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Chelsea Green - Page 3 of 404 - The Politics and Practice of Sustainable Living. : Chelsea Green

The Ultimate Raised Bed: How To Make An Herb Spiral

March 13th, 2014 by admin

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

March 12th, 2014 by admin

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.

Eliot Coleman’s Guide to Great Compost

March 12th, 2014 by jmccharen

Compost is the key to a lush, abundant garden. Do you know how to turn kitchen scraps and yard waste into fragrant, crumbly, plant food? If not, your garden is missing out, and you are missing out on one of the most exciting and profound lessons organic gardening has to teach: the simple fact that in the circle of life, all waste is food.

Learn the basics of making compost from four-season gardening guru Eliot Coleman, and open a new door into the joy of growing your own food.

The following is an excerpt from Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman. It has been adapted for the Web.

****

Fertile soil is the key to growing garden vegetables

So often, the obvious solution is right at our fingertips, but it looks so simple that we fail to notice. Generations of gardeners have consistently come up with the same chain of logic: a fertile soil is the key to growing garden vegetables; compost is the key to a fertile soil. The first step in the four-season harvest is learning to make good compost. It’s not difficult. Compost wants to happen.

Compost is the end result of the decomposition of organic matter. It is basically a brown to black crumbly material that looks like a rich chocolate fudge cake. Compost is produced by managing the breakdown of organic material in a pile called a compost heap. Compost enhances soil fertility because fertile soil and compost share a prolific population of organisms whose food is decaying organic matter. The life processes of these organisms help make nutrients from the organic matter and the minerals in the soil available to growing plants.

A fertile soil is filled with life. Compost is the life preserver.

Gardeners are not alone in their reverence for compost. Poets have found it equally inspiring. Andrew Hudgins, in a poem titled “Compost: An Ode,” refers to the role of the compost heap in uniting life and death: “a leisurely collapsing of the thing into its possibilities.” John Updike reminds us that since “all process is reprocessing,” the forest can consume its fallen trees and “the woodchuck corpse vanish to leave behind a poem.” Walt Whitman marvels at how composting allows the earth to grow “such sweet things out of such corruptions.”

Good compost, like any other carefully crafted product, is not an accident. It comes about through a process involving microorganisms, organic matter, air, moisture, and time that can be orchestrated in anyone’s backyard. No machinery is necessary, and no moving parts need repair. All you need to do is heap up the ingredients as specified in the next section and let nature’s decomposers do the work.

Compost Ingredients

The ingredients for the heap are the organic waste materials produced in most yards, gardens, and kitchens. That is what is so miraculous and so compelling about compost. If you pile up organic waste products they eventually decompose into compost. There is nothing to buy, nothing to be delivered, nothing exotic. This acknowledged “best” garden fertilizer is so in harmony with the cyclical systems of the natural world that it is made for free in your back yard from naturally available waste products.

The more eclectic the list of ingredients, the better the compost. That is only logical. The plant wastes that go into your compost heap were once plants that grew because they were able to incorporate the nutrients they needed. So don’t pass up any weeds, shrub trimmings, cow pies, or odd leaves you can find. If you mix together a broad range of plants with different mineral makeups, the resulting compost will cover the nutrient spectrum.

I suggest dividing your compost ingredients into two categories based on their age and composition. The two categories are called green and brown.

The green ingredients include mostly young, moist, and fresh materials. They are the most active decomposers. Examples are kitchen wastes such as apple peels, leftovers, carrot tops, and bread, and garden wastes such as grass clippings, weeds, fresh pea vines, outer cabbage leaves, and dead chipmunks. The average house and yard produce wastes such as these in surprising quantities. National solid waste data indicate that approximately 25 percent of household trash consists of food scraps and yard waste.

The brown ingredients are usually older and drier than the green ones, and they decompose more slowly. Examples are dried grass stems, old cornstalks, dried pea and bean vines, reeds, and old hay. The brown category is usually not well represented in the average backyard. To start, you may want to purchase straw, the best brown ingredient of all. Straw is the stem that holds up the amber waves of grain in crops such as wheat, oats, barley, and rye. After the heads containing the grains are harvested, the straw is baled as a byproduct. You can purchase straw a few bales at a time from feed stores, riding stables, or a good garden supply store.

The advantage of straw as the brown ingredient is that it will almost guarantee the success of your composting efforts. When home gardeners encounter smelly failures in their attempts to
make good compost, the fault usually lies with the lack of a proper brown ingredient. In years to come, when you become an expert at composting, you may choose to expand your repertoire beyond this beginner’s technique, but it is the most reliable method for beginners or experts.

