News posts from admin's Archive


Garden Planning: 48 of the Most Promising Veggies

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Depending on the market and the climate in your area the possibility exists to grow anywhere from one to 70 or so reasonably common vegetable crops. With all these options to choose from, mastering proper planning and observation techniques are important to make sure your operating an efficient garden.

In this excerpt from The New Organic Grower, farming master Eliot Coleman outlines the 48 crops he thinks are the most promising and charts the harvesting seasons for each to help you decide when and what to plant.

For other gardening tips and techniques from Coleman, read his Guide to Great Compost and How to Start Seedlings in a Cold Frame.

*****

No Space? No Problem. Gardening Tips for the Urban Dweller

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Interested in growing fresh food, but worried about lack of space? Not a problem, according to author R. J. Ruppenthal.

In his book, Fresh Food From Small Spaces, Ruppenthal shows readers how to transform their balconies and windowsills into productive vegetable gardens, their countertops and storage lockers into commercial-quality sprout and mushroom farms, and their outside nooks and crannies into sustainable nurseries for honey bees, chickens, and more.

In this excerpt, Ruppenthal explains how choosing the right crops based on climate and light conditions, along with creating a companion planting strategy to prevent pests and attract pollinators, can help maximize food production with limited space.

For more information on proper seed selection, garden planning, and do-it-yourself tricks to help you grow your own food, check out these related posts:
The Seed Series: Choosing the Right Seed Crop
How to Plan the Best Garden Ever
DIY: Make a Self-Watering Planter


 

DECIDING WHAT TO GROW IN YOUR GARDEN SPACE

Those of us with limited space are forced to make decisions. How can I use my small space most productively? If I want to put in a small garden, what should I grow? You can experiment by growing a variety of different plants, or you may decide to focus on just one or two items that perform well in your conditions. There are good arguments for each strategy.

Growing a variety of crops is fun, and although it won’t provide you with huge amounts of any particular food crop, you’ll get some of many. This approach offers more balanced nutrition to complement your overall diet and the likelihood of a rolling harvest (with your plants producing food at different times, not all at once). However, you should also consider the benefits of focusing on a crop or two that grow well in your space. Why focus? Because some crops will do well in your area, while others will not. You may find it very easy, for example, to grow prodigious quantities of fresh herbs or leafy greens, but not have enough light to grow fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers effectively. Or you might decide not to garden at all, and instead perhaps cover your whole available space with a chicken coop. This is fine; specializing has its benefits too. With this focus on just one or two food crops, you may be able to meet all your family’s needs for fresh herbs or leafy greens or chicken eggs. And, if you have extra, you might sell or barter the surplus for something else that you can’t produce. This is free trade in its simplest, most elegant form.

When I started my first balcony garden, I tried to grow a little bit of everything. In a 10-foot-square area over a two-year period, I grew (or tried to grow) tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas, cabbage, chard, beets, herbs, strawberries, cucumbers, and summer squash. I even had a scraggly little blueberry bush that gave me a few berries in its second summer. Experimenting with different crops was fun, and it helped me learn what grew best in my small space. Through this experience, I learned to focus on certain crops that I could depend on, thus making the best use of my space.

Due to differences in climate and the amount of light and heat that your urban garden area receives, you will be able to grow some crops more effectively than others. Through trial and error, I learned that my little garden could produce prodigious amounts of cherry tomatoes, green beans, peas, and chard. Unfortunately, I also learned that other things did not grow well in my space: strawberries and cucumbers were the worst performers, for various reasons.

