"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Nature's Candy

It was a beautiful day this past Wednesday and the snow along the river had melted away making it perfect for a late afternoon hike with the dog. One of the nice things about living in the Pacific Northwest is that even in the depths of winter one can secure a few wild edibles from the great outdoors. While our home and gardens are still under a covering of snow, a small drop in elevation and abnormally warm weather allowed us to be free from that for a time.

One of our favorite wild edibles that reaches it's peak only after cold weather has set in is that of the wild rose bushes fruit...rose hips. These little citrusy apple flavored pods are so very sweet this time of year it truly is a form of nature's candy. My wife and I like to collect rose hips in the fall and use them in her teas but my favorite way to consume them, and one that no doubt benefits us the most, is fresh from the bush they grow on. Extremely high in immune system boosting nutrition what could possibly be a better winter snack than this treasure provided from nature at no cost to us other than the time it takes to gather and chew?

The seed itself can be pressed for oil and is being studied for its medicinal properties. The young spring leaves and flowers are also quite edible.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

On Storing Seed

"Alexander Stchukin died at his writing table, holding in his hand a packet of his most prized peanuts that he had hoped to send off for a grow out. The custodian of Vavilov’s many oat collections, Liliya Rodina, died of starvation, as did Dimitry Ivanov, who as his own life failed, stowed away thousands of packets of rice. … There were others as well — Steheglov, Kovalevsky, Leonjevsky, Malygina, Korzun — some who perished by starving, some riddled by sickness, others by shrapnel. Wolf, the herbarium curator, was hit by a missile shell fragment, and bled to death. Gleiber, the archivist of Vavilov’s field notes, died in the midst of those papers rather than leave his post.” ~ Pavlovsk seed and gene bank

Throughout history people have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect and store seed for the future as is depicted in the above comments from the book Where Food Comes From that tracks the footsteps of Russian seed scientist Nikolay Vavilov across five continents, amassing a collection of over 200,000 plant seeds during his lifetime. A true agricultural hero who ironically died of hunger in Siberia's Saratov prison on January 26, 1943.

One of the most important facets of seed saving is the storing of those seeds as a garden's success partially depends on the quality of the seeds that are planted. We have had great success storing our seeds in airtight glass or plastic containers, preferring glass, they are kept in a cool back room of our house. Sometimes people will add silica gel packets, grains of dry rice, or even powdered milk wrapped in a tissue paper to help absorb moisture and prolong the life of these seeds. Fortunately for us our wood heated house has very dry air so we don't normally have to use any of these desiccants.

We love using these old glass salad dressing bottles to store seed.

Temperatures right around 40°F are perfect for retaining stored seeds viability which is why you will hear of keeping seeds in the refrigerator, although I do question this a bit as it would seem to be such a humid environment for long term storage and I would definitely consider using one of the aforementioned desiccants for extended periods of refrigerated storage. Although, some seeds do require a period of cold stratification in order to break dormancy and germinate properly...certain perennial herbs, flowers, and fruit tree seeds would be a good example of this. Also, when removing the seeds from a cold area it is advisable to allow the container to reach normal room temperature before opening to prevent condensation from forming on the inside.

All of our seeds are stored on (or around:) this shelf in a dark, cool, and dry back room.

A fellow blogger also made mention of a very important point in that if you choose to freeze your seeds for long term storage it is advisable to remember that when freezing seeds the moisture content has to be exceptionally low. If there is too much moisture in the seeds they will form ice crystals which will rupture the cells and ruin the seeds. Also, I have read that one should not to use ''frost free'' freezers for seed storage unless you use very airtight containers, ones with gaskets, because they have periodic warming cycles to remove ice build-up that might evaporate the small amount of moisture that a seed does need to survive. I would love to hear others thoughts on the freezing of seeds as it is not something I have much experience with.

