Archive for the 'seed-saving' Category

Contemplating seeds

By Tom Read

"Growing season" has already begun for our garlic. Planted last November with cloves harvested in August, it's already about 3" above ground as of late January.

It’s another typical coastal winter day on Texada Island, overcast, 5 degrees Centigrade — but my thoughts are about the coming spring, summer and fall. Specifically, today we’re finally getting in our last seed orders for the coming growing season.

Of course, we are learning to grow open-pollinated food plants and save our own seed. For example, beets, arugula, coriander and kale are all on track for seed harvesting in our garden later this year, and naturally we save potato and garlic “seed” every year. One of our plans for 2010, however, is to start growing a lot more bee forage, so there’s a bevy of nectar-laden flowers joining our order list. We already purchase dwarf white clover seed by the pound for cover crop (and to feed bees); this year we’ll increase our plantings of borage while introducing phacelia, echium, lavender, thyme (creeping groundcover), sweet clover and anise hyssop.

The above list is a result of our reading beekeeping literature, both in print and online, while seeking a balance between different blooming times and the particular growing conditions on our land. With any luck, we’ll offer the bees a constant source of nectar from spring through fall. Our goal is to strengthen our surviving bee colony, perhaps leading to one or two more colonies this summer.

Turning from bees to humans, lately we’ve discovered the pleasures of eating quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”). It can be cooked like rice or ground into flour, and has both great taste and lots of vitamins and protein. To quote the West Coast Seeds catalogue:

“These plants look terrific in the garden and produce edible, nutritious grains that have been grown in the Americas for over 6,000 years. A distant relative of beets and spinach, the leaves of young quinoa plants are also edible.”

A friend here on Texada grew it successfully last year, so we’ll give it a try this year! Somehow, today doesn’t seem quite as gray when contemplating seeds and the sunny days to come.

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Quantities and qualities of seeds

By David Parkinson

Caroline Stoddart and Christine Dudgeon working to save the seeds out of a profusion of pea plants

To see things in the seed, that is genius.
(Attributed to Lao Tzu)

Last Wednesday evening, as part of the monthly Kale Force potluck and conversation, we spent time learning about the importance of seed-saving and then got some hands-on experience with cleaning and packaging seeds for the fifth annual Seedy Saturday, coming up (as always) on the second Saturday in March. This year the event will be on March 13. And because we were getting too big for the Community Living Place, this year’s event will be held at the Recreation Complex in Powell River. Doors open at 10:00 AM and we’ll be going until 3:00 PM, exchanging seeds, swapping information, and generally having a wonderful day to kick off the growing season.

This year, because we will have more space at the Recreation Complex, we will be holding two series of workshops: one series of four workshops will consist of practical workshops on garden planning, seed-starting, seed-saving, and growing berries; the other series will focus on presentations from four projects in the community which aim to increase community resilience in the area of food and beyond. All workshops are included in the cost of admission to the day’s festivities, which is free for children 12 or younger, and $2 for everyone else. What a deal!

Watch this space for more information, or contact the Powell River Food Security Project to be kept abreast of news about Seedy Saturday and all kinds of other food- and growing-related community initiatives.

One of the wonderful projects going on in the background of the very public Seedy Saturday event is the local Seed-Saving Project, which started up as a way of increasing both the quantity and the quality of locally saved seed. With some funding from the Powell River Farmers’ Institute, this project purchased a number of different varieties of seeds: peas, beans, squash, beets, and chard. Experienced growers signed up to grow some of these varieties for seed, taking into consideration the danger of cross-pollination and doing their best to ensure that the plants being grown for seed were given every chance of producing the highest-quality seed.

Except for the biennial beets and chard, these seeds are now coming back into the project and will be available for swapping and purchasing at Seedy Saturday. And these seeds that are coming back will go back out into the community, and from them some more seeds will come back again, and so on. It’s a pretty amazing thing to consider that most of the produce we eat has this kind of lineage: seeds grow into plants, plants produce seeds, and as long as we hold enough of the harvest back for seeds for future needs, we eat the surplus. And the surplus is huge! Nature tends to produce vastly more seed from one plant than could possibly be grown. Wendy showed us a beet plant gone to seed, and it was enormous and probably held several thousand seeds. One plant’s seed is probably enough to supply the entire region with more than enough beets for a whole year.

