Food

This category contains 16 posts

Planting your Winter Garden in the Summer

www.kerstinkeifer.comEver wondered when would be a great time to plant a garden you can harvest in the cold of winter? Now! Believe it or not, from now till mid-summer is the ideal time to plant seeds for your fall and winter garden.

If growing a winter garden has piqued your interest, then read up on how to best grow varieties you would like on your winter table. It will be wise to do some research and even check in with your local extension office, as not all varieties will want to be grown now and some will grow better in the fall and others in the spring.

As your spring garden begins to wane and more space becomes available in your garden beds, now would be a great time to begin selecting your favorite cool loving vegetables.   Think Brussels spouts, cabbage, kale, carrots, beets, Swiss Chard, broccoli, lettuce, cauliflower, celery, favas, leeks, mustards, radishes and many more!

Keep in mind that protecting your plants from the heat, during the summer months and then protecting them from fall and winter frosts will be the key to a successful winter garden. Integrating cold-frames, row covers and clotches might be the perfect solution to extending the seasons and protecting your crops.

When deciding what to plant, think of the varieties that take the most time to mature and plant those now, while plan to seed those varieties that are fast to mature and plant those later in the season. Take into account the amount of time needed before transplanting and harvesting, this in addition to, noting plants sensitive to frost is something to consider. Lastly, taking into consideration fall factor is key to success! Fall factor represents the change in pace plants take as they move into the dark of the year.

When thinking of what you want to enjoy on those cold winter days, its important to work backwards when planning your garden. Take into account the following:

  • The amount of days from planting to transplanting
  • Incorporate the average number of days till maturity
  • Tack on an extra couple of weeks to account for the fall factor

= The number of days to count backwards for prime winter garden production

If you live in areas where temperatures reach around the late 90’s and early 100’s, in the summer, it is important to take extra care of your seedlings as they emerge. Keeping them in areas that hover around 85 degrees or below is important to make sure they are not being scorched. An easy solution would also be to start your seedlings inside and transplant after they have reached about an inch or so in height.

Keep in mind that mulching your garden beds now, like any other time, is only going to benefit water retention, weed suppression, added organic matter and enhanced fertility.

Succession planting is another excellent planning method to help you arrive at a continuous harvest. Keep track of your planting days on your garden calendar or journal. Keeping good notes, year after year, will ensure that you are learning from your mistakes and making the most of each season!

 

Not All Seed Is Created Equal

Painted Mountain Corn The world of seeds can be a cornucopia of information, images and wild descriptions, almost all with promising results.  Unfortunately, for most novice gardeners, it can be very misleading and frustrating.  How can you tell if a seed company is good or not?  Simple, if you can call them and have them provide you with where their seed crops have been grown.  Most small seed  houses would be more than happy to provide such information, as it proves that the consumer is going the extra mile to ensure where their seed source truly comes from.  You will be surprised to learn that not many seed companies grow their own seed, which leaves the consumer to trust each company for providing seed that has vigor, traits and characteristics signature to each seed.

Today, you can find prices for a packet of seed, start at a modest 99 cents and reach upwards of $8.00.  So what is the difference in that large gap?  Most seed, sold economically via big box retailers is usually grown in Asia.  Which means, it is already adapted to a region, soil type and water source, that is completely different from what you have at home.  Their organic standards may be something to question, as well as their labor practices and environmental impact, among other things.  Despite federal germination standards, inexpensive seed has lower germination.  Although this may or may not be due to the quality, it often has to do with how the seeds are stored and transported, before it makes its way into a garden.  Seeds are living breathing embryos and conditions that are too hot can inevitably kill the seed before it has even had a chance to germinate.  At the turn of the 20th century, the United States was full of regional seed houses covering the country from coast to coast.  In the 80’s there was a huge consolidation of the seed industry when large pharmaceutical and big ag companies bought out many of these family owned businesses.  This not only reduced the available genetic stock to gardeners and farmers, but began to tip the scales heavily, in a direction that did not favor biodiversity, preserving genetic stock, seed saving or family farms.    This has caused a dichotomy in the world of seeds and available food varieties, but with new seed houses sprouting up again, things are changing and rare and unusual varieties are becoming the vegetables and fruits of choice.  Most importantly, consumers are becoming more aware of what to look for in their food, what questions to ask their farmers and now, how to choose from a reputable seed company.

