Basic Seed Saving

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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!

 

 

 

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.

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

Planting Seeds 101

So you got your seeds in the mail, you’re so excited … but not quite sure where to start?  Still pondering what seeds to buy?Wondering what the difference between hybrid and heirlooms?Well first think of the space you are working with and plan accordingly.  Since you are ready to plant, hopefully your soil has been amended properly with organic matter or you are starting your garden with an organic soil mix (we would recommend anything that is OMRI certified).  Remember, healthy soil = healthy plants, everything begins in the soil.  If you have not had your soil tested and are not sure what may be in your soil, we recommend raised beds and/or containers.  More info on container gardens coming soon, so stay tuned to my next post Following the Sun – Container Gardening 101.

Some of your varieties will grow horizontally, think squash, while others grow vertically, think peas.  Taking this into consideration is key to a successful garden.  I would recommend finding an unused journal or notebook that you can designate as your garden journal.  This is key to help you remember where you planted things in past seasons.  To keep your soil healthy it is important to rotate your crops, if you are planting heavy feeders.  Rotating can also prevent diseases from being transferred from one plant to another.  Our seed packets are a wealth of information and will inform you if varieties are heavy feeders or not.

Now its time to plant!  If you are direct seeding, planting in the soil, you will want to make sure there is ample space between everything (each variety needs an allotted amount of space). Don’t be too paranoid and use a ruler in the garden; gardening is more organic than that, no pun intended.  If you over-seed, you can eat your mistakes, but crowding your vegetables can also compromise their nutrient intake and can ultimately stunt your crops.  There is a fine balance so just have fun!  There are some seeds that can be broadcasted, instead of being planted individually.  As those seedlings start coming up and growing their first “seed leaves,” start to rogue (pluck out) the weaker ones.  As the leaves of the seedlings begin to start touching, rogue those out as well, over-crowding is a disadvantage when the roots and the growth of the plant become compromised.

Make sure that you have followed the directions on each seed packet, about how deep each variety should be planted.  Each seed packet is choke-full of great info that will help guide you to yielding a great harvest!

After all your seeds are tucked away in the earth, remember to sprinkle them generously with water.  This is what will awaken your seeds, this is where magic happens!  The soil must continue to stay moist for germination to occur, this means watering every day.  Should the soil dry up, you may risk having lost those seeds.  Remember you are nurturing this tiny seedling to emerge into the world, it needs your love and care … and even your song, so don’t be shy!  If you are starting some of your seeds indoors, don’t forget to harden-off your seeds before planting them in the soil or moving them outside, that means exposing your seedlings to colder air little by little.  Some folks use a cold frame, which is also great solution.

Continue to nurture your plants until the completion of your harvest.  Plan accordingly if you plan on saving your seeds.  You may want to grow extra plants, so you can enjoy some of the harvest and save the seeds.  Use your Basic Seed Saving book that we provided for you for the best information on how to properly save your seeds.

Storing your Seeds

Remember seeds, are living embryos, they should not be left in a hot place, ie: your car or a hot garage.  As long as the seeds are being stored in a cool and dry place, they will be fine.  We recommend keeping them stored in the Mylar envelop the come in.

Try to keep them out of direct sun and moisture when you are in the garden planting.  If you choose to store them in the refrigerator, they can last from 4 – 10 years (depending on each seed’s viability).

If you do choose to use the fridge as your seed storage facility, make sure that the zip lock part of the envelope is sealed.  When you do use the seeds, just let the Mylar bag sit out at room temperature until for a couple of hours, to let the seeds get to room temperature, to avoid moisture condensation forming in the seeds inside.

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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