In a similar way, each one of these community projects sends out hundreds of seeds out into the world; only these seeds are in the form of inspiration and imagination. Every person who attends an event like Seedy Saturday learns something, meets someone, finds out something new, or makes a connection that wasn’t there before. And the sum total of all of that new energy and inspiration comes back the following year in the form of greater participation, new ideas, and more connectedness into the general life of the regional community. Not to mention more seeds.

The bounty of the land and the fruits of our labour

By Tom Read

epeargingermarm1009

This year's fruit crop was especially bountiful. When confronted by large quantities of apples and pears, we made applesauce and pear-ginger marmalade. Those are coriander seeds left of the walnuts, just harvested a few days ago. The backdrop is Linda's favourite apron, a creation of local artist Shelley Thomson.

October is a time of such great food abundance on Texada Island!  Back on October 2nd I wrote about preserving our tomatoes in the form of salsa and how this contributed to feelings of greater self-reliance (“What really matters”). Here at the end of the month I’m struck by how much time and effort we’ve continued to put into preserving and storing food, learning new (for us) techniques along the way. So here’s a brief sampler of October’s epicurean activities and insights:

Walnuts — a mature, quite tall English walnut tree stands on the property of a friend who gave us permission to glean, so we watched and waited until one day a couple weeks ago, when it seemed like the nuts would be ready. Having never harvested walnuts before, I didn’t know what to expect so I brought my long-handled fruit-picker, thinking I might need to pick the nuts. Instead, I found hundreds of them on the ground, most with the outer casings cracked open, and even more fell around me as the wind blew them practically into my basket. A squirrel, unseen but noisy up in the tree, protested my harvest, unmistakably proclaiming his territorial right to these particular nuts.  I walked away with about 20 lbs, leaving easily as much behind for the wildlife.

Better applesauce — Linda found several recipes on the Internet that allows us to skip the tedious peeling step in making applesauce. Since we gleaned the apples from a friend’s trees, we know they’re free of toxic chemicals common in store-bought apples. This makes it safe to leave the skins on the apples, removing only the core before grinding and cooking with just a bit of added sugar and lemon juice. Leaving the skins on the apples results in slightly more colour and definitely a more nutritious sauce because much of the fiber and nutrients of the apple are contained in the skin. This smooth, full-bodied sauce tastes wonderful, too.

Pumpkin seed pesto — As mentioned in an earlier post on “Seed-saving adventures,” this year we grew “Styrian” heritage pumpkins as part of a regional seed-saving project. This variety is known for its easily edible seeds. Our seeds got planted a little late, in a spot that probably wasn’t quite sunny enough, so the pumpkins never fully ripened. Fortunately the seeds still matured to a deep green, and they taste quite good, so we roasted some with a little olive oil on their way to becoming an ingredient in a memorable pesto sauce. The light orange flesh of the pumpkin made a very good soup, too.

By all accounts it’s better to use seeds from ripe pumpkins for starting a new crop, so I’m not sure how these will fare when I plant them next year. Until we see the results, I’m holding off distributing any Styrian seeds back among the regional seed-savers.

Pear-ginger marmalade — Ok, so we cheated and used imports from far away: ginger root, oranges, and lemons. Combined with locally-gleaned pears, the results are quite wonderful. It took us about three hours yesterday to make this special treat, so here’s the recipe, with our modifications and subsequent results:

Ingredients:

¼ cup ginger root; chopped fine

3 medium oranges; cut in half and juiced, seeds removed, chopped

2 lemons; cut in half and juiced, seeds removed, chopped

(If fruit is small, as what we find at our local market, use twice as much)

All of the lemon juice and half the orange juice from above *

10 – 12 cups pears; pealed, cored and medium chopped

6 cups sugar **

1 package low-sugar pectin

2 tbs butter, an option which decreases foaming

Directions:

Use a large kettle, enameled or stainless steel. A food processor can be used for chopping ingredients (pears, lemon and orange peel, ginger) rather than doing it all by hand, it you’ve got the tool and are so inclined.

Combine all ingredients except the sugar and pectin in the kettle and stir well. Then stir in the pectin, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Turn down to avoid boil-over, and add all the sugar, stirring until it’s all dissolved in the fruit mixture. Bring back to a rolling boil and hold it for one minute. Skim foam (a taste treat); let sit 5 minutes, then ladle into hot, sterile canning jars with ¼” headspace and process 10 minutes in a hot-water bath. This recipe should give you about 6-7 pints.

* The cooks get to drink the rest of the orange juice as a refresher after all that hard work peeling and chopping!