Not all seImageed is created equal.  A seed may have the same variety name, as seed from another company, but the quality in its traits may be vastly different.  Just imagine the difference in how a small farmer vs. a large farmer will have the ability to pay attention to his fields and truly choose crops that are only of the highest quality. The purity of a seed variety is only as clean as the attention paid to that crop. More awareness among gardeners and consumers, alike, are realizing the importance of supporting small family farms and family owned businesses, which the very back bone of what this country was created on.

Seeds naturally adapt to where they are being grown, the  more they are planted in the same place the more resilient they become to pests, disease and inclement weather.  Seeds, sold from a reputable seed house can offer seeds that were probably grown in conditions where plants are rouged and seed is never harvested from diseased or weak plants.  This practice in turns builds strength and purity in a genetic line, assuring vigor in future generations.  Choosing seed that has been grown in your local area or in similar climate will assure that the seeds you plant will naturally be more acclimated to your climate and will thrive with your love and attention.  This inherently builds regional resilience in the food supply of an area.Image

It wasn’t too long ago that most gardeners and farmers saved the seed from their fields, but with the on-slot of modern agriculture, that ancient practice began to fall away in favor of hybrids and petroleum-based pesticides and insecticides.  The chain was broken, but only temporarily. There is a resurgence in returning to these practices, these ways that have been tried and true for thousands of generations and they are reminding us of how things were done.  In such a way that is in reverence to the plants and the earth, where a relationship of reciprocity is developed and trusted.  One of our main principles, as a small family owned seed company, is for more and more farmers and gardeners to begin to tap back into the beautiful cycle of life, known as seed saving.  We believe seeds are not meant to be stored, we believe the most vital seed vault is in your very garden.  The living embodiment of life and death, the place where we find ourselves and learn about the nuances of life.

There is a strong opposition, happening globally, to reject what is happening in modern ag and the truth is that growing a garden may be one of the most radical acts anyone can do.  It directs the energy into what works, locally grown food sourced from your backyard.  For those without a yard, supporting local farmers via CSA’s and farmers markets can be as rewarding and powerful.  Starting a garden with pure seed is essential in growing a healthy vibrant garden!  When folks buy seed from us, we see it as though they have joined our growing family.  Where they will received the support they need to assure their plants thrive in the ways that they are meant to!

 

 

Seed of the Month | Cosmic Purple Carrot

Image

Every month we are going to introduce a Seed of the Month, where we are going to select one seed to highlight.  We will share the historical attributes, the story that makes this variety an heirloom and why we love it so much!

This stunningly beautiful vegetable is now sought after by chefs and home-cooks for its radiant colors, delicious taste and enhanced health benefits.  Purple Carrots have been grown in since 900 A.D. in Afghanistan, Turkey and Middle East, but this incredible carrot was only Introduced in 2005.  Dr. Philipp Simon and staff at the USDA  in Madison, Wisconsin, bred a whole new spectrum of  colored carrots, stay tuned for more of those varieties!

The Cosmic Purple Carrot adds a punch to any meal, whether enjoyed raw or cooked.  Grate it in a salad or on the side, add some lime juice and relish in the crunch while enhancing your meal with a sweet spice!

Please meet Cosmic Purple Carrot

An amazing colored carrot, Cosmic Purple on the outside and brilliant orange and yellow on the inside.  A delicious sweet and spicy flavor that kids of all ages will love!  This one is a favorite!

Purple has always been a sign of royalty and now purple vegetables are a sign of health. Rich in phytonutrients, this vegetable will add more than just beauty to your meal, it will enhance your overall well-being!

What do you Favor?

Custom Seed PacketsGetting married or know someone who is?  Looking for a favor to give your guests, something to remember your event by? Look no further, our custom seed packets can be filled with any vegetable, flower or any herb seed. The packets can be designed in honor of you and your beloved with an image or a gorgeous botanical drawing.

