News posts from admin's Archive


Tree Sap: Nature’s Energy Drink

Monday, March 10th, 2014

There’s nothing better than kicking back after a long day with a nice cool glass of tree sap…wait, what?

Sounds sticky, I know, but you might be surprised to hear that sap from maple, birch, or walnut trees is comprised mostly of water with 2 percent or less sugar and loaded with minerals, nutrients, enzymes, antioxidants, and more—an incredible, all-natural beverage.

Whether the resulting product is sap, syrup, or some other delicious treat, The Sugarmaker’s Companion by Michael Farrell, documents the untapped potential of American forests and shows how sugaring can turn a substantial profit for farmers while providing tremendous enjoyment and satisfaction.

According to Farrell, fresh sap is the most valuable product you can get out of a tree. Learn more about its market potential in the following excerpt adapted from The Sugarmaker’s Companion. After reading, you may find yourself scouring the aisles of your local health food store for this nutritious elixir, or tapping trees to start your own sap beverage business.

*****

The first year I tried making maple syrup was pretty much a disaster. My father, brother Jeremy, and I tapped several trees on our property in Lake George in an attempt to produce maple syrup. We didn’t do nearly enough research beforehand and consequently burned many of my mother’s favorite pots. To say that our syrup took on a smoky flavor would certainly be an understatement! The lone bright spot in our adventure was discovering how delicious the sap was—fresh from the tree or partially boiled down into an even sweeter, golden liquid. After several failed attempts at making syrup, we gave up on that aspect altogether and just drank the sap. Whatever sap we didn’t drink fresh got boiled down for 20 to 30 minutes on the stove until we had created “Adirondack Sweetwater.” While I certainly love pure maple syrup, drinking the sap is what really got me hooked on sugaring.

Drinking Sap: Fresh or Pasteurized

Some people enjoy drinking sap fresh from the tree, while others prefer to boil it for a brief period to kill any bacteria or yeast. Since it is certainly possible for harmful bacteria to be found in sap, the cautious solution is to pasteurize it before drinking. However, this will kill all the bacteria, both good and bad, thereby precluding possible consumption of probiotics that are important for human health.

It is worth noting that maple sap is basically sterile inside the tree; it is not until it is exposed to the atmosphere or comes in contact with collection equipment that it picks up various strains of bacteria. Luc Lagace, a maple researcher with Centre ACER in Quebec, has spent considerable time and resources along with his colleagues identifying the bacterial communities commonly found in maple sap. They recently used advanced technology to identify a wide array of bacterial communities found at the taphole, with Pseudomonas and Rahnella the most commonly occurring genera.10 Although it is possible that probiotics could become introduced into the sap, it is also possible that harmful bacteria could make their way in. For this reason, I always recommend filtering and pasteurizing the sap before drinking—just to be safe. In the same way that municipalities implement a “boil water” policy whenever there is a water main break, I also always recommend sterilizing the sap before drinking. I would feel terrible if someone wound up with contaminated sap (based solely on their collection practices) and then became ill themselves or made other people sick by serving contaminated sap to them. While there is a good chance you could drink raw sap your entire life and never get sick from it, when you are serving sap to other people (or recommending them to try it), it is always best to err on the side of caution.

Carbonated Sap

If you are a fan of carbonated beverages, you can make a fresh maple seltzer simply by using maple sap instead of water in a home carbonation machine. There are plenty of different models on the market that are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. Simply substitute maple sap (or birch or walnut sap) for water and use the carbonation machine as directed. With your own carbonator, you can control the level of fizziness in your seltzer and make it fresh whenever you want. I highly recommend this to anyone who likes carbonated beverages. As an added bonus, you’ll also be able to make your own maple soda (as described in detail in chapter 11).

There is a company in Vermont that has been instrumental in commercializing the concepts discussed above. Brothers Bob and Rich Munch applied for and received a patent in 1995 to create the products that they market through Vermont Sweetwater Bottling Company. Their patent covers the methods of pasteurization, filtration, concentration, and bottling of carbonated maple sap. A 2009 article in The Atlantic featured their successful business, which now sells roughly 10,000 cases each year.11 In addition to carbonated maple sap, they also make a pure maple soda and several other flavored soft drinks. Although not all of their beverages utilize maple sap and syrup, these two products provided the impetus to develop their thriving company.

Commercializing Tree Sap

To date there has been much more commercial activity with bottling and selling birch sap than there has been with maple sap. A quick Internet search for “birch sap” reveals a wide variety of purveyors throughout Europe, Russia, and Asia. There are many websites where you can buy pure birch sap or other beverages that utilize birch sap as the main ingredient. Most of the products use citric acid to preserve the sap, and many come with added sugars. The main obstacle that most companies encounter is preserving tree sap for year-round consumption while still maintaining the flavor and health benefits of fresh sap. The other challenge is trying to supply a market for 52 weeks when the sap is only running for less than a month. This requires a lot of warehousing and strategic planning to ensure a steady supply at an affordable price. It also requires a great deal of marketing and outreach to teach the public about maple and/or birch sap. Most people are originally skeptical of drinking tree sap, so you need to offer samples and do whatever outreach is needed to get people to understand why maple and birch sap are incredible, all-natural beverages. Once people taste the sap and discover that it is just like pure water with a hint of natural sweetness, they will gladly buy it. However, if you just put it on a shelf somewhere and hope somebody will try it, chances are you won’t sell much.

Maple Sap

The last few years have seen a surge in activity with bottling maple sap. In 2009 Keith Harris retired from his corporate job and started Troll Bridge Creek Inc. with his wife, Lorraine, in Ontario, Canada. Keith decided to use his science and business background to start an entirely new venture in bringing maple sap to the marketplace as an all-natural, healthy beverage. Within a year Troll Bridge Creek Inc. developed the KiKi Maple Sweet Water brand and bottled thousands of gallons of maple sap in 12-ounce glass bottles. They have since greatly expanded production and branched out to include blueberry-, strawberry-, and cranberry-flavored versions that have pure fruit juice added to the maple sap. For a couple of years they also had lemon-ginger and lemon-mint flavors, but these were not as popular so are no longer offered. The response from health food stores has been remarkable; over 150 outlets across Canada now carry their products. Keith is also in conversations with a number of Asian businesses to export their maple sap to Korea, China, and Japan. Over the past year he has been working with researchers at Conestoga College in Ontario to develop additional processing techniques to preserve maple sap for year-round consumption. The idea is to then license this technology to others so that sugarmakers throughout the United States and Canada could also bottle and sell pure maple sap as a healthy beverage. Stay tuned for further developments in coming years.