Building the Compost Heap

Pick a site near the garden so the finished compost will be close at hand. Whenever possible, place the heap under the branches of a deciduous tree so there will be shade in hot weather and sunlight to thaw the heap in spring. A site near the kitchen makes it convenient to add kitchen scraps. Access to a hose is handy for those times when the heap needs extra moisture. If the site is uphill from the garden, the heavy work of wheelbarrowing loads of compost will have gravity on its side.

Build the compost heap by alternating layers of brown ingredients with layers of green ones. Begin with a layer of straw about 3 inches deep, then add 1 to 6 inches of green ingredients, another 3 inches of straw, and then more green ingredients. The thickness of the green layer depends on the nature of the materials. Loose, open material such as green bean vines or tomato stems can be applied in a thicker (6-inch) layer, while denser material that might mat together, such as kitchen scraps or grass clippings,
should be layered thinly (1 to 2 inches). These thicknesses are a place for you to start, but you will learn to modify them as conditions require.

Sprinkle a thin covering of soil on top of each green layer. Make the soil 1/2 inch deep or so depending on what type of green material is available. If you have just added a layer of weeds with soil on their roots, you can skip the soil covering for that layer. The addition of soil to the compost heap has both a physical and a microbiological effect: physical because certain soil constituents (clay particles and minerals) have been shown to enhance the decomposition of organic matter; microbiological because soil contains millions of microorganisms, which are needed to break down the organic material in the heap. These bacteria, fungi, and other organisms multiply in the warm, moist conditions as decomposition is initiated. If your garden is very sandy or gravelly, you might want to find some clay to add to the heap as the soil layer. As an additional benefit, the clay will improve the balance of soil particle sizes in your garden.

Tree Sap: Nature’s Energy Drink

March 10th, 2014 by admin

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

March 6th, 2014 by admin

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 »»


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Four-Season Harvest
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This Organic Life
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The Organic Seed Grower
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How to Graft the Perfect Fruit Tree: Five Grafting Techniques

March 5th, 2014 by admin

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

Gardening Tips from Eliot Coleman: How to Start Seedlings in a Cold Frame

March 4th, 2014 by jmccharen

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

A cold frame, essentially a garden bed surrounded by an angled frame and covered with glass, is a simple way to harness the heating power of the sun to get seedlings going before it’s warm enough to plant them outside unprotected. Everything but the most heat-loving vegetables (tomatoes and peppers) can be started this way. Plus, a cold frame has the added advantage of getting your plants into the real soil right away, instead of constricting their roots in trays, which can leading to unnecessary stress.

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. If he can do it in freezing coastal Maine, you’ve got no excuse!

* * * * *

The following excerpt is from Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman.

Your cold frame can serve as a greenhouse for starting seedlings

You can use it for all seedlings that are transplanted except the early-spring sowings of heat-lovers such as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. They should be started in a sunny window in the house. For all the others, the cold frame is an ideal place to start growing. Once you begin raising seedlings in the cold frame, you will find it so simple and successful that you will never go back to flats on windowsills. Here’s how to do it:

Spread potting mix about two to three inches deep in whatever part of a frame you wish to use for seedlings. Lay 3-inch boards around the edge as a border, then treat that area as if it were a flat: make furrows, drop in evenly spaced seeds, cover them shallowly, mark them with name and date on a small stake, and water them lightly with a fine sprinkler. The rows can be as close together as they would be in a flat. Space seeds evenly in the seeding row so they won’t be crowded. We always try to avoid plant stress at all stages of growing. It takes a little more time, but the results are worth it.

Cutting the Seedlings into 3-inch Blocks Inside the Cold Frame

When the seedlings are up, move them to an adjoining section of the frame, which also has a 2 inch covering of potting mix over the soil. Do this as soon as you can handle the seedlings. Within reason, the younger you transplant a seedling, the better. Dig under each one with a small, pointed dowel, lifting and loosening the roots as you extract them from the soil. Always be gentle with seedlings. Hold them by a leaf, not the stem, so you don’t crush the vital parts if you squeeze too hard.

Poke holes in the potting soil of the adjoining section with the dowel to make space for the roots, then tuck them in lightly. A good distance for all seedlings is 3 inches apart. When they are large enough to transplant to the garden, use a knife to cut the soil into cubes with a seedling in the center of each. It is just like cutting a tray of brownies. If you make sure the soil is moist (sprinkle if necessary before cutting), the blocks will hold together nicely. You can use a bricklayer’s or right-angle trowel to slice underneath each cube, lift it out, and set it in a tray for transport to its permanent garden home.