With wedding season in full swing, it’s no wonder brides all over the country are at their most excited and stressed states of mind. With so many decisions from dresses to food to flowers, it’s not a surprise that party favors are low on the priority list.

Chocolate covered almonds and small mementos are usually the simple go-to solution. Unfortunately, favors are often leftWedding behind or end up in a landfill. With the advent of the farm to table movement and more and more people interested in gardening, offering customized seed packets for special events is a natural and often long-lasting favor.

Just think, whether you choose herbs, vegetables or flowers, your guests will be sure to remember you and your special event every time they enjoy one of the fruits or flowers from the favors they received.

Leave a lasting memory that will feed your guests, provide forage for bees and butterflies or simply bring color and life to a home.

For more information on varieties available and pricing, contact us at info@LivingSeedCompany.com

The importance of Planting a Garden this Year

Drought With California experiencing one of the most severe droughts on record and Governor Brown having declared a state of emergency, it is no wonder many gardeners have decided to let their gardens go fallow this year. The only problem with that philosophy is that by planting a garden this year, could be one of the wisest thing gardeners can do, to actually save water. There is a misunderstanding that growing a garden takes a lot of water.  On the contrary, gardens when done properly, do not require much water at all.

The irony, in this misnomer, is that factory farms and large farming operations, intensely and often improperly use water to not only irrigate crops, but also to wash and prepare veggies for market. A backyard garden would use a dramatically less amount of water to grow and wash the same vegetables.

FOOD PRICES

In the shadows on this drought, it is also estimated that food prices are on the rise. With California being one of the largest global producers of vegetables, fruits and nuts, it is only natural that prices will reflect the effects of this drought. It is also speculated that it will have a two-year impact on tree crops, such as fruit and nuts, since its takes these crops longer to recover from the drought.

Carnival Clown carrots from our garden Quoted from the USDA website:

Despite the surge in the fresh fruit … and ongoing concerns regarding the effect of the California drought, farm-level fruit prices fell 6.8 percent in March, and farm vegetable prices rose 1 percent. The timing of the effects of the drought on prices … depends heavily on the harvest period for each

commodity; such effects may not occur until the Summer or Fall of 2014.

 This forecast is based on an assumption of normal weather conditions; however, severe weather events could potentially drive up food prices beyond the current forecasts. In particular, the ongoing drought in California could potentially have large and lasting effects on fruit, vegetable, dairy, and egg prices …

WATER

We have come a long way in water technology to design and create systems that inherently are water efficient and more wasted watereffective in their purpose, for example to water plants and not sidewalks.

By integrating a drip system in your own garden, you are not only effectively watering your plants, by targeting their roots, but you are also using a system that conserves water. Not all gardens will have the ability to have drip installed, but there are further alternatives in water technology to be water wise. Not all nozzles are created equal. Using nozzles that properly aerate and distribute water can be a simple solution for those who enjoy hand watering their gardens.

Consider collecting the water, that is wasted, when you are waiting for the water to heat up to water your garden. Do you have aerators on your kitchen and bathroom faucets? Another simple water saving solution under $2.

Think of your stormwater and greywater, are you properly managing the water on your property? These days, installing rain barrels to a downspout is a simple and cost-effective solution to re-purpose our rainwater. Creating burms and swales helps navigate our storm water from ever even leaving our property and allowing it to properly be retained in the soil and replenish our water tables. Rerouting the waste water from your washing machine is another effective solution to water your trees. Best to use biodegradable detergents and naturally based detergents, if you are considering this option or are already implementing it.

SOIL

SoilBuilding soil in your garden is the key to healthier crops, better water retention and drainage, better soil structure and less susceptibility to pests and disease. Healthy soil is the foundation of every garden and farm.