Storing seed is relatively easy, high temperatures, large temperature fluctuations, and humidity are the main enemies of seed, too much light, especially direct sunlight, can also be an issue. That said, even seed stored in less than ideal conditions will most likely last for a number of years. There are many different and varying thoughts on how to best store seed, the important thing is to pick the one that works best for your given conditions and go for it.:)

Please consider submitting a new or old post on the Kebun Malay-Kadazan girls blog during this "seed week" that will run from the 22nd~29th of January in which anyone interested participates by blogging about their experiences as they are related to seeds, bulbs, tubers, rhizomes or cuttings including the collecting, propagating, growing, and/or how to keep them in tip top shape. There is a "linky" to link your post to at the bottom of her blog post. Join in on her seed week so we can all learn from each others experiences.:)

This is a picture of our Painted Mountain corn, a variety that we have been growing the past couple years and seems to do well in our climate and shorter growing season. Corn seed will normally have good germination for 2 years and some of ours seems to be fine even after 3 years.

“Everyone who enjoys, thinks that the principal thing to the tree is the fruit, but in point of fact the principal thing to it is the seed. - Herein lies the difference between them that create and them that enjoy.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why Save Seeds?

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” ~ Gandhi

The author of the Kebun Malay-Kadazan girls blog has suggested a "seed week" from the 22nd~29th of January in which anyone interested participates by blogging about their experiences as they are related to seeds, bulbs, tubers, rhizomes or cuttings including the collecting, propagating, growing, and/or how to keep them in tip top shape. You can submit a link to her from an old post or a recent one and this is not limited to one post only. So please join in on her seed week so we can all learn from each others experiences.

My wife and I became seriously involved/obsessed with the saving of our own vegetable seed a few years ago and have experimented with collecting seed from almost every edible plant that we have grown at one time or another, mostly with great success. Because it can be, and has become, such an immense project to save all of our own seeds we have decided to focus the majority of our efforts going forward on the crops that are most important to us, the core crops that we could not live without. Vegetables like beets, parsnips, carrots, potato tubers, turnips, tomatoes, tomatillos, cucurbits, onions, beans, peas, celery, corn, peppers, lettuce and other greens like parsley, kale, and various types of chicory all make the list.

We are working on a plan to continue saving these seeds using a 2-5 year rotation so as not burden ourselves with too much at once, as has been the case the past few years, and to help avoid cross contamination of the many open pollinated varieties like cucurbits and brassicas. While we will continue to save the seed of herbs, flowers, and anything else that catches our fancy it will not be our main focus to do so. Once I finish getting the entire rotation schedule worked out on paper I will try to post it online.

My wife, bagging a Sweet Chocolate pepper flower with a muslin sack to avoid cross pollination as we grow all of our varieties so close to each other.

This chervil seed was ready to be harvested and will be saved every other year as seed older than that seems to have fairly low germination rates.

"Golly Mike, why bother with all of this when the seeds are so readily available via seed catalogues?"

Very simple, my thoughts are that to grow a plant and not know how to save it's seed is a missed opportunity to take part in that plants full life process. More than that I believe it is our right and responsibility to do so or at least, and most importantly, to have some inkling of how to do so in order to maintain our subsistence pattern lifestyle and be able to share the knowledge with future generations. I also have no wish to be under the control of the system. The system being big agribusiness with its rules, regulations and control (GMO), or at the whim of seed companies that may be out of stock, and of course I have some worries over the future availability of non-hybrid seed coupled with the ever increasing expense of it all.

As an example, something I was talking to a fellow blogger about the other day comes to mind. Every year I am in a panic when it comes to certain vegetables whose seed I have yet to start saving on a regular basis...like onion seed. I often have a real dickens of a time getting my onion seed in a timely manner regardless of how soon I order it and the varieties of storage onions that grow well for us are very limited...there's like three of them. I have started ordering a couple years worth of the seed just in case but onion seed has a pretty short term viability of around 1-2 years after which the germination rate decreases significantly. So I feel the strong need to save my own and relieve myself of this yearly allium hysteria. We want to have seed and food sovereignty.

Biennial salsify and scorzonera flower their 2nd year and one must be diligent in saving the seed lest it all float away on a windy day.

