Thursday, 05 November 2015 00:00

“I put seeds into the ground and they grow into beautiful plants and food for people. I want to know more about that miracle—actually, everything that there is to know about it.”
—Amber Roskos

I wrote in a previous post that my family and I were planning to move. We needed to find just the right property and spot for our lifestyle before we placed our offer and made it happen. Fortunately, I was able to find a ranch-style home on a large flat lot that had an enormous heirloom garden growing. The previous owner had been growing it for four years, and it was well underway and growing gorgeous pesticide-free heirloom veggies! SOLD!

Now I have a thing…I need to learn about heirlooms, their seeds and growing them, because I’m sure they will be popping up all over the garden this spring, as there are already greens growing in all over the yard…beet greens, cabbage, and chard everywhere!!! This place is like a dream to me. I wanted to take the time to research the history of heirloom seeds because I find them fascinating and I want to really know my garden and what we are eating. This is what I came across about heirlooms that I think is important to know and worth mentioning:

Each heirloom variety of seed has a history, and many have a story all their own, some dating back hundreds of years to the early 1800s, when immigrants brought their own seed varieties with them to plant. These seeds were important to them. This was food. The seeds were like gold, and they were going to grow themselves good, natural vegetables and fruits to feed their families.

Now fast forward to our modern-day gardening boom. It’s important to mention that there are laws regarding heirloom seeds and what you can plant in your area. Due to the recent resurgent popularity of heirloom seeds and backyard gardens in America, we are starting to see a crackdown on some independent seed companies. There are laws that govern what they are approved to sell and what you, the home gardener, are actually technically allowed to plant. But for the most part, planting heirlooms from a reputable commercial seed company is really safe. Better yet, you can save your own seeds from your already-established plants/heirloom plants.

The seed company you purchase from should provide a history for each variety of heirloom seed they sell. Look on the seed packet! It usually has all of the information you’ll need. This gives the gardener a great history of the plant and adds some importance and real value to the seed by showing that it has been on a journey for years.

You can save your heirloom seeds, just like any other seeds, and replant them in your garden for years. I have been noticing that heirloom seeds seem to grow super hearty plants. Heirloom seeds are pesticide-free, and most companies boast that they are also pest-resistant and do well in a variety of climates. They are usually non-GMO and organic, the whole lot of what you really want. Heirloom plants are original and unique, and make for a really great gardening experience. What do you have to add about heirloom varieties? Do you have experience with them or something to add? Comment here and let us know.

One last thing that I want to mention: I am no expert gardener. I do my own research and summarize what I’ve learned in my own words, in the hopes that it helps others grow their home gardens. I’m a very novice backyard gardener. I garden for the vegetables, the reward of fresh food for my family whose source I know, and my love of nature, the sun, and the dirt. I put seeds into the ground, and they grow into beautiful plants and food for people. I want to know more about that miracle—actually, everything that there is to know about it.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015 00:00

Seed Bombs

So, up until a few years ago, I had never even heard of seed bombs. However, one fine September I decided to take a trip out to Queens with my Dad to attend the Maker’s Faire. And there we were, wandering about, looking at all these different booths, many of which were a bit intimidating to me. I mean, I consider myself pretty well educated, but robotics are pretty much magic with electronics in my eyes. Anyway, we found our way into the back corner, where, lo and behold, all the more eco and agricultural projects were. I thought to myself, “Finally, something I can understand." Right after that, a girl walked up to me and asked if I wanted to make a seed bomb. Without having a clue what that meant, I was like, “Sure, why not?” I followed her over to a booth, where I proceeded, in the company of some enthusiastic five-or-so-year-olds, to get my hands covered in a combination of red clay, soil, and seeds.

The instructions were simple: take a piece of clay, probably about the size of a ball of cookie dough if you were making cookies (or a little smaller), add in some soil/compost, and add some seeds. Then you make sure they are all combined together and finished in a nice round shape. At that point, you are pretty much done. Of course, you would want to allow them to dry before use, but otherwise they are done.

Here is the general recipe for homemade seed bombs:

5 parts dry clay. Opt for local if you can get it, but Crayola Air-Dry Clay is a good cost-efficient alternative.

1-2 parts water for the clay, or as instructed

3 parts organic compost or worm castings

1 part seeds. Again, local is better. However, even if you don’t source them locally, make sure that they are selected for your climate conditions.

Once you have the ingredients ready, take a pinch of the clay and add in the compost and seeds. Mix them all together, and try to make it as homogeneous as possible. The mixture should have a texture similar to cookie dough, and should definitely not be too goopy. Roll it all into a nice little ball shape and place on a tray or some newspaper to dry. The minimum dry time should be between 24-48 hours, but once dry, they can be stored in dry conditions for later use. Alternatively, you can combine all ingredients, like a master mix, and then just pinch off bits to form into ball shapes.