** We find this marmalade plenty sweet with four cups of sugar, but some canning purists will say that’s not enough. You decide.

Seed-saving adventures

By Tom Read

My apologies for this focus-challenged photo I took today. We'll soon be awash in carrot seeds, even if they're a bit blurry at the moment.

My apologies for this focus-challenged photo I took today. We'll soon be awash in carrot seeds, even if they're a bit blurry at the moment.

Texada Island is a good place to grow carrots, once you dig the rocks out of your garden and if you’ve got enough good seeds. Given the converging economic, energy and environmental uncertainties besetting the world today, we do not take for granted our access to good vegetable seeds. So, last summer we grew a Nantes open-pollinated carrot variety from West Coast Seeds. One difference between carrots and some other vegetables is that you have to let carrots continue into their second year of life to harvest seeds. Thus, we over-wintered the best carrot plants from our 2008 garden in hope of saving seeds this year.

Meanwhile, our friend Fred gave us about 30 scarlet runner beans last fall after I made admiring noises about their colourful long seed pods in his garden in Van Anda.  After decades of saving these runner bean seeds, Fred has noticed a gradual darkening in their colour.  Before planting, I soaked all the seeds overnight in a bowl of tepid water, then the next morning I set aside for planting only the seeds that had sunk to the bottom of the bowl. I had read somewhere that if a seed floats, then it’s not as vigorous as one that sinks. This may be a mistake in regard to scarlet runner beans, but I’ve soaked other types of bean seeds before planting, with good results.

I’m no expert in plant genetics, but of the 30 scarlet runner beans I planted (some more black than brownish-red), only about half germinated, which seemed a bit low compared to the store-bought pole bean seeds we planted about two weeks earlier elsewhere in our garden.  The store-bought seeds showed an 80% germination rate and are already six feet high, while the scarlet runners are barely above knee level, so far. This is probably a result of sun exposure and weather differences in the different garden locations, and each variety’s planting time requirements. I should have tried some side-by-side same-time planting for a truer comparison. Maybe the scarlet runners will catch up by September.

My point is not that Fred’s generously donated scarlet runners are somehow deficient.  The point is that I haven’t learned how to run valid plant genetics experiments in our garden. This matters because if we don’t learn how to keep our own food plant seeds viable generation after generation, we will remain dependent on an increasingly tenuous seed supply from a shrinking number of reliable seed companies.

We’re not alone in thinking about this issue. The Powell River Farmer’s Institute co-sponsored a 2009 seed-saving venture, which was promoted on Texada by PR farmer Wendy Devlin. Last winter, Wendy visited the Texada Garden Club and handed out seed packets for several types of garden vegetables to anyone interesting in seed-saving. I took 15 Styrian pumpkin seeds provided by a volunteer in the Powell River region, which we have since grown into six rather happy pumpkin plants.  They’re perched on well-fertilized hills containing rotted chicken manure and seaweed, about five feet apart.  Growing like crazy in the mid-July heat! We’ll have Styrian pumpkin seeds to share come October, if all goes well.

But our attempt to grow pumpkins in 2008 utterly failed due to several obvious-in-hindsight errors which could have been avoided by doing more research or having guidance from an expert. Confirmed optimists like myself call that a “learning experience.”  This year we’ll make different mistakes, no doubt. I believe that you can’t truly garden successfully just from reading about it on the Internet or in gardening books; experience counts, especially hard-won experience.

Which brings me to another, somewhat sobering thought in closing.  After several years of gardening, Linda and I are still really novices. We get some pretty good crops every year, but we make lots of mistakes, too. What will happen when the global price of oil takes another sharp turn upwards, making store-bought food a lot more expensive, so that people with even less experience than us must try to grow their own? Yes, we can help each other, but that will amount to novices leading other novices. That, and sustaining vigorous seed genetics, gives us something to ponder as we continue our adventures in seed-saving.

Why can’t every day be like Seedy Saturday?

By David Parkinson

Our fourth annual Seedy Saturday was a big success and everyone left feeling energized

Powell River's fourth annual Seedy Saturday was a big success and everyone left feeling energized and ready to get growing again.