Not all of the maple sap commercialization is happening in Canada. Here in the United States, I have come across several restaurants and health food stores selling maple sap in various forms over the past several years. Most notably, in 2012, Feronia Forests, LLC, a sustainable forestry company and certified B-corporation with timberland holdings in Massachusetts and New York State, started researching various processes to extend the shelf life of maple sap. After positive developments in their first year, Feronia bottled enough maple water in a shelf-stable manner to run a regional test market in the summer of 2013. They are planning a commercial launch of maple water in the spring of 2014 under the label Vertical Water. Feronia’s Vertical Water will soon provide added growth to the subsegment of all-natural functional waters category, much in the way coconut waters have done over the past few years.

Birch Sap

Rather than being processed into syrup, the majority of birch sap collected in the world is used as a beverage. Most of it is converted into what’s known as a “Forest Drink” (or a similar translation) that involves adding sugar to the sap and preserving with citric acid and/or heat treatment for year-round consumption. Although there is a good market for this type of beverage, a company in Finland is taking a different approach. Susanna and Arto Maaranen have developed a unique method of preserving birch sap without having to heat, freeze, or refrigerate the sap. Their company, Nordic Koivu, is able to keep the birch sap in a natural state and therefore maintain all the health benefits of fresh birch sap for everyday use throughout the year. They have not yet patented their technology, because doing so would reveal the trade secrets that they have spent years of research and development to discover.

The temperatures are usually much warmer when birch sap is flowing as compared with maple. Therefore the sap is more likely to spoil and needs to be collected and processed carefully and quickly. Nordic Koivu has developed a custom-made sap collection system, utilizing stainless steel and a special type of plastic that allows the company to maintain the highest-quality sap for as long as possible. They are also working on a project to have subcontractors collect birch sap, which they would then deliver to the plant for processing and bottling. They originally experimented with having another company collect sap for them; once that proved successful, they have expanded to include another four or five sap collectors. This allows them to focus on processing, bottling, and marketing the sap without having to worry about gathering it. By having trained people gather the sap with customized and specific materials, they can also ensure a high-quality product.

Final Thoughts

Whereas commercializing tree sap for year-round consumption is a difficult venture, you may have better luck marketing sap as a seasonal product with a limited shelf life. Our relationship with seasonal beverages in America is highly varied. Some beverages are seasonal even though they don’t have to be; others should be seasonal but are now produced year-round.

As our food system has evolved over the past century, many of us have lost touch with the seasonal nature of food. However, since tree sap only flows during a limited time of the year and is difficult and expensive to preserve, it may work best as a seasonal product. With the rise of CSAs, year-round farmers’ markets, and other venues for local food distribution, getting fresh, minimally processed maple sap to the market is much easier than it used to be. There are many people who would love to drink sap as a seasonal “spring tonic.” If you can find a way to supply fresh, properly processed and packaged sap to them in an economical manner, then you can certainly develop a successful business.

 

Garden Planning Sale: 25% Off All Gardening Books

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Want a great garden?

It all starts with a good plan. You’ll find growing is easier than you ever imagined.

To help jump-start your garden planning we’ve included some tips and inspiration from our expert authors; from planning the best garden, to starting your seedlings right and how to pick the best crop for your garden.

Keep checking our website for the month of March with more posts as part of our “Garden Series” for planting tips and tricks for the coming gardening season. We’ve also put all our gardening books on sale for 25% off until March 31st.

Happy reading (and planting) from your friends at Chelsea Green Publishing.

P.S. In case you missed it we’re partnering with Whole Earth Summit - a free on-line 3-day seminar (March 11-13th) with some of the world’s leading activists and on-the-ground leaders. Hope you can join us!


How to Plan the Best Garden Ever

Growing your own food is hard work, but with a few easy tips and techniques you can make it a lot easier. It all starts with a good plan. Carol Deppe shares her labor-saving tricks for your best garden yet. Plan it »»


Start Seedlings in a Cold Frame

Are you ready to get a start on the gardening season? With a cold frame you can jump in now.

Farmer Eliot Coleman is the master of growing vegetables year-round, and he has some simple guidelines for using cold frames to start seedlings right. Grow it »»


Choosing the Right Seed Crop

Ever wonder what crops will grow best on your land? Well, learn from award-winning author John Navazio about the right questions to ask.

He guides you through the characteristics of the most cultivated crops so you will get a better feel for which crops are best suited for you, especially when growing them from seed. Grow it »»


~ ~ Gardening Savings: 25% Off  ~ ~
The Resilient GardenerRetail $29.95
Sale: $22.46
Four-Season Harvest
Retail $24.95
Sale: $18.71
This Organic Life
Retail $19.95
Sale: $14.96
The Organic Seed Grower
Retail $49.95
Sale $37.46
Market Farming Success, Revised and Expanded EditionRetail $29.95
Sale $22.46
Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier LandRetail $29.95
Sale: $22.46
The Grafter's Handbook
Retail $40.00
Sale: $30.00
The Seed Underground
Retail $17.95
Sale: $13.46
Slow Gardening
Retail $29.95
Sale $22.46
Seed to SeedRetail $24.95
Sale $18.71


Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books
already on sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or
more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only)
 
per inceptos himenaeos.

How to Graft the Perfect Fruit Tree: Five Grafting Techniques

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Before we know it the growing season will be upon us, so now is the perfect time to take care of any pre-season grafting. Learning the art and science of grafting fruit trees can give an old tree a new life, or perhaps give some continuing life to a variety you love.