Try to grow what your family likes to eat, but also be realistic in terms of the plants’ requirements. Peppers, eggplant, and cucumbers are basically subtropical plants that we try to coax into producing fruit in cooler climates. They need a lot of light, warmth, and long days. Squash is much easier to grow, but the plants take up too much space for small-scale container growing; they are great additions to a larger garden if you have a backyard. However, even container gardeners can grow compact varieties of summer squash (zucchini). An added urban challenge for squash, cucumbers, and melons is that they require bees or other insects for pollination of their flowers in order to be fully productive, and it’s not a given that your small space will attract the notice of neighborhood bees (though you will, almost inevitably, attract neighborhood pests). Although it is possible to hand-pollinate squash, cucumber, and melons, this requires the extra effort of waking up at dawn and transferring pollen from male to female blossoms with a paintbrush.

If you have the full day’s light and warmth that is necessary for squash, cucumber, and melons, and can attract pollinating insects (perhaps with some additional flowering plants or herbs), then you can try to grow them vertically by building a trellis and training their vines upward. Vertical gardening (described at more length in Chapter 4) saves you precious horizontal space and gives your plants the chance to be quite productive. A trellis can be made from wood, wire, string, or even fishing line; the point is to give the plant something to hang on to as it climbs. My balcony has a metal railing that I use as a trellis base for my tomatoes and pole beans; I extend it with string and bamboo poles, and affix the growing plants to this frame using twist-ties from the supermarket or small pieces of string. When plants begin producing heavy fruit, you also need to tie up or somehow support the fruiting branches to keep them from falling.

Some people find strawberries very easy to grow, and I encourage you to try them. Strawberries can be squeezed into very small spaces and even window boxes. A European species, Fragaria vesca, commonly called Alpine strawberry, is a hardy perennial and bears continuously from around midsummer to the end of the growing season. It is often advertised as a shade crop and has a truly magnificent flavor. If you enjoy eating strawberries, then they may be worth a try where you live, particularly because of the many different varieties that have been developed in recent years to suit different conditions. In terms of other berries, blueberries can grow in containers and produce well in certain climates, though most require specific soil conditions. You also could investigate blackberries and raspberries, which can be trained vertically to increase production and maximize your use of space. Currants and gooseberries grow well in some northern climates, and can fruit well even in partial shade conditions.

Beans and peas are wonderful additions to the small urban garden. I grow beans in the warm summer and peas in cooler weather. Both plants can produce high-protein shelled beans and peas, or they can be eaten in the young pod stage as a nutritional supervegetable. Both can be grown vertically and in crowded garden conditions, saving you space. Both plants are legumes, so they fix nitrogen in their root systems, making them a great companion plant next to other crops. Beans and peas (especially bush varieties) also can produce quite well in lower light conditions.

VEGETABLES FOR LOW-LIGHT CONDITIONS

For many people living in urban apartments and condos, lack of sunlight is a big issue. Your unit may face away from the sun or get only morning or afternoon exposure. Oftentimes, other buildings surround you and block much of the light. But do not despair; you still have space to work with. The good news is that cities are rarely dark; there is a lot of diffuse sunlight, reflected light off walls and windows, and warmth collected in the concrete and building materials. In the vertical gardening chapter, I cover some strategies for making the most of your light. Here, I’d like to recommend some different vegetable crops for areas with low light.

First, you should know that fruiting vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, squash) need plenty of light to set and ripen their fruit. Ideally, we are talking about 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight for these, though, as you will see in the vertical gardening chapter, there are ways to succeed with less light than this. Next among vegetables come those that will flourish in full sunlight, but also can set productive crops with partial sun. These include peas, beans, and root/tuber crops such as beets, turnips, carrots, and even potatoes. I have grown bush peas and bush beans in full shade with only 3 to 4 hours of indirect, reflected light. These plants grew more slowly than their counterparts in the full sun, but they had no trouble setting a crop eventually and the output (though a few weeks later) was nearly as good as that from plants grown in full sun.

If you like to eat peas and beans, they are some of the most rewarding plants to grow, even in partial shade or indirect light. When picked tender and eaten in the pod as green beans or snap peas, both are classified as nutritional supervegetables. Alternately, the same plant also can provide some amazing protein if you let the pods grow to maturity. You can then shell the beans or peas and cook them fresh or dry them for later use. Peas and beans make great complementary crops, as each one grows in a different season: Beans like the warmth of summer, while peas thrive in cooler temperatures and can make a great short-season crop in spring, fall, or even in winter in milder climates.