There are many advantages to growing seedlings in a cold frame

Scooping the Seedling with the Transplanting Tool

No flats are necessary. There is no potting soil mess in the house. The seedlings will be hardy because the cold frame is not artificially heated. Any additional hardening off is easily accomplished by opening the lights slightly wider.

Finally, watering is more forgiving, since your seedlings are connected to the earth and they can’t dry out as quickly as they can in the limited confines of a flat. Thus, an occasional lapse in watering is not disastrous.

The intermediate transplanting from the seedling row to the 3-by-3-inch spacing makes transplanting seedlings a two-step process. We think it’s worth the effort because the intermediate step has been found to stimulate increased root regrowth, resulting in slightly more vigorous transplants. You can do it as a one-step process by simply starting out with the 3-by-3-inch configuration and planting three seeds in each square. After they emerge, you thin to the best one in each square and proceed as before.

Planting a Seedling in the GardenWith some crops, we use a Dutch idea called multiplants and sow four or more seeds in each square with no intention of thinning them. This allows us to grow transplants in groups rather than as singles. The onion crop will serve as a good example of how to go about it. Sow five seeds together. Plan for four of the seeds to germinate. When the onion seedlings are large enough to go to the garden, cut out the blocks as usual and set them out at a spacing of 10 by 12 inches.

If you were growing single plants in rows they would be set 3 inches apart. Four plants in a clump every 12 inches in a row is the same average spacing as one plant every 3 inches. Each onion is allowed just as much total garden space,and the yield is the same. The onions growing. together push each other aside gently and at harvest time are lying in a series of small circles rather than single rows. If all the seeds germinate and there are five onions in each clump, that’s no problem.

In addition to onions, you can use the multiplant technique for early transplants of beets, broccoli, cabbage, leeks, scallions, and spinach. Not only is this system more efficient because four plants can be transplanted as quickly as one, but it also can be used to control size when desired. A clump of broccoli, for example, will yield three or four smaller central heads rather than one large one. For many families, the smaller unit size is more desirable.

How to Plan the Best Garden Ever

March 3rd, 2014 by jmccharen

Growing your own food is hard work, but with a few easy tips you can make it a lot easier.

Carol Deppe grows almost all of the food she eats, but with a cranky back and complaining knees, she has been forced to figure out labor-saving techniques and tricks, and she shares them in her book The Resilient Gardener, along with detailed guides for growing the five crops you need to survive: bean, corn, squash, potatoes, and eggs.

An easy-to-use garden starts with a good plan. This excerpt, adapted from Carol Deppe award-winning book The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times, explains the difference between planting in long straight rows and planting in smaller beds.

Rows might be great for tractors, but beds can be easier to water, and can help you to space your plantings throughout the growing season.

* * * * *

How many gardens start thus? First, we haul out the rototiller (or hire the tractor guy) and till up the entire garden. We let the buried thatch decompose for three weeks and hire the tractor guy or rototill again. Then we try to plant the whole thing all at once, preferably before it rains. Rain will compact the soil and make it harder to create furrows for planting. In addition, if a couple of weeks go by before we plant, weeds will have such a head start that we really should rototill again or hoe the entire area before planting. So after the second plowing or tilling, we tend to want to plant everything all at once. Planting becomes a bottleneck. Needing to plant everything all at once creates an emergency.

Once we have successfully planted everything all at once, it will all need to be weeded all at once. And the entire garden is in seedlings needing maximum watering care all at once. Many a garden fails because, once planting has been turned into an all-at-once emergency, the gardener collapses (exhausted but happy) and forgets the garden for a while, during which time the seedlings fail to germinate or die from lack of water, or weeds get too far ahead.

For small gardens, there is much to be said for beds. In many situations they are the only option. A garden bed is a soft place where you don’t walk. You don’t walk on beds even when weeding, harvesting, or digging to renovate them. This means the width must be limited to what you can comfortably reach across from the sides—a maximum of about 5 feet, generally. Beds may be any length, however.

We usually create or rejuvenate beds by digging. Someone, of course, has to do the digging. But you don’t have to dig all the beds at once. Gardening in beds particularly lends itself to areas with long growing seasons, mild winters, and year-round gardening, with different beds being planted at various times throughout the year. Gardening in beds is also typical for perennial or ornamental plantings. I had no choice about gardening in beds when vegetable gardening in my backyard. Various concrete walls and fences and property lines made it impossible to drive a tractor into the yard. So there was no option of hiring the tractor guy. Also, there were so many septic easements and shady areas that the space available for gardening was limited to small areas here and there. Even rototilling with a walk-behind tiller isn’t practical with tiny dispersed beds.