The Grafter’s Handbook by R. J. Garner is the classic reference book for this time-honored skill. First published in 1946, and last revised in 1988, we’re pleased to publish this sixth revised and updated edition. Revised and updated by respected horticulturist Steve Bradley, this  indispensable manual will remain the go-to guide for a new generation of orchardists.

In the excerpt below, Garner outlines basic concepts and details five key techniques for grafting established trees, such as cleft, oblique, rind, veneer, crown and strap grafting.

And the book covers many more aspects of grafting, everything  the dedicated amateur, student or professional horticulturalist wants to know.

Grafting Established Trees – An Excerpt from The Grafter’s Handbook by Chelsea Green Publishing

The Seed Series: Choosing The Right Seed Crop

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

The following is adapted from John Navazio’s award-winning book, The Organic Seed Grower. In this short excerpt, the author provides some key questions you should be asking to determine if a crop will grow where you live.

For more information on seed saving, check out the previous articles in our “Seed Series” — an excerpt from Janisse Ray’s book, The Seed Underground about the basics of seed saving and why it’s an important skill to preserve; and, an excerpt from Carol Deppe’s Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties about how seed savers should think of themselves as plant breeders.

* * * * *

SEED CROP CLIMATES
By John Navazio

While there are several dozen plant families that contain species of crop plants that are commonly used by different agricultural societies around the world, there are only nine families that house the great majority of seed-propagated vegetables that are the most important across most cultures worldwide. Through learning a bit about the characteristics of these nine families of the most cultivated vegetable crops, it is possible to get a better feel for which crops are best suited to a particular climate, especially when growing them as a seed crop.

SEED PLANT CHARACTERISTICS

There are a number of prominent characteristics of cultivated plants that are quite similar within the nine plant families in which most of our vegetable crops are found. One of the first things someone researching our cultivated crop plants finds is that closely related crops within a particular family usually share a number of prominent features. We know that different crops within the same family often share certain phenotypic traits, such as structural or reproductive characteristics.

Flower structure has long been a principal way of categorizing plants into families. The type and structure of the fruit, which is indeed a fertilized ovary of the flower, has also classically been used to assign different plants of the angiosperms (the true flowering plants) to various species and genera. As to structural features, we all know that crop species in the same family usually share a common leaf type, arrangement of their leaves on the main stem, type of stem, and so forth.

Plant structure can also be a reflection of the function of a particular part of the plant. Certainly as you get to know the different crop members of a plant family you may begin to see more of the commonalities among these species. This way of viewing crops can prove quite useful when you consider growing unfamiliar seed crops for the first time and realize that it is possible to culturally handle them in a similar fashion to a seed crop with which you have experience.

Here are a few categories in which crops within a particular family share traits that will help you decide whether the crop is suited to your environment:

1. Evolutionary past

  • Center of origin. Is your climate similar to that of its evolutionary past?
  • Climate. Is your climate similar to the climate where it’s currently grown?
  • Structure and flower parts of the family definitely relate to shared ancestry.

2. Environment. Characterize the climate that the crop thrives in.

  • Cool-season crops need cool weather to mature high-germination seed.
  • Intermediate crops will grow in cool or warm climes and mature seed in warm conditions.
  • Heat lovers need heat to thrive and produce high-germ seed.

3. Life cycle. While some patterns exist across families, there are clearly families that contain annual/biennial/perennial species.

  • Annuals complete their entire life cycle in one season.
  • Winter annuals are planted for fall growth and flowering early in the next growing season.
  • Biennials need most of two seasons to complete their life cycle, with vernalization between the first season of vegetative growth and the second season of reproductive growth.
  • Perennials. This includes very few seed-propagated vegetable crops.

4. Daylength sensitivity. Is the crop sensitive to daylength?

  • Daylength-sensitive crops only flower at certain daylengths.
  • Daylength-neutral crops flower at various daylengths.

5. Reproductive biology. Self-pollinated species versus cross-pollinated species.

  • Cross-pollinated species. Is on-farm isolation possible?
    • Wind-pollinated. Pollen travels far and doesn’t require insects.
    • Insect-pollinated. Are pollinating insects present?
  • Self-pollinated species. How many on-farm isolations are possible?
    • Faithful selfers are highly self-pollinated; several crops are possible.
    • Promiscuous selfers—how many isolations are possible?

6. Presence of disease. Is disease a limiting factor in your environment?

  • Diseases of the vegetative stage—is it a limiting factor?
  • Seedborne diseases—are they endemic and economically limiting?

7. Presence of insect pests. Are insects a limiting factor in your environment?

  • Insects of the vegetative stage—are these a limiting factor?
  • Insects of the seed—are they endemic and economically limiting?

CLIMATIC ZONES

Here is a reference list of the four major climatic types in which vegetable seed crops are grown. The important climatic considerations that determine each zone’s suitability are given, followed by the crops that are most well adapted to that particular zone. Note that some crops are suited to more than one climate and therefore have a wider adaptation to environmental conditions for producing high quality.

Cool-Season Dry-Seeded Crops

All dry-seeded crops are formed in dry pods or in clusters along the stem of the plant and are essentially harvested like grains. They produce the best quality seed when they mature and are harvested in seasonally dry, low-humidity regions; the so-called Mediterranean climate. These cool-season, dry-seeded crops are best grown in the cooler reaches of the Mediterranean climate, where cool, often wet weather predominates during prolonged springs, and summers are mild and dry with little or no rainfall through harvest. Cool-season crops do not handle hot weather, especially through the earliest stages of their reproductive cycle. These crops form the highest quality seed when temperatures are generally somewhere between 60 and 75°F (16 to 24°C) during pollination, fertilization, and the earliest stages of embryo and endosperm development in late spring and early summer. After this initial formation and development of the seed they are able to tolerate average summer daytime high temperatures between 75 and 85°F (24 to 29°C) but thrive in relatively cool summers, especially where daytime high temperatures rarely exceed 80°F (27°C) to produce the highest-quality seed.

