Written by: Kirsten Hudson for Organic Authority
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
Several organizations offer GMO- and pesticide-free heirloom seeds. Browse their catalogs and get excited for this year’s garden!
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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!
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!
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.
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.
Eating is one the many fundamental actions, for life, that everyone shares. What people eat is what drastically differentiates us from other cultures and the very thing that brings us together with like-minded foodies. We are living in a time where a lot of attention is being focused on food, whether it is the amount we are eating, the quality, how miles it has traveled and of course whether it has been genetically altered. Whatever your interest in food may be, we are living in an exhilarating time in the history of food.
Despite that 1 in 3 Americans is obese and most food found in our supermarkets, if it is not organic, is genetically modified, there is a food revolution happening in the midst of all of this.
As we know, we began as hunters and gatherers. Eating and cooking solely what we could hunt and harvest. Through time, technology and the advancements of the industrial revolution things changed dramatically. We began canning, preserving and freezing.
Today, most Americans take very little regard in what they eat, how it is processed, what is in it and most of all, how much of it they eat. The irony is how much of our eating habits have changed drastically in a mere 100 years. From our food supply, quantity and nutritional content, to the amount of imported goods we consume. Perhaps a simple way of addressing this is we went from viewing food as a sacred commodity to a simplified convenience.
While most of America has accepted that we moved from an agricultural society to industrialized agriculture and embracing that fact that most of our food travels 1500 miles – there is a huge subculture that has sprouted up globally. This movement touts local, seasonal and organic – backyards are being converted into food forests and front lawns are being torn up to make way for urban gardens!
The movement has taken root in all of America’s largest cities, while infiltrating small towns and growing communities. It is taking shape in the form of expanding farmers markets, community gardens, edible school yards and even homesteading. There are several large installations of some of these applications found in places like NY MOMA’s infamous indie art museum known as PS1. Annually there is a competition of young architects at the opportunity to build an oasis during their summer installation. Winners, several years ago, built an urban farm, producing food and raising chickens, right in the middle of Queens!
In the San Francisco Civic Center - the entire front lawn has been replaced with a garden, in time for the Slow Food festival – and the harvest will coincide with festivities all through Labor Day in 2009.
In downtown Los Angeles, there is an annual Public Fruit Jam in Echo Park – where an art gallery was opened to the public to bring local fruit to make jars of fresh jam. I attended a few years ago and I brought in green sour apples from my backyard, coupled with figs, lemons and mint to create this outrageous homemade jam!
So what are the advantages to eating local and seasonal?
With local food there are much lower energy costs and the nutritional value of your food is much higher, since the crop was not harvested early. Most of all, you are supporting your local farmers, your community and a really incredible movement that is taking shape and coming soon to your community!
Swapping recipes, seeds and gardening tips are no longer a thing of the past, but rather a really hip and obvious thing to be doing, now!
Don’t have a yard? Fret not … food in pots grows incredible varieties! Don’t have time or the patience to grow your own? There are Community Supported Agriculture known as CSA’s – where you can have a box of beautiful organic fruits and veggies grown in a local farm delivered to your door weekly! Check out Local Harvest to see where your local CSA is.
There is that classic adage that you are what you eat. The reality is that our habits around food have lost their value – and now more than ever, is a critical time to begin asking the right questions and being aware of what you are consuming and most of all, knowing where your food comes from.
We are finding ourselves relying on our community as well as our neighbors. In essence we are adopting the ways of our ancestors. The need to continue to push the envelope all while looking back and taking in the strides taken by our predecessors!
Organic, Rare and Heirloom Seed Collections
The Living Seed Company is an heirloom seed company dedicated to supporting families, friends and communities growing healthy food and saving their seeds.
To take some of the guess-work out of gardening we have developed collections of organic heirloom vegetable and herb seeds, suited to your region and growing needs.
All of our seeds are open pollinated, non-GMO, untreated, organic or grown on small natural farms and were selected for their versatility in the culinary arts.
The Founders Collection Our original widely adapted collection suited for most climates
Northern Collection Our long season collection, suited for shorter climates
Southern Collection Our short season collection is suited for longer climates
Urban /Small Space Collection This mini collection is perfectly suited for Urban settings or small gardens and even container gardens
Salsa Collection Our salsa collection is suited for all the fresh salsa lovers out there!
“Learn about how the Government has affected our eating habits and its unintentional effects on the American appetite.” [Exhibit preview blurb]
What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet is a fascinating exhibit, partially sponsored by the Mars, Inc. (Seeds of Change). It reveals archives of records, photographs, videos and posters from the holdings of the National Archives in Washington DC. The exhibit intricately sows the seeds of how our government has been involved in the nourishment of the American people and how we have been protected from some of the atrocities that were attempted to by pulled off by profiteers. The exhibit begins around the time of the Revolutionary War and spans to the late 1990′s.
The exhibit is broken down into four sections from Farm, Factory, Kitchen to Table. With each section tracing how food has been intrinsically involved with the development of our food culture. Through each section, we learn how our government has brought about regulation to keep concerns of food safety and regulation at bay. Every industry from factory farming to candy production, was the recipient of intense scrutiny and management, eliminating things such as Bred Spred which was a new and improved coal-tar spread for your morning toast! Posters such as the Vitamin Donut, demonstrate how propaganda was used to influence the diet of a people who at a time were conforming to what was determined to be the best for us.
In the 1830′s Congress enacted a seed giveaway program, whose intentions were to broaden what American farmers grew, by introducing and testing rare plant varieties, found all over the world. By the time the program had reached 30 years, it was distributing 1.1 billion free seed packets of common vegetables and flower varieties to farmers and gardeners throughout America. During this time of trialing new varieties, the United States was also sending plant hunters to reaches of the world. These gentlemen were set on voyages to discover new fruit, herbs and vegetable varieties, unknown to most. Many of these excursions gave us many of the staples we use to this day, such as the Meyer lemon, that is native to China and was brought to us by agricultural explorer Frank Nicholas Meyer in 1908.
In the mid 1920′s, farmers could tune into radio programs such as The United States Radio Farm School and Farm Flashes, one of many examples that brought to light how our government was supporting its agricultural roots and encouraging agrarian knowledge to be prolific. A theory that can be highly debated these days with several controversial food subsidies, corporate interest versus family farm and now the cross-pollination of genetically modified organisms (GMO) throughout fields and farms all over America, to name a few.
There is a lot of information, provided we seek it. For those that do not, or simply choose not to, are cast under the spell that the higher authorities know what is best and are here to protect our health and well-being. Understanding where our food comes from, how it is grown and where it is grown, empowers us as consumers and by-products of the food system. Growing our own food will only deepen that empowerment. Growing our own food from seed and saving our own seed will give us freedom and sovereignty.