For storage, a breathable container like a paper bag or sack is best. And conditions should be dry and cool to best preserve the seeds.

So, now that we have covered how I came to know about these, and just how you can make them at home, my next question was, who came up with this crazy but very cool idea? Well, from what I can tell, the exact origins are somewhat debatable; both American Indians and Ancient Japanese people may have used similar techniques to preserve seeds. However, it is a fact that they were reintroduced into the public eye in 1938 by Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka, who was, apparently, a pioneer of sustainable farming practices. He was a proponent of no-till farming, which somewhat explains his fondness for seed bombs.

Later, in the 1970s, there was a group of garden activists, founded by Liz Christy, who were called the “Green Guerrillas.” They would create seed bombs and toss them into vacant lots and other unused urban lots as a way of both making a statement and beautifying their community. Now both the term and act of Guerrilla gardening, and the seed bomb, persist.

Of course seed bombs are still great for urban beautification, but they can be used for a whole host of other applications. They are useful in home and in community gardens. They can be used for land restoration, in places that have been damaged by fire or other adverse conditions. I’ve even seen them sold as wedding favors. In any case, they are a fun, low-cost, and very environmentally friendly way of going about gardening, whether it is your backyard, a vacant lot, or some land in need of a little restorative TLC.

Friday, 02 October 2015 00:00

Mother Nature gives you everything you need to be sustainable in your fruits and vegetables. With each heirloom organic fruit or vegetable there is the seed or the means to obtain the seeds for the next generation. Because nature gives us this ability to save seeds from year to year, we might as well take advantage of it today.

Best Produce for Seed

You want the freshest ripest fruit or vegetable to obtain your seeds from. Choose fruits with little or no blemishes or insect markings. Choose the best-tasting produce from your crop. Each fruit or vegetable will contain traits from the main plant and the fruit itself. Unless you have your garden plants in an enclosed area you will have some natural hybridizing in your seeds from year to year.

Make sure the fruit or vegetable you choose is not rotting or starting to go bad. The seeds inside are starting a natural fermentation process. This process may make seed collection and propagation more difficult.

Seed Cleaning Methods

The two different types of seed cleaning are wet processing and dry processing.

Wet Seed Processing
Use wet seed processing whenever the desired seed comes from produce that has the seed surrounded by the flesh of the fruit or vegetable. Produce such as tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, and berries fall into this category.

The wet seed process includes 3 steps—removing the seed, cleaning, and drying.

Remove seed from the flesh of the fruit or vegetable.
Large fruits and vegetables can be cut open, then pull the seeds and some of the flesh out of the produce. Some people like to smash or crush smaller fruits. I personally like to peel apart the smaller fruits, like tomatoes, and then scoop the seeds with as little flesh as possible.

Clean the seeds from the flesh.
You must get the flesh off the seeds before drying. Put the seeds into a container (I like using a canning jar), and add twice as much water as seeds and pulp.  Then cover the jar and shake. I then change the solid top to a mesh screen top. (I cut a piece of screening and slid it in the ring of the canning jar.) You can also use a strainer. The holes in the strainer should be large enough for the water pulp to run off, but not the seeds.

Repeat until seeds are clean. Add water one more time and let it sit for a minute or two. Poor-quality or empty seeds tend to float to the top. Skim these off, then finish straining your seeds.

You may use lukewarm water in the process, but nothing warmer.

Drying the seeds
You must use a nonstick surface. Place the seeds on nonstick surface such as a ceramic or glass dish, cookie sheet or window screen. Do not use any kind of spray to create a nonstick surface. Make sure you stir the seeds if not on a mesh surface, allowing all sides of the seeds to dry. I prefer a window screen so there is air on all sides of the seeds. Spread the seeds out evenly and space for quicker drying. Do not use wood, paper towel, or toweling to dry your seeds; it can be difficult removing the dried seeds from these surfaces.

Drying the seeds quickly is important. An issue with wet warm seeds is that they can begin to germinate or mold. Never dry seeds in an oven or dehydrator. Temperatures above 95 degrees will damage the seeds.

I place my seeds on the window screen in between two plates for air circulation.

Dry Processing Seeds

Plants that produce pods or husks such as carrots, peas and corn can be saved by using a drying method.
You can usually allow these seeds to dry on the plant.

For instance, leave a handful of peapods on the plant. Let them dry on the plant, then pick them. If you live in colder country where the pods haven’t completely dried before the first frost, pull the entire plant out of the ground. Then hang them upside down inside until the seeds dry. With vegetables like peas I pull the plants out of the ground, tie the ends together, and then hook them upside down on a hanger.
Once seeds are dry, gently remove them from the pod or cob.