Seed crops that excel under these conditions: Spinach, beet, cilantro, Asian greens, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Chinese cabbage, parsnip, mustards, Swiss chard

Warm-Season Dry-Seeded Crops

This climate is similar to the Cool-Season Dry-Seeded parameters above but with temperatures that are consistently warmer throughout all the months of the growing season. Warmer spring temperatures result in more rapid early growth and development for these crops over the cool-season dry-seeded crops. Daytime high temperatures during flowering and seed setting should generally not exceed 78 to 85°F (26 to 29°C). But after this initial formation and development of the seed these crops are able to routinely tolerate summer daytime average high temperatures between 85 and 92°F (29 to 33°C) when producing high-quality seed.

Seed crops that excel under these conditions: Broccoli, kale, collards, celery, radish, turnip, lettuce, Swiss chard, favas, peas, runner beans, parsley, endive, escarole, and chicories.

 

Hot-Season Dry-Seeded Crops

All dry-seeded crops do best when there is little or no rainfall during seed maturation and harvest. This lessens the incidence of diseases of all kinds, especially seedborne diseases, and it lowers the threat of excessive rainfall shattering the seedheads that form with all dry-seeded crops. While summer highs do regularly exceed 92°F (33°C), a number of these crops must complete their early reproductive stages of pollination and anthesis to mature a high-germinating, high-quality seed crop, while early season daytime temperatures are between 80 and 92°F (27 and 33°C).

Crops that excel under these conditions: Garden beans, lima beans, edamame, carrot, onion, and sweet corn.

Hot-Season Wet-Seeded Crops

The wet-seeded moniker refers both to the fact that most of the fruit of these crops is wet but also to the method used to extract the fruit, which is extracted through a wet fermentation or a series of water rinses (see Seed Harvest for each individual crop). These crops are all heat lovers from the moment they are planted. They depend on warm spring temperatures that average above 65°F (18°C), to establish good early growth and need warm nighttime temperatures to realize a decent yield and mature a high-germinating, high-quality seed crop. Temperatures may routinely exceed 90°F (32°C) during flowering and early fruit and seed set,* and unlike the dry-seeded crops, some humidity is tolerated; in fact, the presence of humidity often is responsible for holding the heat into the evening and nighttime hours.

Crops that excel under these conditions: Cucumbers, melons, watermelons, summer squash, winter squash, bitter melon, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. (*The exception for this group is cucumber, which does prefer slightly cooler temperatures.)

The Seed Series: Become A Plant Breeder

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

The following is an excerpt from Carol Deppe’s book Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, and provides an introduction for gardeners interested in learning how to breed their own plants and save seeds. Deppe also sells her own seeds, which you can buy direct from her at www.caroldeppe.com.

For more information on seed saving, check out the previous article in our “Seed Series”–an excerpt from Janisse Ray’s book, The Seed Underground about the basics of seed saving and why it’s an important skill to preserve. Up next, learn from award-winning author John Navazio about the right questions to ask when determining what crops will grow best on your land. 

* * * * *

AN INTRODUCTION TO SEED SAVING
by Carol Deppe

Every gardener should be a plant breeder. Developing new vegetables doesn’t require a specialized education, a lot of land, or even a lot of time. It can be done on any scale. It’s enjoyable. It’s deeply rewarding. You can get useful new varieties much faster than you might suppose. And you can eat your mistakes.

Gardeners buy only small amounts of seed compared to commercial growers, so seed of varieties that are best suited for gardeners is sold in only small amounts. Large seed companies often can’t afford to carry it. No one can make a profit developing it. So no one is. If we gardeners want good new garden varieties, we’ll have to breed them ourselves. But this is as it should be. Gardeners have been developing their own varieties for centuries. Besides, why should we let the professionals have all the fun?

Why Save Seeds?

Saving seeds is fun. Cleaning the seed, holding the clean seed in your hands, is magical. Gaze at the seed, run your fingers through it, play with it, and you can feel the connections. You’re like a child with a gallon bucket of marbles, or a squirrel sitting on a hollow log full of acorns. Unquenchable joy arises. It is so intense it puzzles you initially. Then you recognize it. It is the joy that comes from being who you are supposed to be and doing what you are meant to do.

Seed saving is practical. If you know how to save your own seeds you can grow rare varieties. Many of the most spectacularly flavorful, unique varieties are not readily available commercially, either as fruits or seed. One of my favorite winter squash is ‘Blue Banana’, for example. This squash has a flavor that is superb, intense, and so different from all other squash that it is like an entirely different vegetable. But the seed is not available commercially. To grow rare varieties, you often have to get the seed when and where it is available, then maintain the variety yourself.

Some varieties are not available because they have peculiarities with respect to production of the seed itself. If a watermelon produces few seeds, for example, it will not usually be offered commercially. It’s simply too expensive to produce the seed. A home gardener, though, might be happy to save such seed. And a market garden might be able to easily produce the handful of seeds needed for a single field’s planting.

Being dependent upon seed companies for your seed means being dependent upon random fads in foods as well as other people’s choices and preferences. Saving your own seed means independence. It lets you make your own choices and have your own preferences. When you save your own seed, the seed is always “available.” It is common these days for all the seed of even very popular varieties to be produced by just a single grower. If that grower experiences a crop failure, the seed isn’t available anywhere.

Sometimes, even if the seed is “available,” you can’t necessarily find it. There can be a poor correlation between variety names and the material you actually receive. Seed companies often change lines or suppliers, so that what they are selling one year and the next may be different strains, even though they are called the same thing.

I like to produce my own seed even of varieties that are readily available commercially. My own seed is usually bigger, fatter, and more vigorous. I can plant it earlier than commercial seed. I also have much more of it, so I don’t have to skimp. I can sow generously and then thin, instead of sowing thinly, then having gaps that have to be replanted later and less optimally. And with my own seed, the price is right.

Become a Plant Breeder

When you save seed, you become a plant breeder. You are choosing which germplasm to perpetuate. This means that you are both deliberately as well as automatically selecting for characteristics that are important to you, for plants that are fine-tuned to your needs and growing conditions and region.

After you have saved seed of a variety for a few years, you have your own line of the variety that is slightly different from anyone else’s, and it is usually better adapted to your needs.