There are many simple cost-effective ways to add organic matter into your garden, such as planting a cover crop in the fall and using it as green manure. Other simple ways are sheet mulching, adding compost and integrating well-rotted manure. Mulching is another excellent way of building organic matter, suppressing weeds, preventing rain compaction, but most of all, it will retail moisture in the soil. There are many types of mulch, anything from grass clippings to leaves (oak leaves in particular make an excellent mulch). If you choose to buy your mulch and wanting to buy straw, make sure that you are buying straw and not hay. Hay will have seedheads that eventually will sprout in your garden. Maintain the 5% – 6% organic matter rule, as too much of it can over stimulate the microorganisms in the soil which can cause soil fertility to decline.

Soil that is properly tended, without chemicals and with the microbiology of the underground flora in mind will support and replenish water tables.

GARDENINGChard

Saving seed this year is going to be another simple step in adapting, your vegetables to be being able to thrive on less water, if you replant them year after year. The more you save and adapt your seeds, the more resistant the seeds will be to pests and disease and adapted to your specific local climate and soil. In turn, if there is inclement weather, your crops are more likely to be resilient and able to properly respond to changes, such as drought.

Another way to save water in your garden or farm is to start exploring dry farming. With a long history, Mediterranean countries have been dry farming olives and grapes for thousands of years, producing some of the finest wines and olive oils. It is the process of establishing your crop, on the onset with irrigation and then removing it. This stress causes the plant to reach deep into the water table to find its water and re-hydrate itself. What happens in the process is that by restricting the water intake, the fruits have less water content, this naturally raises their sugar content as well as other enhancing flavor compounds, creating scrumptious fruits and vegetables.

If dry farming interests you, there things to keep in mind. You should know your water table levels, be assured that the plants you plan on dry farming are more drought resistant and lastly dry farm from the beginning. Varieties that thrive in this method are grapes, olives, pumpkins, melons, tomatoes, garbanzos, apricots, apples, grains, potatoes, watermelons, cantaloupes and winter squash.

This may be the beginning of seeing the possibilities of growing food in a year of drought, while also empowering you to take a deeper look at where water conservation techniques can be integrated in your home, whether you own or not.

 

 

Seed of the Month | Chioggia Beet

Chioggia SmallEvery month we are going to introduce a Seed of the Month, where we are going to select one seed to highlight.  We will share the historical attributes, the story that makes this variety an heirloom and why we love it so much!

Best of all, this is a great variety to plant right now in many parts of the country.

We have enjoyed it cooked and raw in many of its beautiful forms.  We eat it grated raw in salads or as a side, pickled as a side dish as well as lightly cooked. Its sweetness and fun pattern make any meal so exciting!  We also toss the greens in a salad, as it adds additional taste and texture to the mix.

Please meet Chioggia Beet

A delightful candy striped Italian heirloom, name for a fishing village near Venice.  An eye pleaser with scarlet skin and red and white ringed flesh.  The flesh is sweet, mild and tender.   Wow your dinner guests with this beautiful beet!  Wonderful for fresh eating, in salads, steamed, pickled and if roasted whole and sliced just before serving it retains it’s markings.

Chioggia Front Packet

4 Reasons Why Heirloom Seeds Should Have a Superiority Complex

Written by: Kirsten Hudson for Organic Authority

heirloom carrots

Handed down through generations, heirloom seeds offer a taste of the past. Often described as “open pollinated” seeds that have a long history, heirloom seeds can make for a diverse and downright gorgeous, organic garden. Like a family keepsake, these seeds offer something precious. Once planted, they’ll bloom into a one-of-a-kind fruit, vegetable, herb or flower that hasn’t been tainted by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or pesticides.

Modern hybrids, which are created by crossing two selected varieties, often produce infertile plants. But heirlooms will yield the same plant year after year, which means you can always save the seeds for next year’s crop. Heirlooms also offer a connection with history. Essentially, you’ll be eating the same plump tomatoes that your ancestors enjoyed.

So, what else makes these vintage seeds inherently superior?

Timeless taste

Many hybrid fruits and vegetables have been bred to produce more crop, or to resist certain diseases and insects. Unfortunately, these “features” often sacrifice taste in the process.