That said, I think it is "very" important to support both small and large trustworthy seed companies that will continue to provide us with all of the seeds that we do not save ourselves. Quality companies like Johnny's Select Seeds (?), Territorial(?), Fedco, Bountiful Gardens, Seed Savers Exchange (?), Ed Hume, Annapolis Valley Heritage, and many others that work so diligently to help to preserve our vegetable and herb seed diversity and availability.

“The garden seeds being dropped from the catalogues are the very best vegetable varieties we will ever see.” ~ Kent Whealy, Seed Savers Exchange

There are numerous other reasons to save your own seed, including the possibility of a plant adapting to ones specific environmental conditions over time. This is something we have experienced in our own gardens and has been especially noticeable with our peas and tomatoes becoming much less prone to disease compared to how they were many years ago, we have had no issues at all the past few seasons.

After they are processed our tomato seeds are placed on screens for a couple days until thoroughly dry. These seeds can easily last over ten years if stored properly - cool, dry, dark environment.

Believe me, I totally understand that many people just do not have the leeway for a garden full of plants bolting to seed as it would take up the entire garden area leaving no room at all for the real food crops. We are very fortunate to have enough extra ground for these projects and this post is simply an expression of my thoughts on what we will be working towards going forward as it relates to the saving of our own seed. Besides, it is very empowering, empowerment that is created by knowing that one can depend upon him or herself for their own food. As they say "He who controls the seed also controls the feed."

Valerian seed can be difficult to save as it also so easily flutters away in the breeze once mature.

These are four popular seed growing and saving books that I have collected over the years and am constantly using as references.

Another seedy book that I have yet to run down is "Saving Seeds As If Our Lives Depended On It" by Dan Jason.

Here are two excellent PDF links that cover, in fairly good detail, how to save the seed off many vegetables that are commonly grown in the average garden. ↓

Saving Vegetable Seeds in an Urban Garden

A Seed Saving Guide For Gardeners and Farmers

To learn even more check out this very informative blog on growing and saving seed called Going to Seed: Growing Organic Seed in Eastern Canada.

On the right hand side of this picture you can see (click picture to enlarge) where I replanted a small patch of cilantro but also left a bunch of the original plants tied to a stake in order to grow and produce more seed thus allowing the plant to come full circle.

This seedy row was devoted to a variety of winter density lettuce that survived the cold months.

Beets are another biennial that we overwinter in the root cellar and then replant for seed purposes. Each of the seed clumps pictured below are actually clusters that contain multiple seeds.

Rhubarb is easy to grow and save seed from but the offspring will probably differ from the parent plant...which is what makes it fun. We grew lots of baby rhubarbs this past year.

It is best to leave your carrot seed production to the professionals.:) The carrot our pro (what a ham) is holding was grown this year from a mix of seed saved in 2009 pictured below.Again, full circle. You can read more about how we save carrot seed here.

Once it is harvested and cleaned most of our seed is then put into boxes, bags, or other containers on our porch to finish drying for a few weeks after which we pack the seed away in jars or bottles and store in a cold dry back room. They say that seeds kept in the freezer may remain viable for over 50 years. We prefer to save our seeds in smaller amounts and replenish them often rather than freezing because the environment changes so quickly that I worry seeds stored for extended periods rather than being rotationally saved and replanted will not "learn" to evolve.

Let us not forget:

Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.

~ Chief Seattle, 1854

Early 2011 Planting Schedule and Notes

Onions - Sowed in flats on 2/15 (start in January next year).
Transplanted into garden on 4/17. Next year I will plant later or grow under cover for the first month or so...too cold.

Celery - Sowed in flats on 2/23 (Start in January next year). Planted in garden on 5/6.

Peppers, Eggplants - Sowed in flats 3/4 (Start in February next year).

Tomato, Tomatillo, Ground Cherry - Sowed seed in flats on 3/8-3/18. Started re-potting tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, tomatillos, and others on 4/30.

Brassicas, including: Turnips, Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Kale, Cabbage, and Mustard were sowed in flats on 3/13.
Transplanted (test) turnips into garden on 4/9.
Transplanted kale into garden on 4/17.
Transplanted broccoli, kohlrabi, and cabbage on 5/8.