Knowing how to save your own seed also means that you can take advantage of genetic accidents, ideas, and dreams. Last year, for example, I noticed one squash plant in perhaps a hundred that was resistant to powdery mildew. I saved the seed from it. Perhaps I can use it to develop new powdery-mildew-resistant varieties. Powdery mildew after the first fall rains is what ends the squash growing season in my region. Resistant varieties could be very useful. Many new varieties got their start when some gardener or farmer simply noticed something that was different and special-and saved the seeds.

We gardeners and farmers care about our direct relationship with soil, plants, and food. To grow plants from seed bought from others is one level of relationship. To grow plants from our own seed, to save seeds from our own plants, goes to a deeper level. It is fulfillment and continuity-plants and people maintaining each other, nurturing each other, evolving together. It completes the circle.

Saving Seed from Hybrids
Hybrids don’t breed true to type from seed. Some hybrids are even sterile, though most will produce seed. This seed can be used to derive a pure-breeding variety by the methods described in chapters 9 and 10. Such a variety derived from a hybrid is a new variety and should be given a new name. It is not the same as the hybrid from which it was derived. In other words, you can save seed from hybrids as the first step in creating a new open-pollinated variety, but you cannot reproduce a hybrid by saving its seed.

This section on seed-saving practice, then, refers to pure-breeding, not hybrid, varieties.

Seed-Saving Overview

Saving seed is easy. Plants want to make seed. They cooperate fully. To save seed, all you have to do is let the plants produce seed, then grab it quick before the birds or squirrels or bugs, and before it gets rained on and molds or sprouts in the pod. Saving seed of pure varieties is another thing entirely. Plants don’t care at all about pure varieties.

The outbreeders would all rather cross with that strange inedible ornamental variety down the street in the yard of your neighbor. Even the inbreeders outcross far more often than they are “supposed to”, especially under organic growing conditions. To save seed of pure varieties, we need to know something about the outcrossing tendencies of the crop so that we can isolate it sufficiently from other varieties or wild plants of the species that it could cross with.

Finally, every variety contains genetic variability. Some of this is desirable and even essential to the vigor and adaptability of the variety. Some of it, though, is undesirable. So, we need to grow an appropriate number of plants in order to maintain the amount of genetic variability that we want. At the same time, we must select and rogue to eliminate the genes associated with specific kinds of variability that we don’t want. Given the genetic heterogeneity in most varieties and the greater vigor of the more wild-type forms, the natural tendency of most varieties is to deteriorate quickly to something that is far less useful to its human associates. To maintain a variety we must actively breed in order to counter this tendency.

There is actually no such thing as “saving” a pure variety. There is only further breeding, either deliberate or accidental. We either select in order to hold the variety in its current form and to eliminate undesirable types, or we select in order to change the variety in some preferred direction. Both processes involve exactly the same principles.

Roles and Purposes
“What’s my role with respect to this variety?” That’s the first thing I ask myself about every seed-saving project. Am I the sole savior or creator of the variety, the one person without whom it would be lost forever? Or is my line better than everyone else’s, and especially worthy of preserving and distributing?

Am I planning on building up the precious stock, then giving or selling it to seed companies or others? Will I be distributing it through the Seed Savers Exchange? Will many or even all future plantings of this variety all over the country be descendants of these seeds I hold in my hands today? If so, I will want to be pretty careful and rigorous. I will use serious numbers of plants, and serious isolation distances.

Often, however, I’m saving seed just for myself, and I know others have the variety as well. In that case, I can be quite casual about most nearly everything. Numbers of plants? I grow what I need for the table, and use special tricks (see Chapter 19) to deal with maintaining heterogeneity.

Isolation? It’s often minimal. I usually plant so as to be able to recognize hybrids, which is much easier than avoiding them (see Chapter 18). If I can recognize hybrids I can eliminate them or not as I choose in future generations. Who knows? The hybrid might be more interesting than the original material. And if the seed is just for my own use, what’s an outcross or two among friends?

The Seed Series: Seed Saving Basics

Monday, February 24th, 2014

The following is an excerpt from Janisse Ray’s award-winning book about seeds and seed saving, The Seed Underground.

If you’ve ever thought saving your own seeds was too much to tackle, let Janisse provide some encouragement and inspiration.

For more information on seed saving, check out the next two articles in our “Seed Series.” Up next, Carol Deppe discusses how seed savers should think of themselves as plant breeders, and in our third article, award-winning author John Navazio discusses the right questions to ask when determining what crops will grow best on your land.

 

 

BASIC SEED SAVING
by Janisse Ray

To save your own seeds and get plants that are photocopies of the parents, you must grow open-pollinated seeds.

If you believe in moon magic, plant between either the last quarter and the new moon in the signs of Gemini for multiplication; or in the earthy signs of Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces—believed to be the most productive constellations for aboveground crops. In many cultures, seed harvested at full moon is thought to have the best germinating power.

Selecting Plants

Select plants in your garden that have done well and have adapted to your temperament, soil, climate, and desires. If you want early melons, select seed from the earliest. If you want tolerance to cold, pick the plant that lives through the coldest night. You may be interested in disease resistance, late maturation, drought tolerance, or productivity. Keep notes if necessary. Mark your plants with tie-on markers (pieces of torn cotton cloth). Then choose from them the fruit whose characteristics most appeal to you.

Gathering seeds at the right time is important. For fleshy fruits, the seed is ready when the fruit is completely ripe. Flowering heads are tricky in that you must get the seed after maturity but before wind and animals scatter them.

My best advice

If you want to elevate your seed-saving interest to a passion or a scholarship and do it correctly, is to get Suzanne Ashworth’s incredible book Seed to Seed, about which I once overheard someone say, “It seems so little to have all the answers.” Ashworth knows (almost) everything there is to know about seed saving (and I added the almost only in case some small tidbit of information has not yet been discovered). The Seed Savers Exchange also periodically prints a seed-saving guide, which is an invaluable resource. I have the one that appeared in the Seed Savers Summer Edition 1988, a Seed Savers Exchange publication that served as their journal.

