Living Seed Company

We are dedicated to Happy Healthy People preserving 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. We preserve food diversity and educate about seed saving.
Living Seed Company has written 34 posts for Living Seed Company

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

Winter Gardening in Coastal Northern California

images-1Ever thought about planting a winter garden, but not sure what to plant?  Fret not, here in coastal Northern California, we are blessed to have a mild winter that allows us to keep our garden going year round.  By integrating some simple DIY strategies, you will no longer feel like you are missing a single growing season.

Discovering all the amazing cold tolerate winter crops is an excellent way to begin planning your garden.  Think of what you and your family love to eat and plant from there.  Amongst some of the amazing veggies that thrive in our mild winters (and year round for that matter) are broccoli, cabbage, radish, spinach, collards, Brussels sprouts, kale, carrots, parsnips, chives, potatoes, leeks, mustard, broccoli, turnips, beets, chard, lettuce, peas, fava beans, carrots, celery and parsley.

Understanding your plant’s hardiness is an excellent step in growing a successful winter garden.  The hardiness will indicate to you, how much extra care your plant(s) will need, if frost is expected.  Some simple solutions, that work, are using old sheets to cover citrus and other tender plants and trees.  Note the sheet should reach the ground, in order for it to be effective, as the soil gives off heat and you want to be able to capture as much of it as possible.  Use clamps and bricks to keep the sheet in place.  Other, more time-consuming, solutions could be creating a tunnel over your garden bed using stakes, old PVC pipes and a row cover to place over your new structure.   Firm wire can also be used instead of PVC pipes, but offers less stability.  The tunnel solution can also be easily adjusted if the temperature gets unexpectedly warm, you can simply slide off the row cover.  Row covers not only raise the temperature but also protects your plants from pests, a solution used year round by some farmers.  If kept dry and properly stored, row covers can last year after year.  Another simple solution, for raising the temperature in your garden, is by using cloches on individual plants.  Cloches are coverings for plants during cold temperatures.  This solution can be difficult if you have a large garden or farm, but could be used if you have a handful of plants that you’d like to protect.  Have some large plastic water bottles hanging around?  Cut the bottoms and voila, you have your cloches!  Place bottle over plants during freezing weather.images

Using cold frames is an efficient solution if you find yourself without a greenhouse.  Cold frames are small enclosures with a glass top that can easily be opened or closed and used to protect plants during cold weather.  Cold frames can be fancy or rudimentary – depending on your budget.  Either way, cold frames are indispensable in Northern California gardens, as they help extend the seasons in the winter and in the fall and are essential in protecting your seedlings as they harden off.  The idea of a cold frame can be mimicked by using an old window and leaning it against some thermal mass ie: concrete wall and placing your plants inside.  It is a simple and cost-effective solution to protect some of your plants against frost.

Keep in mind that although we received some refreshing rain, we are still in a drought.  It’s a good time to begin gardening with unpredictable weather in mind, as climate change is proving to us that we really don’t know what to expect year after year.

Calypso Bush BeanSaving seeds is one of the easiest and most practical ways to innately adapt your seeds, to your soil, climate and region while also making them less susceptible to pest and disease.  When you save your seeds in a drought year, those seeds that are saved, will be inherently more apt to growing with the need for less water.  This is not only opportunity for more regionally adapted seeds, in a time when water is uncertain and food prices are on the rise. The USDA states that drought in key agricultural areas or other severe weather events could potentially drive up food prices beyond the current forecasts.

This is a fabulous time to start thinking of the delicious ripe tomatoes you will be enjoying this summer, you may want to consider dry-farming them for optimal taste!  And don’t forget to start your tomato and pepper seeds indoors

Want a spring garden abundant with flowers?  This is an ideal time to plant wildflowers, as they need to vernalize before they can germinate.  Wildflowers provide forage for our pollinators and butterflies while offering us their beauty!