You will be more successful in low-light conditions if you select the right pea and bean seeds for growing. Do not buy nursery seedlings or use transplants for either one, since they grow far better when direct-seeded. When you buy seeds, you will notice that each variety of pea and bean is labeled as either “pole” or “bush.” Pole beans produce heavier crops over a longer period and are ultimately more productive over the same amount of space. So, if you have plenty of sunlight and a nice vertical space, then pole beans and tall-growing varieties of peas might work well for you. However, for low-light or short-season gardens, I recommend bush peas and bush beans. These plants are shorter, stockier, and essentially dwarf versions of the traditional pole beans and peas; they need very little trellising support and can be grown close together for maximum yields. They will produce a single crop (and sometimes a bit more) in short time frame, using less overall light energy than pole beans require. Depending on the variety of bush bean, it is not impossible to have a full crop of delicious green beans or snap peas ready to pick within 35 to 40 days after seeding. These plants also add some nitrogen to the soil, which means that they are a great rotation crop that will help build the soil for your next round of veggies. (This is particularly useful with peas, since they can grow in cooler temperatures.) When choosing seeds, also consider whether you would like to shell them or eat them in the pod, as some varieties are optimal for one or the other use. The best peas for eating in the pod are the sugar snap peas, which have peas surrounded by thick, edible pods, or the flat-podded snow peas so common to Asian cuisines, which can be eaten raw (some are as sweet as candy) or added to a stir-fry for a quick, delicious nutritional boost.

With root and tuber crops, you can do almost as well in low-light conditions, but you will need to experiment. In my opinion, the key to growing these crops is to realize that the beet, carrot, turnip, or potato we eat is actually the plant’s way of storing its energy underground. Therefore, the more light energy it receives, the better your chances of getting a nice big, sweet carrot or turnip. Luckily for urban gardeners, the amount of light per day is sometimes less important for these crops than the total amount of light that the plants receive during the entire season they are growing their roots or tubers. So you may be able to get a nearly full crop in partial shade if you wait a little longer to harvest. In fact, full direct sunlight may be too strong for beets and turnips anyway, so a little shade can even help. Also, each of these vegetables can be picked and eaten when small, so a row of plants that never reach their full height may still yield a bountiful crop of petite carrots or beets. For a potato crop grown in partial shade, the plant may only get around to flowering fairly late in the season, but this is a great time to pick the tender new potatoes that are prized as a gourmet treat.

Finally, leafy greens have lower light requirements than other vegetables because you eat the actual plant and do not need to wait for it to set seeds or fruit. This list includes chard, beet greens, turnip greens, spinach, lettuce, kale, cabbage, arugula/roquette, and other edible greens with similar characteristics. Some of these plants actually will wilt or burn in full sunlight and so they prefer some partial shade or reflected light. You can get a productive crop of delicious, nutritious greens without any direct sunlight, provided you have some indirect, reflected light for a few hours per day. Any of these greens are great plants to use in a small garden because you can choose to harvest them “cut and come again” style (a leaf or two at a time, which the plant will regrow) or else eat the whole plant at once, take it out, and replace it with something else.

One note on leafy greens, including beet greens and turnip greens: Try growing them almost any time of the year, provided the ground is not frozen. The cost of a handful of seeds is no more than a few pennies, and you will be amazed at the vigor of these plants. Although other books you read may discourage you from trying to plant a new crop in the fall or over a mild winter, many greens are pretty hardy, and can be given a few extra degrees of frost protection by growing them in a cold frame or under a heat-retaining fabric blanket, or “floating row cover.” (See “Growing in Cold Climates,” below.) At the very least, you may end up with a very short-season crop of baby greens for salad, soup, or stir-fry.