- Sowed in flats on 3/15. Transplanted to garden on 4/9.
Direct seeded more on 4/18. Direct seeded spinach starting to emerge, 5/5.

Lettuce, including various chicory and arugula - Sowed in flats 3/14.
Transplanted into garden on 4/16.

Herbs - Sowed in flats 3/18. All herbs planted in garden on 5/11.

Garlic - Planted under row cover on 4/2, removed row cover on 4/18.

Parsnips - Direct seeded on 4/10. Starting to germinate on 5/5.

Parsley - Direct seeded 4/15. Germinated on 5/15.

Belgian Endive - Direct seeded 4/15. Noticed germination on 4/29.

Fava Beans planted on 4/20. Starting to germinate 5/5.

Amish Red Gooseberry, Achilles Gooseberry, Gloire de Sablons pink Currant, Black Velvet Gooseberry, Einset Grape, and Crimson Cherry Rhubarb from Raintree nursery planted on 4/20. Crimson Rhubarb arrived in unsatisfactory condition so they sent us 3 more plants and let us keep the originals. Good customer service.:) All the berry bushes had a good root system and shoul do well.

Carrots - Direct seeded on 4/24. Germinating on 5/12.

Beets - Direct seeded on 4/24. Starting to germinate, 5/7.

Hamburg parsley - Direct seeded on 4/25. Germinated on 5/22.

Afilia peas - Direct seeded on 4/25 (and then it started to snow again). Germinated on 5/9.

Minaj Smyriou and Crandall black currants arrived in good shape from Burnt Ridge Nursery on 4/29.

5/2 - The weather finally allowed for the planting of some of our potatoes...unfortunately we were rained out and still have 4 rows left to plant. It's going to be a big potato year for us as we are shooting for 600 lbs...enough for us and the chickens.....and dog.:) Finished planting on 5/3.
Potatoes emerging, 5/15.

Planted Schubert Chokecherry sometimes called Canada Red Cherry and a black cherry tree. Also noticed all of the varieties of cherries we are growing from seed have sprouted, 5/8.

5/29 - Planted Golden Salmon berries and a Logan berry start purchased from local nursery and farmers market.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Secrets of the Soil

To continue any longer as blind consumers of life, without learning to
be visionary restorers of life, will likely insure an end to both
opportunities—sooner than most of us would like to look at. Yet to
fully look, in search of what is true, must surely be the first step.

—Donald A. Weaver

We did a simple soil test this past summer and I was truly surprised that the results reflected such a neutral pH balance as I had always considered our soil to be slightly on the acidic side due to all of the coniferous vegetation that surrounds our gardens. Apparently the truth of the matter is that while evergreen trees and bushes seem to prefer growing in a more acidic type of soil they do not in themselves contribute as much acidity to the soil as I originally thought and what little they do bring is possibly being neutralized by earthworms and microbes.

Lots of little needles in our garden's soil, mostly from fir trees.

In a healthy ground, earthworms eat their way through the decomposing soil depositing their castings as they go. According to what I have read this material is neutralized by secretions of calcium carbonate from glands near the earthworm's gizzard (similar to gizzards in birds) as it passes through their system helping to render it more neutral as the pH in acidic soils is raised and the pH in alkaline soils is reduced. Fortunately for us, our soil is absolutely loaded with worms so we must be doing something right. Here is an interesting excerpt from a rather unusual book on biodynamic agriculture I just read called "Secrets of the Soil" that relates to the function of earthworms in regards to soil fertility and it' s effect on garden plants.

"You would think, wouldn't you, that a carrot is a carrot - that one is about as good as another as far as nourishment is concerned? But it isn't; one carrot may look and taste like another and yet be lacking in the particular mineral element which our system requires and which carrots are supposed to contain." - Modern Miracle Men

In speaking of worms and their function in the soil as it relates to how they help plants assimilate needed nutrients one of the things I have been studying of late is the importance of minerals or the lack thereof in soil and its effect on the health of our plants, animals, and in turn us. Minerals come from rocks that are broken down over time and many of these minerals are severely lacking in today's foods due to industrial era farming techniques that rely heavily on chemicals to help produce the foods most of the population consumes. This has been an issue for many years as can be seen in this document titled Modern Miracle Men - Senate Document #264 written way back in the mid 1930's.