… our strategies must be more like water itself, undermining everything that is fixed, hard and rigid with fluidity, constant movement and evolution. We are trying to build a politics of process, where the only certainty is doing what feels right at the right time and in the right place… When we are asked how are we going to build a new world, our answer is, ‘We don’t know, but let’s build it together.’
(John Jordan)

Experiments are only revealed in retrospect to be turning points.
(Clay Shirky)

These days we keep hearing about sustainability, although we don’t hear so much about what it really means. It has many definitions, but the main idea is that sustainability refers to the ability to keep doing what you’re doing indefinitely. For example, a sustainable agriculture will continue to produce high-quality foods without depleting the soil of nutrients or polluting the soil, water, or air with toxic chemicals. (A regenerative agriculture will go one step further and strengthen the ecosystems which support food production: it will build soil, replenish and protect fish streams, produce clean water as effluent, and so on. Let’s just say that this is not yet on the agenda.) And when we talk about becoming a sustainable region, we are talking about satisfying the needs of the creatures living here without impairing any of the natural systems which provide raw materials, enable processing and transportation, and otherwise support human and other needs. Sounds great, right? How can you argue against that?

Sustainability — however we define  it — is a noble goal, but there is another goal which I think is a precondition to creating and maintaining a sustainable city or region. That goal is resilience.

I find resilience especially interesting because it concerns the human side of the natural systems which serve our needs. Sustainability is largely about the non-human side: we talk about sustainable agriculture, a sustainable economy, and so on. Resilience has much more to do with the ability of humans, as individuals and in groups, to respond to changing conditions around them. For instance, we can think of someone as a resilient person; this means that she or he responds quickly and flexibly to challenges, is able to recover from setbacks, adapts to changing conditions, and so on. Likewise a resilient neighbourhood, city, community, or region.

We often talk about sustainability as though it is something that can be grafted onto current social conditions with only minor tinkering; if we could just do better at recycling, or switch to biofuels, or cut our energy usage, etc., we would be creating a more sustainable city or region (or world). Colour me politely skeptical. In my opinion, the challenges we face are too profound for small tweaks to make meaningful changes; this is why I believe that resilience is a better goal than sustainability. If you work towards genuine resilience — in individuals, in groups, and in the various social networks that comprise the local economy — you will create the conditions for true sustainability. Without working on the human level, you will always be mandating change from the top down and working against the grain.

And so here is where Seedy Saturday enters the picture. For anyone who doesn’t know about the local Seedy Saturday, it is an annual event organized by a committee of our local Farmers’ Institute. We just had the fourth one this past weekend, and it was a roaring success. I manned an information table throughout the day, and I got to talk to many of the people who came through. It’s a really energizing and fun event, and as far as I can tell everyone who walks out the door does so with a spring in the step, a smile on the face, and a pocketful of seeds. And why not? After all, it’s really a celebration of potential: seeds are nothing if not little miraculous bundles of new life in waiting, and here we are organizing a day to pay homage to that wonderful process that allows us to draw our sustenance from the earth. There is something deep and primal about Seedy Saturday.

In terms of its bang-per-buck ratio, Seedy Saturday is a brilliant operation. It costs very little to organize: a volunteer committee of six or so people meet six or seven times throughout the year for at most a couple hours per meeting; so there are perhaps 100 person-hours of meeting time, plus a certain amount of background organizing and planning throughout the year. On the day of the event, members of the Farmers’ Institute and people from the broader community volunteer their time to make the event a success. Admission is a mere dollar per person, which is just enough to recoup the cost of renting the hall and the other expenses. Seed packets are fifty cents. Admission provides access to many local experts, amateur and professional gardeners and farmers, community groups, as well as five workshops during the day. It really is a beautiful social event, and it produces enormous happiness with minimal labour.

What is one of the nicest aspects of Seedy Saturday is that it very directly produces resilience in the community. Individuals wishing to become better gardeners or more self-reliant in food production can come and learn more from their peers and from experts. The pool of knowledgeable and passionate food growers gets bigger and better connected every year. The number of people aware of the importance of saving seeds grows every year, as does the number of people actively growing plants for seed. Community groups form stronger ties to people and other groups. At the most basic level, the community gets to know itself better.

And all of this happens very organically: this is not one of those public meetings that people drag themselves to begrudgingly and full of trepidation. No one feels too shy to ask questions or offer an opinion. It’s like a party built around seeds and growing and food and hope. So it doesn’t feel like activism, or political engagement. But it produces a more active and engaged bunch of people. In effect, it builds resilience into the community by creating a corps of people who are informed and passionate about regional food security, the right to control our food supply, and the importance of self-reliance.