ADDING SMALL FRUITS AND BERRIES TO YOUR GARDEN

Many berry plants and small fruit trees can be raised in container gardens or in small patches of open ground. There are dwarf fruit trees and various kinds of berries that will grow in almost any climate and can be a nice complement to your vegetable garden. Most importantly for many urban gardeners, small fruit trees and berry shrubs can make the best use of your vertical growing space. Please see Chapter 6 for a more in-depth exploration of which types of fruits and berries to consider growing in your space.

COMPANION PLANTS FOR YOUR VEGGIES

Companion plants, many of which fall in the herb and flower categories, add beauty and diversity to a vegetable garden. From a functional perspective, these plants are important in preventing pests and attracting pollinators like bees to your vegetables. For both of these reasons, you need to incorporate some companion plants into your containers or ground-based beds. Most companion plants can be grown in compact form alongside your vegetables. Planting them can increase your garden’s productivity through better pollination and pest deterrence.

Some members of the mint family (Lamiaceae) serve both purposes, attracting bees and discouraging common pests such as aphids, whiteflies, and cabbage moths. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage are examples of plants that can improve your vegetables’ resistance while providing you with some tasty herbal additions to your culinary dishes. Try bee balm and hyssop as well. Nasturtiums, marigolds, tansy, and cosmos add beauty to your garden while discouraging harmful pests. Marigolds deter beetles and some soil-based nematodes. Nasturtium flowers and leaves provide a colorful, peppery accent to any salad and, like marigolds, their aromatic foliage can deter some potential pests. Although nasturtiums are frequently mentioned as a pest deterrent, I have found that black aphids in my garden really like them. This worried me at first until I noticed that all the black aphids gravitated to my nasturtium plants, and they left everything else alone. My nasturtiums were acting as a trap crop, and some gardeners plant such crops at a distance away from food crops, though if black aphids do not bother your garden, then nasturtiums would fit well on the edge of containers and tumble gracefully over the edges.

Garlic, onions, leeks, scallions, and chives are wonderful additions to any garden, whether grown for their bulbs or for their green stalks. Also, these plants deter aphids and other harmful insects. Interplanting them with other vegetables may confuse pests or throw them off from the scent of your sweeter-smelling crops. For example, two good companion plants are carrots and leeks: Leeks repel carrot flies, while the smell of carrot plants is strong enough to confuse the onion fly and leek moth, two common pests. However, members of the onion family (Alliaceae) should not be planted in the same container or bed with peas or beans, as they tend to stunt these vegetables’ growth.

The topic of companion crops is a larger one than can be fully addressed here. Although I have focused on a few useful pest-deterrent plants, there are also many useful planting combinations for vegetables themselves. The most famous of these is the Native American and Mesoamerican “Three Sisters” combination of corn, beans, and squash. Corn is a nitrogen-heavy crop, while beans fix nitrogen in the soil. The stalks of corn, in turn, provide support for the climbing beans, while the squash plants provide a thick groundcover of living mulch, preserving moisture in the soil. These plants also come from different families and have different root structures, so they do not compete heavily with one another for nutrients, and their combination in a garden can throw off potential pests of any one crop. To learn more about which vegetables complement each others’ growing habits (as well as the few combinations you should avoid), try doing an Internet search for “companion crops.” For more in-depth reading, Louise Riotte’s Carrots Love Tomatoes provides a nice overview of companion vegetable and fruit plantings.17 Although some companion plantings have proven themselves over many generations, others are more controversial, and there are ongoing debates within the gardening community about the success of certain combinations. It seems that what works for a gardener in one region and with a particular soil type will not necessarily produce the same success elsewhere. If you are interested in this subject, research it, learn what you can, and try some combination plantings that have been recommended by others to see what gives you the most success.

The Ultimate Raised Bed: How To Make An Herb Spiral

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

The herb spiral: A beautiful year-round focal point for your garden that is easy and fun to build and saves both space and water. In Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist, author Michael Judd walks readers through step-by-step instructions on how to create this edibles-producing superstar.