Maintaining seed purity is a science. You need to know how many of each variety to plant, how far varieties should be planted from each other, whether a variety is an annual or a biennial, how long the seeds are viable, and many more facts. You won’t get many of those details from me here.

My goal is simply to plant a seed. In you.

Annuals

Self-Pollinators
Some vegetables produce seed in one season and by reason of their botanical structure generally do not cross with others of their kind. This reproduction, called self-pollination, is easiest for the seed saver, since the seeds remain reasonably pure genetically without added protection from bagging or separating plants a great distance. Lettuce, tomatoes, peas, beans, and eggplant contain both male and female parts on the same flower (called a perfect flower). Their ovules are fertilized by their own pollen.

Peas and Beans
In peas and beans, fertilization occurs before the flower opens. The anthers are snug against the stigma, ensuring pollination when the anthers release. These vegetables may be planted freely in the garden, although hard-core purists recommend separating beans by 150 feet or by another crop that will be flowering at the same time.
To Harvest Seeds: Let bean or pea pods dry on the plant until brown, then pick and shell. If cold weather looms, you can pull the entire plant and hang it upside down in a dry shelter. Label and store.

Lettuce
Lettuce flowers occur like fireworks, in a bunch of little sprays which open over three to four weeks. Each tiny flower generates one lettuce seed. In regards to purity, to not tempt fate you should separate varieties of lettuces that will flower at the same time by 20 feet.
To Harvest Seeds: Seed heads will ripen in stages parallel to the timeline of the flowers, the first about eleven to thirteen days after the first bloom. The rule of thumb with lettuces is to harvest when about half the flowers on each plant have gone to seed. Cut the stalks of the flowers and make a bouquet, which you cram head- first in a paper bag and hang upside down until it is fully dry. Then the seed can be shaken or rubbed from the chaff. Label and store.

[Note: In her book, Janisse also discusses saving tomato and eggplant seeds at length.]

Cross-Pollinators

Peppers and Okra
Although they have perfect flowers, these beauties are easily cross-pollinated by insects and should be kept 500 feet away from other varieties (a mile for okra) or, optionally, beneath screened cages—one variety to a cage. Okra flowers may easily be bagged.
To Harvest Seeds: Peppers turn red when they’re ripe. Scrape the seed from the pepper core and dry out of the sun. The seeds are dry when a folded seed breaks in your fingers. For okra, pick fully mature pods and let them dry until they split open like a banana peel. Knock out the seeds. Label and store.

[Note: In her book, Janisse also provides some detailed descriptions on seed saving with more difficult annuals, such as Squash, Cucumbers, Pumpkins, Cantaloupe,
and Watermelons
. For these, it’s important to learn how to hand-pollinate.]

Biennials

These plants, which produce seeds in the second year of growth, include carrots, turnips, beets, kale, onions, parsnips, and salsify. The first year they produce a crop, which must be ignored (read: not eaten) and the plant must be maintained for a second year of growth. In northern climates biennials are dug up, overwintered in root cellars, and replanted the following spring. Firm types, like kohlrabi, are the easiest to overwinter; leafy types like collards tend to rot. If winters are mild, as ours are here in the subtropics of southern Georgia, biennials usually survive in the garden. For seed savers, most of these crops are self-sterile, require insects to pollinate, and cross-pollinate easily. All members of the brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, kale, collards, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts) cross with each other. If you’re devoted to saving their seed, and I hope you are, you have to choose one cultivar from the entire family or isolate them by distance or screens.
To Harvest Seeds: Heading flowers are trickier to gather in that you must get the seed after maturity but before wind and animals scatter them.

Drying and Storing

Seeds must be thoroughly dry before storing. They should break, not bend. Life is triggered by moisture, and any droplet of water left in the seeds shortens their life span by keeping subtle life forces ticking away. A good rule is when you think seeds are dry, leave them another day. Temperatures over 110°F will damage seeds, so in hot climates they cannot be dried in direct sunlight. In humid conditions, subject them to a gentle heat—such as that from a solar dehydrator, a lightbulb, or a pilot light—kept around 90 degrees. Seeds that are prone to attack by weevils and other insect infestations also must be frozen in order to kill the eggs that have already been laid in the seeds. Store seeds under cool, dry conditions, since heat and humidity trigger germination and are enemies of viability. In general, seeds should be stored in airtight containers, such as envelopes in coffee cans with lids taped airtight. Silica gel packets are often used for moisture control. Seeds last longest in the freezer if they are completely dry. If not the freezer, keep them in the refrigerator, if possible.

I have mentioned only a small percentage of the vast kinds of edible botanicals in the world that we will want to keep growing, for the sake of survival and diversity and pleasure, when the biotechs fail or when civil society gets strong enough to crush the multinationals—whichever comes first. For other crops, I suggest again that you get the Ashworth book or check online.

Are you confused enough already? Don’t be. Seed saving is not hard. All you need is love.

 

 

Photo 1:  Fotolia / Charles Taylor
Photo 2: Courtesy of NoCo Hemp Expo

 

 

Living the Simple Life: William Coperthwaite

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Late last year architect, maker, visionary, homesteader, and Chelsea Green author William Coperthwaite died in a car accident just miles from his Machiasport home in Maine.

The entire Chelsea Green family was saddened by his death, and perhaps none moreso than Peter Forbes who had been inspired by Coperthwaite’s work and contributed the foreword and photographs to Coperthwaite’s award-winning book A Handmade Life.

Friends have set up a remembrance page honoring Coperthwaite’s life and inspiring work, which includes this moving passage from Forbes after he and his wife Helen Whybrow returned from burying Coperthwaite.