Vegetables like carrots or broccoli, where you leave the vegetable in the ground until it goes to seed, usually need threshing and winnowing in order to separate the seeds. Threshing is when you gently beat the seed area into a pail. Hitting the side of the pail separates the seeds from the stalk material. Once you have the seeds you must separate the debris from the seeds. Winnowing separates the seed from the debris by adding wind or air. The seeds are heavier; thus, they fall to the ground and the debris flies away. When winnowing, place a cloth on the ground to catch the seeds. You can use the wind or make your own with the cool low setting on a hairdryer.

Seed Storage:

Make sure all seeds are completely dry before storing.

You can successfully store seeds in an airtight moisture-proof container. You can put your seeds in envelopes, muslin cloth or zipped plastic bags for organization prior to placing in the airtight container. Zip plastic bags aren’t generally moisture-proof. Place the container in a dark cool area or in the freezer.

Come springtime, take the saved seeds out of the freezer a day or two before planting to bring the seeds to room temperature.

Your germination (percentage of growth) will vary from seed to seed. Plant extra seeds for maximum growth. Use your extra plants to grow new seeds for the next year. Swap seeds with family and friends to add to your seed collection. You can even save seeds from organic products you buy from others.

Wednesday, 02 September 2015 00:00

In Oregon a group of seed farmers have organized in order to save and preserve seeds for future generations. Their aim was to collect varieties of seed from all over the world that would grow in their local climate. They then started offering the seed for sale to those who grow in a similar climate zone. This has brought biodiversity to their valley and assures the next generation will enjoy that variety also. Seed saving ambassadors are our modern day heroes in a world where big corporations have managed to put a patent on some varieties of seed that are heavily monocropped. 

Consider starting a seed stewardship program for your local community. Learn to grow and save seed to secure your food future. Share these ideas with your neighbors and share your seeds!

Saturday, 22 August 2015 00:00

I’ve been planting a vegetable garden in Portland Oregon for several years now and one of my favorites things that I love about gardening is planting seeds and watching them grow. I have several organic seed companies that I buy from, but I find that Adaptive Seeds is one that I keeping coming back to. Their seeds seem to be reliable and of good quality. This may be because they are grown in the Pacific Northwest and are thus especially suited to my area. They are also easy to find as my favorite Organic Urban Farm store that is just a mile down the road has them. I like the fact that they are dedicated to bringing biodiversity back and so have some unusual and delightful varieties. I enjoy growing and trying new types of vegetables that I have never experienced before.

Sunday, 26 July 2015 00:00

Well it really depends. So, I was wondering about saving seeds and how long you can store them at home and still be able to use them for growing. Do they expire? What is the rule? I recently came across a 75% off seed sale and stocked up for next year’s garden. Some heirloom and organic seeds will go on sale at the end of the growing season for as low as .10-.12 cents a pack, which is a great price to stock up on. Not knowing exactly how long I could safely keep these seeds to use for successful growing I decided to check it out and learn the proper way to store seeds and how long you can keep your seeds well for successful growth down the road. 

Storing seeds I’m sure can also get really technical. It is probably of great importance to those running agricultural business to use more precise rules for seed saving and germination rates. What I have found looking into this for the home gardener though is that you can store packaged seeds in a dry place in a bin or organizer and they are usually all good for over a year or more. Adding a silica packet or desiccant can help keep any moisture at bay. Certain varieties will not germinate well for you after a certain amount of years but there is a simple way to test your seeds germination rate. By taking a certain small number of seeds and wrapping them in damp paper towels or even a cotton cloth you can wait a few days and see if they sprout. Make sure to keep the paper or cloth fairly moist. Count the number that have sprouted for example if you tested 10 seeds, 2/10 seeds sprouting may not be a great success for you for planting if you want to have 10 successful plants and those seeds may need to be replaced. 7/10 seeds sprouting during your test would be okay just plant a few extras according to your fraction for the amount that you want to grow. Its not a completely solid test but it can give you a good idea of how well that seed will sprout for you. 

I’ve heard of others keeping their seeds for 10 plus years and that they can still grow them well. This is the reason people can have small at home seed vaults that they are saving just incase of disaster. You can really get yourself into seed saving as a hobby as well and even work within a seed bank, which is more regulated, and they can be found world wide for emergencies. For home gardeners a more practical idea is a seed library within your community. A seed library is a library of lended/donated and sometimes locally grown varieties of heirloom seeds for charity or swapping within the community. This sounds like an amazing idea to me! We need to cultivate more seed libraries! 

Another aspect of saving seeds is saving them from plants and vegetables that you are growing now by drying and storing them for next years use the same way as the store bought packets are kept. I can’t wait to get more into seed saving and storing. What tips and storage solutions have you been using to store and save your seeds?