In addition to herb spirals, Edible Landscaping covers food forests, raised-bed gardens, earthen ovens, uncommon fruits, outdoor mushroom cultivation, and much more. A how-to manual for both the budding or experienced gardener, it contains everything you need to transform your yard into a flourishing, edible landscape—the perfect way to have your yard and eat it too!

To get started with planning, or building, your own herb spiral, check out the following excerpt from Judd’s recently-released book.

 

A Conversation with Gene Logsdon

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Author Gene Logsdon appears to be 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), and his ever-popular contrarian look at life and farming (The Contrary Farmer).

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.

We asked Logsdon some questions about his latest book, recurrent themes in the book and whether or not immortality is overrated. Enjoy.

 

Q1: The subtitle of your book is “thoughts on living forever.” So, after writing the book and thinking about it: Is immortality worth it? Is it overrated?

I wanted to come up with a book sort of making fun of the concept of immortality, one that would be critical of conventional religious views but not showing the kind of atheistic righteousness you see in books by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens on this topic. I more or less agree with them, but found them a little too angry and strident for the religious believers I grew up and belonged to — too nasty. I used to be angry that way, but I got over it. That kind of approach just makes religious believers all the more convinced that they are right.

But it’s a tough subject to write and talk about without irritating someone. Ideology starts dominating the talk right away. Discussion quickly comes down to ‘my religion versus your religion’ or ‘my lack of religion versus your lack of religion.’ We’re all so filled up with such fear of the unknown about this topic. Even atheists can get religious once in a while, and by that I mean too fervent about their beliefs. As can those who believe that science has all the answers. I have made snide remarks about black holes being quite a stretch and in doing so irritated scientists. I see where the famed scientist, Stephen Hawking, who started the monstrous notion of black holes now says they don’t exist.

To answer your original question, I’ve come to realize that it’s really not worth it — immortality, that is. Ask yourself: What time of your life would you like to immortalize? I know that I don’t want to be immortalized in this winter; this has been the worst damn weather I can remember.

I think even religious people can chuckle about that – what time of life in which you’d like to be immortalized. That kind of mild humor is what really guided me in the writing. I wanted to write about all the Great Notions in a gently mocking way that didn’t irritate people too much — or maybe each side a little bit, both those who believe in science and those who believe in religion. In the end I think I irritated everyone.

 

Q2: Birds are a recurring animal in the book—killdeer, bluebirds, and even buzzards to which you devote an entire chapter. How come buzzards have such a bad reputation?

I’m an avid birdwatcher and have been for years, and often in the wintertime I don’t want to go outside and so I watch birds come to the feeder. And we get hundreds of them.

You don’t often see raccoons, coyotes, or wolves, but birds are always around and so I suppose that birds more often sink into my subconscious. But buzzards would anyway— they are the creepiest looking things. Society has demonized buzzards and bats because they look so ugly, but when a buzzard is soaring in the air it’s a very elegant thing. And bats in motion are awesome too.

I describe in the book, the time I saw buzzards circling over the pasture and I knew they had come across a sheep carcass. I sneaked over the hill very slowly so they could only see my head, and there were about 10 of them on the ground wrestling over the carcass, and six of them were on separate fence posts sort of overseeing the carnage. When those six black birds with their red heads saw me they all spread their wings wide, each a six foot span— it was quite a sight. I defy anyone who travels to the farthest regions of the world to find anything more awesome than that, and it was right here close by.

Buzzards are a symbol of death in many cultures and the more I thought about it, the more angles I found to write about—Andrew Wyeth painted them, and a friend of mine and his wife had one as a pet if you can believe it. This is what often happens to me, this kind of serendipity where a subject will become interesting to me in a very tangential way and then feed into my writing.

 

Q3: You talk about a lot of non-farm topics in the book, the Higgs boson, compound interest and even death cafés. What exactly is a death café and do they serve organic food?