 

 

 

Bay Area Planting Guide

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Q & A with Matthew: How to start your Spring Garden from Seed

 

 

Ask an Expert: Matthew Hoffman of The Living Seed Company

 

Winter is a great to time to start planning your indoor or outdoor edible garden for the year ahead. After you decide what to grow, the next step is to choose and then sow your seeds–tasks that can sometimes seem daunting to first-time or less-seasoned gardeners. We asked Matthew Hoffman, owner of Northern California’s  The Living Seed Company, for his troubleshooting tips and recommendations for planting an edible garden that flourishes, no matter what your space or experience level . Read on for his expert advice on choosing, sowing and transplanting seeds and seedlings.

 

 

 

What seeds do you recommend buying for an indoor edible garden?  

 

Grow what you love to eat!  And don’t be afraid to experiment.  Many herbs such as basil and cilantro will do great. Leafy greens such as, lettuce, spinach, kale, etc, are also very easy to grow and well suited for indoors.  A vining bean or pea is a great decoration as well as an edible.  Run the vines around a shelf or window.  Kids love picking the green beans and peas and popping them in their mouths.  Roots can do well indoors too.  Try shorter varieties of carrots, beets and radishes.  Tomatoes and peppers will work as well but need a larger pot, more space and more light.  Of course I would recommend The Living Seed Company’s Urban Collection.

 

 

When should one buy seeds? 

 

Starting in the early winter, the freshest seeds for that year become available.  Seed packets will state which year they are packed for, but most will live a few years beyond.  Over time, seeds will lose some of their viability. Seeds are alive–they should be kept in a cool, dark and dry place to extend their life.  You could keep them in the refrigerator in an airtight container.  If you do this, when you take them out make sure to leave the container out at room temperature until it warms up, before opening, to avoid condensation on the seeds.

 

 

What are the ideal conditions for growing seeds indoors?  

 

Plants, especially vegetables, need sunlight.  While leafy greens, carrots, peas and beets do not need a lot of direct light, they will grow faster the more they get.  Tomatoes and peppers really need 6-8 hours minimum to produce fruit.  A windowsill by the sink with sunlight can be a perfect place for some herbs or lettuce.  A bay window can become your own miniature indoor dream garden.  You can even hang pots to increase growing space.   South facing windows will receive the most light.  Be aware in the middle of summer that your plant friends will need more water if in full sun.  If its really hot and intense pull them (especially the greens) back from the window a bit until it cools down.  If lack of light is an issue,  indoor grow lights can be used.

 

If you are using saved seeds, or seeds given to you by a friend, how do you determine the ideal depth for planting them?  

 

Small seeds like carrots, lettuce, basil and kale should be planted just below the surface of the soil.  You can place the seeds on the surface of the soil and sprinkle a little more soil (1/8 to 1/4 inch) on top.  Larger seeds like beans, peas, squash and corn, can be planted about three times their width (a 1/2 inch bean about 1 1/2 inches deep).  Make sure to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged as young sprouts are very delicate.

 

Can you save seeds from your harvest for planting next year? If yes, how?

 

Yes!  Saving seeds is one of the most rewarding activities a gardener can do.  Not only do you benefit from having more seeds to plant, the seed will adapt to your particular climate and bioregion over time.  Just imaging your favorite varieties doing better and better over the generations.  Plus,  it is truly amazing to be part of the miracle of plants producing an abundance of seed and completing their life cycle!  Seed saving can be simple or complex depending on the type of seed you are saving.  Self pollinating perfect flowers like those on beans, peas, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers can be very easy to save, with out worrying too much about cross pollination.  For beans and peas just let some of the pods dry down completely on the vine.  You can then shell the seeds and plant again next year.

 

Be sure to save seeds from numerous plants to avoid inbreeding depression, which will weaken you plants vigor and resilience over the years, do to genetic bottlenecking.  Let lettuce flower (also known as bolting) and once the pretty little yellow flowers are dried out, looking somewhat like a miniature dandelion, shake the flower heads into a paper bag every few days until you have the amount of seed you desire.  Pepper seeds can be removed from the flesh and placed on plate or cookie sheet to dry in a warm (not over 95 degrees F), dry place out of direct sun.  When the seed snaps between your finger nails, it is dry enough to store.  Tomatoes benefit from a fermentation process that treats the seed for seed borne diseases.  Cut the tomatoes in half at the equator.  Squish the seeds and juice out into a jar.  Place jar in a warm area (on top of the refrigerator is great).  After two to four days a mold (that co-evolved with the original wild tomato) will appear.  The seeds are then ready to be cleaned.  Fill the jar with water and stir.  After a few moments the good seeds will sink to the bottom and the bad float to the top.  Carefully pour off the bad seeds, any skin or flesh and the mold.  Repeat until water is mostly clean then pour the seeds into a strainer.  Remove any remaining debris by hand.  Empty seeds onto a plate or baking sheet and place in a warm, dry place.  When seeds are dry, using the finger nail snap test, you can safely store the seeds.