“My wife, Helen, and I got back from Dickinson’s Reach late last night after a very powerful and important three days. On Saturday, a group of us dug a six-foot-deep grave at the spot where Bill wanted to be buried. Another group made his casket and yet another group planned how to get his body from the mortuary back to his home. Bill wanted his body left however he died, untouched by doctors or undertakers. On Saturday morning, which was cold and stormy, six of us paddled out in two of Bill’s canoes across Little Kennebec Bay to Duck Cove where we were met by a hearse. We took his body out of the black plastic bag, wrapped him in his favorite blanket, and placed him gently into his pine box. We lashed the canoes together with four posts and tied the casket to the posts creating a catamaran to bring him home. The return was calm except for when we made the turn into his bay when a great wind picked up and blew us all the way into Mill Pond. We were met there by about 30 others who carried Bill in silence up from the beach past each one of his yurts. We paused at the most recent one as this was the place where Bill expected to die. We then brought him to his grave site, had an hour of reminiscences, and then buried him. And now we’re home trying to figure out what life means.”

Coperthwaite

Coperthwaite “embodied a philosophy that he called ‘democratic living’ which was about enabling every human being to have agency and control over their lives in order to create together a better community,” noted Forbes after Coperthwaite’s death. “The central question of Mr. Coperthwaite’s life and experiment has been ‘How can I live according to what I believe?’”

Over the years, thousands of people made the 1.5 mile walk to see his homestead, to be inspired and to learn from his approach to simple living by working alongside him [See the project below, "How to Make Your Own Democratic Chair"]. Intentionally avoiding electricity from the grid, plumbing and motors, he showed that it was possible to live a simple life that is good for themselves and the planet.

Born in Aroostook County Maine, Coperthwaite received a scholarship to attend Bowdoin College and after graduation he turned down another scholarship to Annapolis Naval Academy to claim conscientious objector status in the Korean War. Bill did alternative service with the American Friend Service Committee where he connected with the teachings of American pacifism. Bill would become close friends with Richard Gregg, a central figure in that movement. Though they had 50 years difference in age, Coperthwaite and Gregg found a strong bond and Gregg introduced Coperthwaite to the work of Mahatma Gandhi and to Helen and Scott Nearing, legendary social radicals who had pioneered their own experiment in self-reliant living in Vermont and later in Maine. The influence of pacifism, nonviolence and simple living would lead Coperthwaite far out in to the world to learn from other ways of living, particularly handcraft traditions.

As Forbes noted, “Bill will be remembered by his friends for his commitment to his principles, his deep love of life and people, and his great intellect, humility and humor. Our nation has lost one of the links in the chain of great people working quietly with all their unique powers to foster a better world.”

Peace.


 

Project: Make Your Own Democratic Chair

The following project is from A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity by Wm. S. Coperthwaite.

Is there such a thing as democratic furniture? If so, what would a democratic chair look like?

Most of the fine chairs we see today, if handmade, take nearly as much skill as boat building and, if made with power tools, require much investment in equipment and acquiring the skills needed. I would like to see what those who are reading this might come up with for ideas for a handmade chair that is light, comfortable, strong, beautiful, simple to make from easily found materials. (All we seek is perfection.)

Utopian? Or impossible, to create an egalitarian chair? Not at all. As a society we have simply not yet focused on this problem. When we do, there will be some elegant chairs as a result (or boats . . . or houses . . . or wheelbarrows . . . (not necessarily in combination—although, come to think of it, there have been some very comfortable wheelbarrows, some very fine houseboats, and several wheelbarrow boats. . . .)

My suggestion for the most democratic chair follows. This is not provided to represent an ideal but in hopes of stimulating even better designs from you, the readers.

To Make the Democratic Chair:

    1. Saw and whittle out the four pieces shown in diagram, using white pine 7/8-inch thick.


(Click for larger version.)

  1. Bevel the front edges of the two base pieces to meet at the angle shown, then nail together.
  2. Fit seat in place, and screw to the base with four screws.
  3. Place the back piece in the notches in the base, and screw to the base and the seat.

Slow Democracy: Online Book Club

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Join co-author Susan Clark for a free online book club!

Ask her your questions, and discover ways to improve the decision-making initiatives in your own community.

Wednesday, March 5th, 2pm (EST)
It’s free and open to all!
RSVP here » »

To purchase your own copy of Slow Democracy, get 35% off using the discount code READCG.

What is slow democracy?

Just as slow food encourages chefs and eaters to become more intimately involved with the production of local food, and slow money helps us become more engaged with our local economy, slow democracy encourages us to govern ourselves locally with processes that are inclusive, deliberative, and citizen powered.

This event is presented in partnership with the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, Joan Blades’ Living Room Conversations, and Transition U.S.

Hope to see you there!


Susan ClarkSusan Clark is a writer and facilitator focusing on community sustainability and citizen participation. She is an award-winning radio commentator and former talk show co-host. Her democratic activism has earned her broad recognition, including the 2010 Vermont Secretary of State’s Enduring Democracy Award. Clark is the coauthor of All Those In Favor: Rediscovering the Secrets of Town Meeting and Community (RavenMark, 2005).

Her work strengthening communities has included directing a community activists’ network and facilitating town visioning forums. She served as communication and education director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council and Coordinator of the University of Vermont’s Environmental Programs In Communities (EPIC) project. Clark lives in Middlesex, Vermont, where she chairs a committee that encourages citizen involvement, and serves as town-meeting moderator.

Thank you to our co-sponsors!
NCDD Transition U.S. Living Room Conversations

Does it Pay to Keep a Cow?

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Originally published as The Cow Economy in the 1970s, Keeping a Family Cow is the revised and updated Chelsea Green edition of Joann Grohman’s classic homesteader guide to owning a family cow.

In this adapted article below, Grohman – who, at 85, still milks her cow daily – walks newcomers through the economics, and the emotions, of owning a family cow, or two. So, if you’re ruminating this winter about getting a cow this year – read on. Or, start your daydreaming.

* * * * *

Your Cow Economy

Does it pay to keep a cow? For the last fifteen thousand years and more the answer was too obvious to bother asking. Cattle, more than anything else, were synonymous with wealth. Is the world so different now? We certainly do our cost accounting differently today. Once you have your own cow you will modify the following numbers to fit your circumstances.

The chart here can help you get started. In the following example I am assuming 165 days of grazing and 200 days of hay feeding.

Keeping Family Cow Chart

Additional costs for trucking, fencing, housing, veterinary expenses, pitchforks, and so on are important to keep track of, but you will get a clearer sense of your cow economy if you log them separately.