More recent studies suggest that the loss of nutrition in today's fruits and vegetables has continued to increase by alarming rates as illustrated in this chart that gives a glimpse into the lack on nutrient density in modern day food.

From the above study - "But nutritionists have also begun to understand that the form in which humans consume these nutrients is often more important than the quantity they consume.That is, getting vitamin C or iron or lycopene from a pill doesn’t yield the same benefits to our bodies and health as consuming the same amount of vitamin C or iron or lycopene in the form of a carrot or serving of spinach or sun-dried tomato."

These are some of our favorite Nung Ta tomatoes grown in 2009, hopefully high in lycopene.

Vapor from the sea; rain, snow, and ice on the summits; glaciers and
rivers—these form a wheel that grinds the mountains thin and sharp, sculptures deeply the flanks, and furrows them into ridge and canyon, and crushes the rocks into soils on which the forests and the meadows and gardens and fruitful vine and tree and grain are growing.
—John Muir

Something we will be focused on during the coming years is that of continuing to provide our own gardens with enough naturally collected mineral supplements in the form of rock dust, sea & egg shells, ash, manure, "clean" beach sand, and decayed plant matter in order to retain the health and fertility of our soil. Included in this will be the growing of such plants as burdock, endive, dandelion, scorzonera, salsify, or any deep rooted and useful plant that will help to "mine" or draw up minerals from below so they can be assimilated by other shallow rooted veggies. 1/20/11 update - This year we also hope to add comfrey to our gardens. (Thanks for the advice MikeH).

The Survival Of Civilization may depend on all of us making sure this happens with the soil on this planet. Below is an interesting video on how the Thomson family is using rock dust to create healthy, abundant, nutrient dense crops in the harsh landscapes of Scotland.

Yes, "Often the simplest things."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Weather, Beets, and Endive

Some of my blog posts might seem a little odd at times, perhaps a bit on the rambling side. The reason for this is that, in part, I try to use this blog as a journal of sorts, finding that it helps me/us to keep track of what we have been doing on a monthly basis making for a good reference of past events. That said, our temperatures of late have ranged from pretty darn cold (-9) to not too bad (mid 20's) and the winter has been more than manageable thus far, nothing like the terrible weather some of you have been facing in other parts of the U.S. and world. We have received around 45" of snow thus far but it has not all come at once as it did in 2008/09 and has provided a nice insulating blanket for our winter garden. It is snowing out as I type this, they are predicting over 9o" of snow for this winter...Rowdy sure likes it.↓

It was so cold the other day his brown fur started turning white, our hair did the same thing...made us all look kind of ghostly in the early morning hours.:)

In the root cellar we have been able to maintain an average of between 34-39° the past couple weeks, ideal conditions for our produce. Unfortunately, before our latest cold spell we had a bit of a warming trend that caused some of our stored vegetables to return to life and start sprouting a bit. This is pretty normal but not usually something we have to deal with until early March. So last week I spent a few hours going through 6 totes of beets and gave them all a much needed trim before re-packing. The carrots look fine, but the turnips also needed a shave. This should keep everything in good condition for a couple more months at which point I may or may not have to repeat the process...routine root cellar maintenance. See also trimming carrots and parsnips.

Sometimes we pack a few of these beets into pots that are placed on an upstairs window cell and "Forced" to provide us with a nice bunch of fresh greens.

At the same time I took the opportunity to cut back any dead stalks of celery and water all of the pots well. We want the celery to keep growing and it sucks up a surprising amount of water each week, some of the plants are even starting to send new shoots.

A couple pots of endive were brought upstairs to be used in our salads. We will replace these weekly and give the remaining soil to our chickens to play in...they love it and sometimes even find a few worms. Speaking of chickens, the girls have started laying again and we once again have a plentiful supply of eggs. We are proud to have only had to purchase exactly one carton of eggs in the past 3 years.

Green and red endive along with a few speckled ones that have obviously crossed with each other.

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