So, my question is this: how can we start to create more events and initiatives like Seedy Saturday? How can we find ways to get people more involved without making it look like work or duty or obligation? In the literacy work I do, we talk a lot about embedding literacy in people’s daily lives. People often don’t want to feel that they’re engaged in some kind of literacy activity (it sounds too much like school); but if you sneak the literacy bit into something that people really want to do on its own merits — like stand-up comedy, storytelling, or a poetry slam — then it’s much more effective and more likely to draw in all kinds of people. In a similar fashion, we need to create the conditions under which the community will become more resilient, individually and collectively, without people having to think about resilience. It should be organic, spontaneous, and answer to people’s real needs. We need to create more public spaces and conversations which are open-ended and free enough to let the community’s true spirit come through. It’s hard to know how to make that happen, but that is the work that will produce a resilient region. We need to stop steering the process so much and start giving people possibilities that allow them to determine the path forward.

I want to return to John Jordan’s comments quoted at the beginning. Here is how he finishes off his letter to Rebecca Solnit (emphasis mine):

Taking control of the future lies at the root of nearly every historical social change strategy, and yet we are building movements which believe that to ‘let go’ is the most powerful thing we can do — to let go, walk away from power and find freedom. Giving people back their creative agency, reactivating their potential for a direct intervention into the world is at the heart of the process. With agency and meaning reclaimed, perhaps it is possible to imagine tomorrow today and to be wary of desires that can only be fulfilled by the future. In that moment of creation, the need for certainty is subsumed by the joy of doing, and the doing is filled with meaning.

Courtenay/Comox Seedy Saturday

By Giovanni Spezzacatena

I attended the Courtenay/Comox Seedy Saturday event this past weekend (March 7, 2009 from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM at the Florence Filberg Centre in downtown Courtenay).

Below are some images from that very successful event. What looked like dozens of volunteers and vendors attracted the crowd to this tenth annual Community Seed Exchange & Horticulture Trade Fair. The theme this year was “Grow Your Own Food”. In trying to claw my way through the different stations (see images below of the crowds inside), I repeatedly overheard especially older attendees remark on how strange it was to see so many younger people interested in food gardening. What was remarkable to me was the undertone in this; a mixture of “cool, they’re catching on!” with “oh, we’re really in (economic) trouble if these guys are thinking about growing food”. One senior told me that he had given up on food gardening several years ago, but this year, he dug up his driveway to return to it.

The feature that seemed less prominent at this event was the workshops; one featuring medical herbalist Chanchal Cabrera presenting “Eat Your Weeds”. A garden panel was there to answer questions on seed saving, composting, mason bees, fruits & vegetables.

In contrast, Powell River’s Seedy Saturday (this coming weekend! March 14 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM at the Community Living Place on Artaban St. in Cranberry) will have five free workshops (see you there!):

  • 10:00 AM to 10:45 AM: Berry Happy, Thank You
    Volunteer Master Gardener Myst de Vana presents ways to boost immunity in small fruit shrubs.  You can have your fruit (and eat it too) by selecting sturdy varieties, planting for long-term health, and preventing disease and pestiferous creature problems.  Managing crop size, staggering harvests, and using wild berries all help create a potentially long season of treats for our cereal and desserts.
  • 11:00 AM to 11:45 AM: Winter Gardening for Powell River
    Master Composter, and professional horticultural therapist, Carol Engram helps you plan and manage a productive winter garden. Start planning your winter garden now, in order to plant in July.
  • 12:00 NOON to 12:45 PM: Small Greenhouse Permaculture
    Patches from NIMH Farm will talk about some of the innovative greenhouse techniques in use at their farm (on Donkersley Rd. south of Powell River). He will discuss the combination of high production crops in small spaces with the use of chicks and ducks for fertilizing the soil; rotation of the soil and re-fertilization; year-round production divided into a season of greens and another warmer season of peppers, tomatoes, and basil. He will present a slideshow illustrating these techniques and how NIMH Farm is applying them.
  • 1:00 PM to 1:45 PM: Starting Plants from Seed
    Kevin Wilson from micro-market garden, Fiddler’s Farm demonstrates how to take the seeds you get at Seedy Saturday and grow them into healthy plants. Workshop covers starting seeds indoors under lights, direct seeding outdoors, and starting seeds the easy way with minimal protection.
  • 2:00 PM to 2:45 PM: PLANT frequently, HARVEST abundantly
    Wildwood market gardener, Wendy Devlin helps you plan either your first or next  vegetable garden in advance.  Extend your garden’s productivity and  harvest from March to September.

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