Plants from heirloom seeds weren’t designed to be carted across the country or hoarded in cold storage for weeks, like many commercially grown fruits and vegetables. Instead, heirlooms were carefully selected for their flavor. After all, who wants to go out to their backyard garden and pick a bunch of carrots that taste like cardboard?

And once you’ve tasted a juicy heirloom tomato, it’s unlikely you’ll ever think the same about a supermarket tomato again.

Amped up nutrition

With heirlooms, taste and nutrition go together. You can’t get much fresher than just picked-off-the-vine or pulled-from-the-dirt fruits and veggies—and that means maximum nutrition.

Hybrids, however, have been bred for certain traits—such as producing higher yields—that sacrifice nutritional content in the process. The traits that make carrots, potatoes and other produce uniform in size and faster growing can also mean a lower quality food.

Hodgepodge variety

Heirloom fruits and veggies come in an all-out medley of kooky shapes, colors and textures. From deep red carrots to wonky-shaped tomatoes to bright pink bananas, you just can’t get the same fun variety from hybrid fruits and vegetables.

Contribute to the cause

By choosing to plant heirloom seeds, you’re participating in a mission to diversify our food supply and preserve cultural history. As commercial growers increasingly opt to only plant a small variety of species, we’re losing genetic diversity in our seeds, and therefore our food. This can potentially compromise the nutritional value of our food, lead to issues with soil in farming and potential food blights. Couple that with the increasing GMOs introduced into our produce and it’s a potential recipe for disaster… convinced yet?

Want to take part in the tradition?

Several organizations offer GMO- and pesticide-free heirloom seeds. Browse their catalogs and get excited for this year’s garden!

image: khawkins04

Follow Kirsten on Twitter @kirsten_hudson

This article was originally published on Organic Authority, an organic living online magazine. View the original article.

Following the Sun – Container Gardening 101

Want to have a garden, but don’t have the space?  Fret not, container gardens are the solution to the woes of urbanites and farmers alike.    Aside from having the ability to produce a significant amount of food within a limited space, container gardens allow you to have full control of what going into your soil.  This could be an easy solution for folks that may not know their soil quality while also protecting your crops from soil-borne pests.  The fact that your garden would be raised also helps with pesky garden critters. It is also a wonderful idea for students and other young people that move often and are hesitant to grow a garden that they will end up leaving the following year, they can simply take their garden with them!

Containers also solve the problem if your garden is lacking sunlight, if your containers are on castors, you can easily wheel them as they follow the sun.  This type of gardening also knows no boundaries, literally.  I have seen full-grown fig, lemon and an assortment of other fruit trees flourishing in wine barrels!  The idea is to do a bit of research and give your plants the room and light they need to grow.  Some vegetables may be compromised if their container is too shallow, such as deep setting root vegetables.  This method of gardening allows you to grow food anywhere from your porch, to your balcony to the sidewalk and even your rooftop!  Take advantage of the vertical space in your container and add trellises, teepees or wire cages.

It is a solution that allows for maximizing productivity and creativity …. containers can be upcycled from old basins, bath tubs, wheelbarrows, wagons, baskets, chairs, cinder blocks, you name it!  The sky is the limit with what you can use to make your container garden out of.  Best of all, the more unique the vessel, the more outrageous your garden will look!  Some things to keep in mind when you are reusing pieces that have old paint on them, it may have lead and you will not want to use it.  Also, another thing to keep in mind is to remember is to drill sufficient holes for drainage, if not you will drown your plants.  It has been suggested to drill the holes 2″ up on the sides, instead of on the bottom – this allows for a extra moisture retention, just don’t over water your crops!  Knowing how your pots hold or release water will also help you gauge the quantity of moisture necessary.  There are solutions for self-watering, make sure you do sufficient research before you take off for the weekend!  Depending on where you live will determine how moist/dry your vegetables will want to be, consult your local Extension office.