 

Other seed saving can be a bit more complex.  Biennials such as carrots and beets take two years to produce their seed and may require removing the roots from the soil if being grown where the ground freezes.  Other vegetables like squash, cucumbers and the cole crop family (broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc.) can cross pollinate with members within their species quite easily and measures need to be taken to prevent this if more than one variety is being grown and pure seed is desired.  If you really get into seed saving, I recommend picking up a book on the subject as their are many wonderful techniques and tips for seed savers.

 

 

How do you really know when your seedlings are ready to transplant?

 

If starting from flats, transplant into a container when the first true leaves emerge when the seedling is still very young.  These seedlings may then be transplanted again outside or into a larger container when they develop more but before they become root bound.  When transplanting to the outside, you will need to toughen them up for the outdoors by hardening them off.  Stop feeding them and water them less. Start putting them outside in a protected area out of wind and direct sunlight or in a cold frame. Start for a hour, then two, then a few hours in the morning, gradually building up time outside over a week or two avoiding extreme weather.  Then they are ready to transplant.

 

 

Do you recommend fertilizing seeds or seedlings to help them along? Composting?

 

Seeds do not need fertilizer or even soil.  How cool is that?  Once the baby plant emerges it will require nutrition.  If using a soilless potting mixture, the seedlings will need regular fertilization after the first true leaves appear.  Fish emulsion, compost tea or manure tea will work great.  If using a soil-based potting mixture that has compost or other nutrients, fertilization may not be needed for several weeks.

 

Yes to composting!  You can make your own in a compost bin or worm farm.  It is so rewarding to take your vegetable kitchen scraps and leftovers and turn them into nutrient rich compost that you give back to your plants and garden!  Add compost to the  garden soil or containers before transplanting.

 

How do you estimate the last frost date? 

 

For likely the most accurate information I would go to the National Climatic Data Center .  They will provide frost probability levels at 10, 50 and 90%.  10 % probability will be the safest date.  Some places, like where I grew up in Northern Wisconsin, can have frost almost year round, yes even in July!  If you live in such a place, plant when frost is no longer a regular happening and pay attention to the weather.  If it’s going to frost in July, cover your tender plants like tomatoes and peppers.

 

What type of soil amendment do you recommend for replenishing raised beds or in-ground garden plots?

 

It can vary greatly depending on your soil.  If you really want to “dial in” your soil, get a soil test done to know what you are starting with and amend with what is recommended by a trusted testing company.  Remember organic is healthier for you and your soil.  Compost and worm castings are great.  Apply liberally when transplanting and during the growing season as a mulch or side dressing. Another great way to build soil, while conserving water and suppressing weeds, is to mulch with straw (not hay) around your plants and turn it in at the end of the season.

 

Where should I put my sprouting seeds?  

 

When sprouting seeds indoors keep them in a warm place in the house.  Near a hot water heater or on top of a refrigerator is ideal.  Make sure to check on them in 2 to 3 days.  Lettuce seeds need light to germinate.  Once the sprouts emerge from the soil the baby plants will need plenty of light.  Seedlings need more intense light than full grown plants, 12 to 16 hours a day is best. If the seedlings a growing long, pale and spindly they need more light.  Seedlings do not need as warm of temperatures as germinating seeds.  Seedlings also need regular moisture and a reasonably high humidity. Do not over water seedlings, evenly moist but not soggy.  A couple light mistings a day will help.

 

 

Is there any way to determine if seeds are viable before planting them?  