When we garden in beds in the backyard, it is often automatically in raised beds. When we start with poor soil or the subsoil typical of many backyards, we usually add bulky organic materials (leaves, compost, etc.) to help create a decent garden soil. These added materials plus any dug soil translate into a raised bed. Raised beds have special advantages and liabilities. They dry out and warm up faster in the spring than planting areas that are level with the ground around them. This is a big advantage for early plantings in areas that experience cold, wet springs (such as Oregon). In addition, if the water table is high or the soil is shallow you may need raised beds to provide deep enough soil for plant roots. However, when there is little or no rain (such as in Oregon in summer), the fact that raised beds dry out faster means they need more frequent watering.

Beds don’t need to be raised, though. They can be level with the rest of the ground. You can, for example, start by tilling a garden area, then just designate certain areas as beds and others as paths. Beds also do not have to be permanent. Temporary beds are not walked on throughout the growing season but are tilled up at the end of the season; and next year’s beds may not be in the exact same places. Even raised beds need not be permanent. You can till up the entire garden area first, then hoe or till the soil up into beds. Then you plant and tend the beds as beds (and avoid walking on them) for just the one growing season. Several large organic farms around here operate largely or completely with a style of temporary raised beds. They till a field, then shape it into raised beds with a tractor-drawn bed-forming implement. Then they treat the beds as beds (and don’t walk on them) for a season before tilling the entire field again.

For many years, I used a mixed strategy. I grew the crops that needed to be harvested almost daily for summer meals in permanent raised beds in the backyard. Then I had a larger tilled garden elsewhere for field corn, dry beans, and winter squash. In my backyard I planted about one bed every three weeks as the breaks in the weather permitted. I planted the bed for first-early peas in February; greens in March and April; tomatoes, summer squash, and green beans in May and June; overwintering brassicas in July and August; and garlic, fava beans, and overwintering peas in October. My plantings of corn, dry beans, and winter squash were too large for me to be able to deal with as hand-dug beds. They also needed to be planted approximately all at once in May, fitting perfectly with the pattern of just calling the tractor guy to till up a field. These crops also did not require tending or harvesting daily. So these are the crops I grew in the tilled field away from home.

Gardening in intensively planted beds is the way to get the most yield from small spaces. In order to obtain those high yields, however, you must have very fertile soil, must water regularly, and must plant intensively. You really crowd the plants compared to traditional plantings in rows. I found that such intensive plantings did not work for me. The crowded plantings must be watered almost every day it doesn’t rain. Here in maritime Oregon, that is every day starting in June and going right through the entire summer.

I am not the sort of person who, given my druthers, wants to water or do any other chore every single day, even in the best of times. During the period I was caring for my mother, absolutely all of my ability to do those kinds of tasks was taken up with the caregiving situation. Garden beds do not have to be planted intensively, however. If I planted my beds with about 50 percent more space than typical for intensive beds, I didn’t have quite the watering pressure. I found I could water every other day or even skip two days without much problem. Nevertheless, I still lost entire beds here and there whenever an emergency in my mother’s medical situation took me totally out of the garden for a while. I learned to minimize the impact of these emergencies on my gardening by not planting more than one bed every three weeks. That way I had only one bed at a time at its most vulnerable stage with respect to either watering or weeding. Whenever the unforeseen deprived the garden of my labor for a while, if I lost something, it was usually only one bed, not all of them.

These days Nate and I garden entirely in a tilled garden arranged in traditional rows, and our spacings within the rows are on the generous side. We space things so as to allow ourselves to water only the most moisture-dependent plants (tomatoes, full-season sweet corn, melons, and kale) once per week and the least water-needy plants (potatoes) not at all. This cuts down on the total amount of water needed as well as watering labor. This garden can survive and thrive when left completely alone for a week, even during the worst heat waves in summer, and considerably longer the rest of the time. Nate doesn’t like must-do-every-day chores any more than I do. Until I had expanded to a much bigger leased garden elsewhere (and a collaborator), however, garden beds in the backyard were an essential part of my strategy. And I simply did not have the room to give the plants as much space as they needed for once-per-week watering and greater water resilience. Gardening, like the rest of life, is full of trade-offs.

The Seed Series: Choosing The Right Seed Crop

February 27th, 2014 by admin

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

February 26th, 2014 by admin

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?


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