That would make a great article — Menus for a Death Café. Perhaps it should include a bowl of cherries. I’ve never been to one, but as I understand it a group of people get together, drink a little truth serum—alcohol—and tell each other what they really think about dying and death.

The interesting thing I learned about death cafés – or death dinners that people are now holding – is that far from turning people off, the subject makes them perk up their ears. People want to know more.

This is not about ushering off a dying person with a party, although I think that would be a good idea too, but people just hanging out and talking about what they think is going to happen when they die. The point that I think needs to be brought out and what motivated me to write about this topic, and this book, is that younger people are not at all satisfied with what their religions have taught them about death. But there’s a hesitancy to start a conversation about it. When you get a dozen of them together, they feel freer to talk.

If you can bypass traditional ideological mindsets and just talk, then that’s when people begin to open up. That’s also where the humor can come in and that was part of the challenge of this book — writing about death lightly without being flippant.

 

Q4: People often play the games of whistling past the graveyard or holding their breath when they drive past one. Are cemeteries good for something more than just interring our dead? Should we be viewing, and maybe using them differently?

We’re missing an opportunity to use graveyards for a lot more than just burying people. First of all, we should be viewing them as arboretums and nature preserves rather than just a vacant park. A good place to go bird-watching. Sometimes in old cemeteries you can find native plants that have been all but destroyed elsewhere. Cemeteries can also be gathering places. I’ve read about a cemetery in Washington DC where some of the tombstones are shaped like park benches and people are encouraged to come in and eat picnic lunches there. I think that’s a neat idea.

I like cemeteries. They are so quiet and you are usually allowed to go in them without asking permission.  Why not plant apple trees, pear trees, hickory trees for the express purpose of producing food. People could come in and harvest them and remember that this tree or that tree is growing right over Grandmother’s bones. She made the best pies with these apples. Trees could be grown for the wood too and if all of the cemetery caretakers got together and planned out a schedule for timber harvesting, they could change the places into an ongoing source of lumber  and wouldn’t that would be fantastic. The trees are going to get old and die anyway, so why not use them? Make coffins out of them.

 

Q5: On a serious note, you write, “There is no such thing as vacant lots or abandoned farms. Nature will always fill them with life.” This is a consistent theme in the book and seems to be a core realization as you came to terms with your own mortality. Why do you think people focus too often on the vacancy rather than what is filled around them?

Nature abhors a vacuum. Yes, this is a very important part of my thinking. There is no such thing as something empty or vacant in nature, and the fact that we tend to look at nature and see emptiness or vacancy is an example of how our education so often is failing us. All around us all the time are marvelous wondrous things happening—like buzzards. We’re so eager to tell people that excitement comes from looking at the Seven Wonders of the World, or to get into an airplane and go far away. It’s just not so and leads to many misunderstandings about nature and reality.  People think that travel will relieve boredom, but boredom is a problem inside the mind, not outside it.

And this idea of there being nothing ever empty was a key inspiration for me because it led me to decide that matter is eternal. There never was nothing. This is where I upset both my religious and scientific friends. To my religious friends, God is eternal, and for scientists every effect must always have a cause. If matter is eternal, they are both wrong.

Deciding that matter was eternal, that the universe in some material form was always going to exist, was electrifying to me because it got rid of all those haunting questions about how life got started. To me the Big Bang theory is as ridiculous as a god hauling off and creating the universe from nothing. When I first thought of this I thought I was brilliant. Or nuts. Then I learned that people have had this thought for thousands of years, and they call it Taoism. That made me feel a little bit better, because I felt that if I’m nuts, then at least I’ve got a lot of good company.

This gets us back to this idea of immortality — that there’s no such thing as an empty place and never will be. Time is only the overflowing NOW. Couldn’t this be the most uplifting notion of all? That the key to immortality lies in mortality? That in nature there is not death but only a change of form.

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

 

 


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