These types of gardens add dimension, texture, color and depth to a garden.  You can specialize each container with specific vegetables or herbs.  Perhaps using a few for companion planting vegetables and others create a medicinal, culinary and spice garden!  Think of all the incredible things you enjoy eating and explore the possibilities of growing them, noting beats fresh food right out of the garden!  Consider researching what plants do well together and which ones prefer to be at a distance.   Take into account the amount of sunlight you have available and note to have a water source near-by, watering on a daily basis is key to a successful container garden.  Our Urban Collection/Small Space Garden is geared for container gardens.  These varieties thrive in variable light and space.  When purchasing your seeds, always purchase them from a reliable source, check out our post on the Renaissance of Heirlooms to learn about why growing heirlooms and using open pollinated seeds is so important.  Now is an ideal time to plant your heat loving crops, from seed, in order to enjoy a late summer and autumn harvesting!  Take this opportunity and dig through your garage or attic, thrift-stores of curb side sales and create your container garden today!

Start from Seed – Step by Step

Spring is in full bloom and your excited to get back into your garden or start your first one.  You know you want to start your plants from seed, but not quite sure where to start.  Commencing this venture with the finest seed is an essential part to the success of your garden and the quality of your fruit.  Not all seed is the same, even if it is the same variety – not all seed houses preserve the genetics in the same manner.  A lot of the organic seed sold at local nurseries is actually from China, so always call and ask your seed company where their seeds are grown.  Also, if you plan on saving seed, which we highly recommend, then you want to make sure that you are not buying hybrid seeds.  Take a look at our article on Heirlooms vs. Hybrids, it’s an excellent guide that will help you understand what the difference between an heirloom and a hybrid is.  Always buy open-pollinated seeds.

For those of you that ordered our Living Seed Collections, you have already received them already and you are thrilled, but perhaps not quite sure where to start?  Fret not, follow this simple step-by-step model and your seedlings will be growing in no time.

Choose what you want to grow your seedlings in, are they going into temporary pots where the seedling will be transferred to the ground later or will they be placed in containers where they will stay.  If you are transplanting, consider some of the great biodegradable pots that are available.  We have seen some made from  coir, coconut husks, DIY newspaper, toilet paper rolls and even eggshells!  Using a biodegradable medium will make the transplanting less traumatic for your seedling, if this isn’t an option, transplanting the seedling, will be discussed later.

Soil is the next key ingredient in the success of your garden.  Remember this is the foundation of where your seeds are going to start.  Don’t know why soil is so important?  Check out my blog post on the importance of soil.  Initially though, you will want to use a seed-starting mix and not potting soil.  A mixture that has vermiculite, perlite and peat moss are all an excellent combination.  This mix will facilitate with drainage and proper water retention.  Fill pots 3/4 full of the seed starting mix.

Next is the most beautiful part, when you interact with the very seeds that are going to grow an abundance of food to sustain you and your loved ones.  Read the growing instructions on the seed packet as some seeds have very specific needs and should be planted only during certain times of the year.  Ideally you will not be starting your roots or deep-rooted vegetables in small containers with the intention of transplanting, as they do not like to be transplanted.  If you follow the Moon cycles, ideally you will want to wait until the New Moon to plant your seeds.  Know what the desired depth for planting is – air on less depth and do not compact the soil, this is a very common mistake. Lightly cover your seed with additional starting mix and give gratitude to the miracle that is about to happen.

Once you have set up your flats, generously water them and place them in a warm location (minimum of 50 degrees)  the warmer it is the better their germination will be.  While they are germinating, they do not need light, but they need to stay moist and warm.   Remember the seed is a living an embryo that needs air to breath and water to awaken its state of slumber.  Once they start to sprout, they will need a source of light, either natural light (south-facing) or a grow light, placed just above them.  In either case, protect your vulnerable seedlings from drafts, pets  and any other disturbances.  Lack of light will cause your seedlings to become leggy, a phenomena by which the seedling is trying the reach the light and becomes tall and lanky causing them to become susceptible to the elements once transplanted.

