inspire people to grow food and enjoy it.

If you legitimately enjoy keeping lots of records, keeping varieties separated, making loads of crosses in order to do the exact opposite, or anything else that is highly hands-on, by all means, do it!

If you prefer to just relax and pay attention to the crops and try to understand which choices will give you the most value for the least effort, do that.

I think that’s what most of us enjoy.

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Sorry I missed this post when it came out. Thomas just directed my attention to it via e-mail. Here are my thoughts about this project :

  • the idea is great. building science-based grexes (as opposed to grexes based on spontaneous contributions or random findings, or methodic screening of the market) This would give a powerfull juspstart to a series of landraces adventures.
  • one assumption is that studies do exist, studies that screen the genetics of a species and identify where the genetic diversity is concentrated / represented. I personally don’t know how many of such studies exist, for what plants, nor where to find them. But I could read them.
  • one assumption is that the accessions can be obtained from the genebanks. My experience is that this is a reasonable assumption (at least in France, but I suspect all europe, if not worldwide). I have been confirmed this year by such genebank that their mission is to make the material available to professional AND non-professional public. So once the genetic study exists, it is highly probable that we could obtain the material. because the study will mention where the accessions are conserved.
  • my experience is that the samples that are send by the genebanks are small (20-50 grams per accession, if not less than that) so our network would need to have some reliable gardeners able to run the first year of test / multiplication. I am still learning and my failure rate is still too high for me to feel comfortable to risk the loss of such a precious mix , except in some few crops that I have run 3 seasons. (fava, common beans, millet, wheat, blackwheat) .
  • my understanding is that the legal aspects of SMTA’S are OK. The protocol should include a return to the genebank of a sample of the landrace created , after say 2 or 3 years, made available to the gene networks for further studies. It seems ok to me that the grex/landrace should be somewhat tracked over time, so that we know what happens with it. So some paperwork is acceptable, to my opinion.

Process suggestion : we would need to find a study , then based on this existing study identify a reliable gardener volunteer to host the first cycle, and then contact the genebank (because they like to know who and where the accessions will be cultivated)

I would be very happy to participate in this adventure.

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A couple of further thoughts :

  • “science-based grexes”, would be a very different track than what Joseph is suggesting, that by comparison I would call “community-based grexes”. getting seeds from all over the world / continent so they have been cultivated in different conditions, in different soils, and under different climates. How would this be represented in the genetic mapping of the accessions ?
  • by starting a project with a very technology-intensive operation, wouldn’t we run the risk of loosing something I like in community-based landracing , which is the sense of connexion with multilillenial practice of humanity ? Not sure, just wondering.
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Oh? Do i understand right one can get varieties based on soil type adaptations in gene banks? I never scrolled through one so forgive me asking.
But if that is the case, i believe it would give people a headstart especially people in troublesome extreme soiltypes or climates.
I imagine creating spécialised local adapted grexes and adding community based diversity at a later stage bit by bit to improve taste and size steering the developing landrace towards a more universally accepted standard.

In a way that’s what i have been doing for some years. Collecting seeds from local seed swaps. Stuff that will grow on my shitty granite soils with some compost added. Create some primitive limited grex of random chance and then add diversity from seed companies that work for me and now this community.

Here and there people have been proposing we should exchange more focussed on soil type and climate. Exchanging between folks with similarities.
But as we are few still the practicality just isn’t there… Choice is too limited still.

To complicate things further. Some people on the more extreme end of climates like @polarca and @JesseI have said things along the lines of, ‘‘just focking try, cause you never know what sticks’’.

So like always with breeding, i’m back to plan A. Just get as many diversity possible and mix it. But if that could include seed banks assencions(???new fashion???), pile it on.

Accession. :sweat_smile:
Don’t make the same mistake I did once with USDA when I requested ascensions :rofl: and they sent!.. long time… it’s now much, much harder to get stuff from USDA, all my contacts says so. Sadly.

Well, yes and no. I have tried to select based on what seems to be faster or has mention of cold tolerance. After that I try to see what sticks because even with careful selection, most aren’t fast enough in my climate. It’s a bit different with genetically diverse seeds as every seed is different. I can sow 100 seeds within relatively small area and leave few of the fastest. Even one would be worth it.

As for climates, soils etc there differences, but there might be lot’s similarities that you are not aware of. Certainly a bit harder to take warm loving plants from warm climate to northern climate, and nothern varieties to southern summer. Northern varieties might however do well in southern early season. Many places around the world have fairly similar first few weeks to few months to here even if summer is really hot.

In seed banks I haven’t seen that there would be selection based on soil type. Those selections there are seem a little complicated and really only country of origin has been useful.

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