 

You could do a germination test but that would require you sacrifice some of your seed and take some extra work and time.  If you want to make sure they are viable before you go through work of planting them, this is what I recommend.  Different varieties have different average life spans under ideal storage. For instance, lettuce seeds are viable for about 6 years while onions are only viable for a year or two.  These are just general guidelines not exact measures. There are plenty of stories of very old seeds still being viable, so take good care of them.  The oldest verified seed to sprout was a Judean date palm that was 2,000 years old!

 

My seedlings died after transplanting. What could have gone wrong?

 

The seedlings might not be dead!  Keep watering them regularly until you are sure they are dead or they come back to life.  Sometimes plants drop off (look wilted or dead) after being transplanted and then come back in a few days. There are almost an infinite amount of variables when it comes to gardening.  One major problem with transplanting is not “hardening off” (acclimating for the outdoors) the plants properly.  Be sure to transplant on a cloudy or misty day or late in the afternoon to avoid being burnt by the sun.  Be very careful with the fragile root system as well.

 

 

Can you grow plants from seed all year long, or are there better months than others to start a garden?  

 

For most growing regions, it is best to start seeds in the late winter (to transplant) and spring if growing outdoors.  If you are growing indoors and have a window with sunlight or indoor grow lights you can grow year round.  If you are growing outside it really depends on your climate.  If growing over the winter, you will want to plant seeds in the late summer through mid autumn to give your seedlings enough light to grow and survive through the darker part of the year.  Here where I am in coastal northern California we are blessed with the ability to grow some varieties year round.  Even though it frosts here, the varieties we grow are “frost tolerant” vegetables like beets, carrots, peas, spinach, broccoli, cabbage and lettuce that like it cool.  Varieties like Red Russian Kale are even able to survive at 10 degrees below zero F!  Picture digging through the snow to come upon some sweet, tender, green and purple leaves in the middle of January!  I recommend gardening and growing as much as you can get away with!

 

by The first Williams-Sonoma store opened in 1956, selling a small array of cookware imported from France. Since then, the brand has expanded to hundreds of products from ar … Read more

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

You Are What You Eat!

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!

The Universe under our feet – Soil

Did you know that soil was alive?   Many people do not realize this, something that on the surface may look look dead, but upon closer inspection is bustling with life!

Many people have misconceived notions about soil, it is usually associated with words such as something being dirty or soiled.  An inaccurate correlation to an element of our life that is so critical and and that is such a dependent element to our survival.  Healthy soil goes hand in hand with a healthy environment.

The nation that destroys its soil – destroys itself” (Roosevelt 1937)

The first and most important step in improving soil health is to recognize that soil is a living organism and all parts of our ecosystem depend on it – it is vital to our survival, the growth of our food and maintenance of our ecology.

There are billions of microorganisms that make up a whole network below ground.  In one spoonful there are 600 million bacteria!    Imagine that – there is an entire network of life below the ground, right underneath our toes.  A network that works together with the trees, the plants, the fungus and so much more, all to be able to sustain life above ground for us – amazing!

Soil, for example, is the measure of the health of biological systems.  In other words, soil is the metaphor of our environment, if we have healthy soil we have a healthy environment. Annually, we are losing 1 percent of our topsoil per year, due to industrial  agriculture, the process of mono-cropping, heavy chemical use and erosion of our soils.  Just to put things into perspective -  it takes thousands of years to form one inch of topsoil.

Life in the soil provides the structure for more life, and the formation of more soil.  Soil is equated to food and food is equated to life.  The fertility and the quality of soil will determine the health and stability of all life that is relying on it  – just as the health of each human being will determine fertility and the quality of their life.

The reality is that a simple way to help maintain healthy soil and manage waste in your home is by simply composting.   In essence it is an excellent free resource of nutrients for our plants and the earth.  It doesn’t smell, but mainly, it reduces the amount of waste going to a landfill, all are creating the fertile ground for a microcosm universe to exist and for soil sustainability to flourish!  Don’t know where to start?  Check out our simple DIY Urban Vermiculture Composting post!

We are all organisms working within one larger organism – called Planet Earth.  Seeing on the micro and macro level, gives us a wider perspective into the many realms that are living in harmony here with us.

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.

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