If the cow is on a no-grain regimen you can deduct the cost of the grain, but you will then need to deduct 20 percent of the milk production.

If the cow freshens at five gallons a day, you dry her off after 290 days, at which point she was giving two gallons a day, that’s an average of about 3.5 gallons per day or 1,015 gallons per year. Cows in commercial herds do a lot better than this and yours may too. But at $4 a gallon that’s $4,060 worth of milk. Deducting the costs of the cow and her feed, you are, in theory, $1,035 ahead. In the second year, when the cow is already paid for, your costs are only $2,025. If you have a $600 heifer calf to sell, you may consider yourself $2,635 ahead.

If you are raising a steer you won’t want to butcher before eighteen months. Both butchering costs and what he may bring at auction vary greatly, but you ought to be able to count on 450 pounds of meat if you choose to butcher.

If a family of four uses a gallon of milk a day, there is an average of two and a half gallons a day to sell, make into value-added products, or feed to other livestock. At this point, if you consider value-added products, the cost accounting can get quite interesting.

If raw milk sales are legal in your area, the two and a half gallons can be sold at the farm gate for at least $6 a gallon. Or you can skim the cream and sell it either as cream or as butter, making from $10 to $20. You can make cheese from either skim or whole milk. Skim milk or excess whole milk can be used as a significant part of the diet of chickens, pigs, or calves, or as fertilizer. Clearly butter is what you do with cream that doesn’t sell. But I would never sell much butter. It is too valuable in the family diet. I like to know what my dairy products are worth, but I keep a cow so that we can have all the high-quality dairy products we want.

Don’t forget that the cow’s manure is also valuable, either as fertilizer on your fields or to sell. Where I live, dried cow manure sells for $7 for a twenty-five-pound bag. But as with butter, I consider the manure to be too valuable to sell.

Ruminants make milk and meat on a diet of plant products. On a similar diet, other animals only fatten and make poor growth; they need a true protein source such as milk before they can build muscle and reproduce. The cow is thus an engine capable of driving the entire nutritional economy of a household. She is the ultimate sustainable-energy vehicle.

The cow does not just provide protein for the other critters on the place. The effect of cow manure on the garden is magical. I go to very little trouble with composting, just starting a new pile occasionally and using up the old one. My garden soil is dark and friable and grows strong, healthy plants with a minimum of effort.

Can you put a price on all this?

Maybe. I often read articles, books, and newsletters with suggestions on how to spend less on “lifestyle” so couples can get along on one income. Would home production of virtually all of your food make this possible for you? It will certainly keep you all radiantly healthy.

Feeding CowAnd another thing. Thrift is my middle name, but those suggestions for feeding the family on day-old bread and making bulk purchases of dry cereal I find depressing. Keeping a cow is more satisfying. One popular writer encourages frugality so that there can be savings in readiness for the children’s orthodontia. I do not find this to be an incentive. If your children are young when you get a cow and they grow up with fresh milk, their teeth will be straight, just as all teeth were meant to be. How much we personally have saved on dental or medical bills would be difficult to state because health insurance costs vary. My emphasis has always been on prevention, not cure. Consequently cure has seldom come into it, but when it does it has a better chance in an already strong constitution built on real food.

I cannot discuss the cost and work of keeping a cow without also considering the true long-term investment in the health and appearance of my family. The cost of my labor cannot be counted in this domestic economy. Nothing else I might have done with my time could have matched the rewards I see.

Cows and grass are recession-proof and inflation-proof. In difficult times, the family with a cow is not poor.

Gene Logsdon: Farmer, Philosopher, Curmudgeon

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Unlike most octogenarians, author Gene Logsdon is picking up steam as he rolls into his ninth decade. He has developed a prolific body of work as a writer, novelist, and journalist on topics ranging from a philosophical look at woodlands (A Sanctuary of Trees) to the higher calling of manure (Holy Shit). Who else could accomplish such a task, but the beloved Gene Logsdon.

In his latest book, Gene Everlasting: A Contrary Farmer’s Thoughts on Living Forever, we find Logsdon at the top of his game as he reflects on nature, death, and eternity, always with an eye toward the lessons that farming taught him about life and its mysteries—including those of parsnips. Yes, parsnips. In Gene Everlasting, Gene has an imaginary interview with a parsnip and seeks its advice on everlasting life. “Mr. Parsnip” responds:

Develop a distinctive personality like we parsnips do, with a taste only appreciated by the few rather than by the many. You want to appeal to the discerning minority, not the herd-like majority, which is always susceptible to the moneychangers. If you are too desirable as a plant, the gene manipulators will bioengineer you into oblivion. 

Publishers Weekly calls Gene Everlasting, “Great bedtime reading, these succinct, thought-provoking, life-affirming essays are a perfect gift for your favorite gardener, nature lover, philosopher, or curmudgeon.”

Gene Everlasting is praised by Kirkus Reviews as a “perceptive and understatedly well-written meditation.” Booklist adds, “While his legion of fans may pale at the thought that Logsdon has just written his swan song, his recent remission from cancer offers hope that his writing days are far from over.”

As any regular reader of his blog can attest, Gene is hardly letting cancer slow him down as a writer. “I think cancer drove me to write more rather than less for the same reason that a fruit tree will increase output if its bark is lacerated with cuts and slashes,” writes Logsdon in Gene Everlasting. “Threatened with danger, the writer as well as the apple tree is frightened into greater production.”

Here’s to a healthy future, Gene. We look forward to more musings and contrarian output. In the meantime, take advantage of this opportunity to download a FREE CHAPTER and read an excerpt from Gene Everlasting. We dare you not to be touched by this author’s humor, insight, and endearing, curmudgeonly spirit. 

Sign up here and we’ll email Chapter 7: Georgie the Cat right to your inbox along with a special 35% discount code good towards any book. But hurry – this offer only lasts until 03/05!

Updated: Our limited time, free download has ended. But don’t forget when you sign up for our enewsletter you get 25% off your next purchase in our online bookstore.


Follow us
Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By WPFruits.com