Keeping the soil with a similar moisture level to that of a wrung out sponge is the ideal.  Too much water will drown the seed or cause dampening off, which means there was a high level of moisture and heat which created fungal activity, both situations result in killing the seed or seedling.  A watering-can usually offers an optimal spray with enough control.  Should you forget to keep the soil moist, you may jeopardize your seedlings and their growth may be stunted or they may die. There is a sweet balance of presence that is required of your seedlings as they emerge from the soil and begin to grow their roots.  Sometimes adding a plastic dome or even DIY yogurt cups for individual seeds can help keep moisture and heat in.

Once your seedlings have reached a recommended height, you will want to transplant them as soon as possible.  A big mistake of young gardeners is leaving their starts too long in their transplant pots.  Generally you will want to wait until your seedlings have 3 – 4 true leaves – refer to image below for a reference.  Make sure your garden is ready to receive your seedlings and holes have been made and are ready to be occupied.  If you have your seedlings in plastic 6-packs or non-biodegradable pots, you will want to disturb the roots as little as possible.  Turn it on its side and gently tap.  Always hold the seedling by its true leave and never from the stem or roots.

Make sure you acclimate your seedlings to the elements, a term known as hardening off.  This can either be done by leaving them in a sheltered place for a few hours during the day, over several days.  If you have a cold frame, you can use that as an ideal way to transition your starts from the comfort of your home to the garden.  Once they have fully hardened off they will be strong and ready to be planted in your garden.  Take a look at the diagram, to the left, for an ideal way to plant your seedlings.  Best to transplant towards the end of the day or on a cloudy day, this gives your plants enough energy to recuperate from the shock without having to be in the mid-day sun.

Continue to nurture your garden with water, regular compost and amendments.  Observation is a meditative part of being in the garden that also informs you if your plants need certain attention.  Read local gardening blogs and how-to books to guide you on this beautiful journey.  Prepare for the abundance and enjoy the harvest!

Living Seed company takes root from heirloom seeds

Brigid Gaffikin as written for The San Francisco Chronicle

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Paul Chinn / The Chronicle

Matthew Hoffman and Astrid Lindo, owners of the Living Seed Co., grow several varieties of produce and plants in their garden in Nicasio.

From their home in a quiet stretch of Marin County near San Geronimo, two entrepreneurs are hoping to take gardening back to a time when an abundance of plant diversity was the norm.

Matthew Hoffman and Astrid Lindo grow, source and sell seeds of rare and heirloom edibles. Their young business, the Living Seed Co., hung up its virtual shingle just last year.

“What’s amazing is 100 years ago, everybody saved their own seed and in just a short period of time, just a couple of generations, all that changed,” Lindo said.

The numbers behind this shift are remarkable, according to a study of crop diversity in the United States by the Rural Advancement Foundation International, a family farm policy and advocacy group. By 1983, the 408 varieties of peas cultivated on American farms some 80 years earlier had dwindled to 25. Sweet corn saw a drop from 307 to 12 varieties.

Lindo and Hoffman are new to farming but have embraced their venture with a quiet energy and intensity that one suspects drove their lives well before they founded the company.

Hoffman, 36, traveled the world for a decade as a puppeteer with Jane Goodall’s Giant Peace Dove Campaign. Lindo, 35, was born in Colombia but moved to Miami as a toddler. As an adult, she studied in Europe and New York before opening an interior design firm in Southern California. They met in 2009 and decided to make a life together.

A new career

Hoffman began thinking about a new career – one that would support the couple’s commitment to helping others live healthy lives and that would support a family, too.

Starting a seed company seemed a natural fit. Hoffman grew up in rural Wisconsin in a family of gardeners and as a young child lived 2 miles off the grid in a two-room cabin.

“Really it just kind of clicked,” he said. “To be able to grow your own seeds for your own garden … seems a really beautiful way to raise a family.”

Hoffman undertook intensive training in New Mexico at the first-ever seed school taught by Bill McDorman, one of the veterans of the contemporary North American seed-saving movement.

His enthusiasm was infectious; within a few months, Lindo decided to set aside her interior design business and immerse herself in the fledgling business. The couple talked with experienced seed growers and farmers, researched catalogs, and scanned gardening forums and blogs online. And then they dug in and began growing their own seed. At the outset, they largely bootstrapped the company. When they decided to expand, they secured loans from friends.

‘So beautiful’

“It was so beautiful,” Lindo said. “To look back, you know, and a year later we’d farmed a third of an acre of painted mountain corn and some squash and tomatoes and lettuce.”

McDorman, director of Native Seeds/Search, a Tucson organization focused on conserving the genetic diversity of crops grown in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, is effusive in his praise of the couple.

“These young kids are way smarter than we were,” he remarked, reflecting on his generation of seed savers in the 1970s. “Matthew and Astrid are indicative of what’s coming, a whole new wave.”

Seed trading among farmers a century ago has its modern counterpart in businesses like the Living Seed Co., he said.

“That’s where the real revolution is happening, in urban agriculture.”

For Lindo and Hoffman, revolution goes hand in hand with education.

“I think part of our responsibility is to re-inspire people to grow out some of these unique varieties and keep them going and keep them fresh,” Lindo said. “A lot of seed companies are taking them off the racks, and so they may just disappear.”

Adapting to location

“You can watch, over the season, which of your lettuce plants or tomato plants did really well, save the seeds from those, plant them again the next year,” Hoffman said. “That’s one of the beauties of seed saving … every time you save your own seeds, you’re adapting it to your location, so that plant’s going to do better each succession.”

Four of the company’s five seed collections include a seed-saving booklet that groups seeds by how easy or difficult they are to save.

The couple have embraced the educational potential in the Internet, too. They have a lively Twitter feed, a blog and a Facebook page as well as a YouTube channel with instructional videos on seed-saving techniques.

The company also donates seeds to school garden programs, urban garden programs and correctional facilities.

“Most people aren’t going to grow all of their own food, but growing some of their own food – it’s fulfilling in a way that’s beyond, you know, explaining to somebody unless you’ve done it,” Hoffman said. “But it’s worth the experiment, even if you’re just growing a little bit of lettuce.”

Seeds with a story

The Living Seed Co. grows its own seeds in Dixon and Nicasio and sources other seeds from seed banks that farm only in North America. A look at some of the offerings:

‘Amish Paste’ tomato: An heirloom tomato with origins in Philadelphia, the ‘Amish Paste’ disappeared for decades before being rediscovered in Wisconsin. Delicious fresh but also ideal for canning and sauces.

‘Mammoth Grey Stripe’ sunflower: This drought-tolerant, long-blooming, fast-growing native sunflower reaches heights of up to 12 feet, and its flowering head can reach a width of 2 feet. The seeds can be eaten or used for butter or oil.

‘Painted Mountain’ corn: A highly productive flour corn developed by cross-breeding 70 corn varieties for high-altitude growing, a short season and extreme conditions in countries experiencing famine.

‘Stars and Moon’ watermelon: Introduced in North America around 1900 and a staple of seed catalogs in the early decades of the 1900s, this deeply hued, pink-fleshed melon is dappled with yellow blotches that resemble stars in a night sky. It was rediscovered in Missouri in 1980.

‘Merveille des Quatre Saisons’ lettuce: A vigorous French butter-head with a long growing season and tolerant of a wide range of climates, this heirloom lettuce was grown in France at least as early as the late 19th century.

Living Seed Co.

Living Seed Co.’s Giving Seed Program donates one collection to a school or charity for every 10 collections sold. Learn more at www.livingseedcompany.com or call (415) 662-6855. Read the blog at livingseedcompany.wordpress.com and check them out on twitter:@LivingSeedCo; Facebook: www.facebook.com/LivingSeedCompany; and YouTube: bit.ly/wR0P3B

Brigid Gaffikin is a freelance writer in Piedmont. home@sfchronicle.com

This article appeared on page F – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/03/27/DD9P1NDH6T.DTL&ao=2#ixzz1r0saSQ7s

www.LivingSeedCompany.com

We're dedicated to the preservation of the genetic diversity in our food chain through the distribution and growing of open-pollinated seeds and educating about the life affirming art of seed saving.

Archives

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 991 other followers

%d bloggers like this: